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IL disability lawyerIn assessing disability claims, Social Security looks at whether or not you have an “impairment” that is considered “severe” enough to prevent you from working. A Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) is also expected to consider symptoms that, while not qualifying impairments in and of themselves, may exacerbate such an impairment. In particular, the ALJ needs to determine how your symptoms and impairments, taken as a whole, may restrict the type of work you are able to perform, if any.

Social Security Failed to Consider Leg Weakness in Assessing Illinois Woman's Disability Claim

To illustrate these principles in greater detail, here is a recent case, Ramona G. v. Saul, where the ALJ failed to properly consider an applicant's symptoms. The plaintiff, in this case, applies for disability benefits three years ago. The main issue raised in the plaintiff's application was her back impairment. In conjunction with this impairment, the plaintiff also presented medical evidence that she suffered from weakness in her right leg.

The ALJ determined that this leg weakness was not itself a “medically determinable impairment” under Social Security regulations. The ALJ went on to deny the plaintiff's application for disability benefits. In response, the plaintiff filed for judicial review with an Illinois federal magistrate judge.

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IL disability lawyerDecisions regarding Social Security disability applications are supposed to be based on medical evidence. That is, your treating doctor's medical conclusions are normally expected to be given great weight by a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ). But in far too many cases, we find the ALJ taking it upon themselves to “play doctor” and ignore or discount the treating physician's views.

Magistrate: Social Security “Mischaracterized” Surgeon's Findings in Denying Disability Application

In some cases, an ALJ may outright misrepresent what the treating physician found. This is not okay. To the contrary, it violates Social Security regulations and entitles an unsuccessful applicant to a new hearing on their claim.

This is precisely what happened to one Illinois disability benefits applicant in a recent case, Lisa AB v. Commissioner of Social Security. The plaintiff in this case has not worked since 2012 because of her inability to use her hands. The plaintiff had a history of severe carpal tunnel syndrome that required surgery.

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IL disability attorneyWe have seen a number of Social Security disability cases here in Illinois recently where the government has failed to properly account for an applicant's limitations in concentration, persistence, or pace (CPP). As defined by Social Security's own regulations, CPP refers to a person's “ability to sustain focused attention sufficiently long to permit the timely completion of tasks commonly found in work settings.” If an applicant's mental health impairments limit their CPP to the point where they cannot reasonably function in any work setting, they are generally entitled to receive disability benefits.

Appeals Court: ALJ Improperly Ignored Answer to Hypothetical Question

In the most recent decision from the Chicago-based U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to address CPP limitations, Crump v. Saul, Social Security was once again faulted for its inadequate approach to this subject.

As described by the Court, the plaintiff in this case “has a long history of mental health impairments,” notably bipolar disorder. During a hearing before a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ), the plaintiff “testified that she has 'too many thoughts at one time' and 'can't focus' on what she is supposed to be doing.” Despite acknowledging the plaintiff had “moderate” CPP limitations, however, the ALJ determined she did not meet the legal standard for disabled.

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