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IL disability lawyerSocial Security often tries to justify a denial of disability benefits based on an applicant's purported ability to still perform basic household tasks. For example, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) may reason that since an applicant can still cook for themselves or clean their house despite having a crippling back injury, they must still be capable of working full-time.

Illinois judges have long cautioned Social Security against over-reliance on such “daily living” tasks to disprove disability claims. But there is also the problem of Social Security ignoring evidence regarding an applicant's inability to perform household activities to help prove their claims.

ALJ Failed to Consider Applicant's Difficulties with Daily Living

A recent decision from a federal judge here in Illinois offers a useful example of the latter problem. The plaintiff in this case first applied for disability benefits in 2014, alleging a number of mental impairments, including major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. After a hearing, a Social Security ALJ rejected the plaintiff's application, holding she could still perform certain jobs despite her limitations.

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IL disability lawyerMany Social Security disability applicants often get tripped up by the process. They may assume they qualify as “disabled” based on a prior doctor's diagnosis or state-agency decision. But Social Security has its own standards for assessing disability. And if you proceed without fully developing the record in support of your claim, you are likely to be denied benefits, even if your case has merit.

Appeals Court Upholds Social Security Decision Despite ALJ's Failure to Fully Develop the Record

A recent decision from the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Elder v. Berryhill, helps illustrate the hurdles that disability applicants face. The plaintiff in this case applied for disability benefits in 2012, alleging he had been unable to work since 2010 due to a number of physical impairment.

The plaintiff presented his own case to an administrative law judge (ALJ) without the assistance of a qualified disability attorney. At the hearing, the plaintiff said the Illinois Department of Human Services “deemed him disabled and provided him with a home-care assistant.” The plaintiff further testified he suffered from “excessive pain” and required constant medication.

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IL disability lawyerThere are typically four stages to the Social Security disability application process. First, the applicant receives an initial determination of their eligibility. If the initial determination finds the applicant is not disabled, they may ask for reconsideration of that decision. If Social Security still rejects the claim, the applicant may request a formal hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). If the ALJ rejects the application, the fourth and final step is to ask for a review from the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council.

If even after all four steps, Social Security still denies a disability claim, the applicant can then seek “judicial review,” i.e., file a lawsuit in federal court. The Social Security Act expressly guarantees the right to judicial review of “any final decision … after a hearing.”

When Is a Social Security Decision Final?

The U.S. Supreme Court recently weighed in on what exactly the law means when it says “any final decision” can be appealed to the court. More precisely, if the Appeals Council dismisses a fourth-step appeal due to a procedural issue, is that a “final decision” that can be reviewed by a judge.

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