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IL disability attorneyFor those who have suffered an injury, illness, or another type of physical or mental condition that has affected their ability to work, Social Security disability benefits can be crucial for ensuring that they can meet their ongoing needs. To receive Social Security disability, a person will need to show that they have experienced impairments that have affected their ability to work and earn an income. In many cases, disability benefits will be denied, but these denials must be based on valid evidence, including medical records and testimony from medical experts and vocational experts. In these cases, applicants may be unsure about their options, especially if their claims are based primarily on their own testimony regarding their condition rather than relying on medical evidence.

Magistrate Reverses Denial of Benefits Based on an Improper Consideration of Plaintiff’s Testimony

Ideally, disability applicants will want to have as much evidence as possible to show that they are disabled. However, in cases where there is a lack of medical evidence, certain procedures should be followed to obtain and explore the relevant facts of the case. This was illustrated in a recent Illinois case, Jennifer L. K. v. Commissioner of Social Security.

The plaintiff in this case was a 56-year-old woman who had sustained an injury to both of her thumbs after falling on ice. She suffered from arthritis and received a surgical procedure, after which she struggled with moving her hands and fingers and grasping objects. At an evidentiary hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) determined that the plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as an eyewear salesperson while being limited to frequent “handling and fingering.”

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In many cases, the Social Security disability benefits a person can receive are based on their work history and the income they have earned in the past. However, there are some cases where children may receive disability benefits, and they may be eligible to continue receiving disability after reaching the age of 18, depending on whether their disabilities affect their ability to work.

Magistrate Reverses ALJ’s Denial of Disabled Adult Child Benefits

A recent U.S. District Court case in Illinois illustrates some of the issues that may be involved in cases involving Disabled Adult Child (DAC) benefits. In Alexandra A. S. v. Commissioner of Social Security, a woman had applied for benefits, and she alleged that symptoms she had experienced since her 18th birthday, including depression, bipolar disorder, social anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and lack of focus, made it impossible for her to work.

The administrative law judge (ALJ) who heard the plaintiff’s case found that while she had severe impairments due to personality disorders, anxiety, and substance abuse, she had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform simple, routine tasks in a work environment that is not fast-paced, does not involve any interactions with the public, and has only brief, superficial contact with co-workers. For these reasons, the ALJ denied the plaintiff disability benefits. The plaintiff appealed this decision.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_medical-impairment.jpgIn a typical Social Security disability case, an administrative law judge (ALJ) will hear medical opinions from a number of different experts. In addition to the disability applicant's own treating physicians, the ALJ will also review the views of non-treating “consultants” who have examined the applicant's medical records. For disability cases filed before March 2017, the ALJ is normally required to give the treating physician's views “controlling” weight in the event of a conflict. That said, it is permissible to discount those opinions in favor of the non-treating consultants.

Magistrate: ALJ Cannot Rely Solely on Her “Lay Expertise” in Assessing Applicant's Mental Impairments

What the ALJ may not do, however, is ignore all of the medical evidence and “play doctor” themselves. The ALJ is a legal officer, not a medical professional. That means their job is to apply the law fairly and impartially.

But we often see ALJs step outside this legal role to make improper medical diagnoses. A recent disability case from here in Illinois, Christopher P. v. Saul, provides a useful illustration. The plaintiff here applied for disability benefits over five years ago. As part of the application process, the plaintiff's treating psychiatrist opined that he suffered from a number of mental impairments that included “marked limitations in concentration, persistence, or pace, and three episodes of decompensation, along with other disabling symptoms.”

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