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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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IL disability lawyerWhen a federal court determines Social Security has failed to properly weigh medical evidence in a disability case, the normal course of action is to remand–return–the case to the agency for a new hearing. But what happens when Social Security ignores the court's instructions? Indeed, what happens when the same disability case is brought to court multiple times?

Magistrate: ALJ Ignored Disability Applicant's Pain During Hearing

This scenario recently played out before an Illinois federal magistrate judge. This particular case, Kimberly M. v. Saul, involves a woman who has not worked in nearly 15 years. The plaintiff is in her mid-50s and stopped working in 2005 due to ongoing complications from a back injury. Despite surgery in 2016, the plaintiff continues to experience “significant pain in her spine, right hip, buttock and leg,” according to the magistrate's opinion.

Unfortunately, the plaintiff's difficulties with the disability insurance system have proved just as persistent as her back pain. By the time of the magistrate's order in April 2020, the plaintiff had been through three separate hearings at Social Security. Each time, an administrative law judge (ALJ) determined the plaintiff did not meet the legal requirements for disability benefits. And each time, the court found Social Security ignored key medical evidence.

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