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IL disability lawyerIn reviewing your application for disability benefits, Social Security will not just look at your medical record. It will also review many other aspects of your personal life, such as your ability to perform household tasks or even the vacations you have taken. In some cases, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) may even cite the fact you went on vacation as proof your testimony regarding your disability is not “credible.”

Magistrate: Vacations Do Not Disprove Disability Applicant's Testimony Regarding Her Panic Attacks

Federal courts, however, have cautioned Social Security not to simply assume an applicant is not credible simply because they were able to go on vacation. A recent decision from an Illinois federal magistrate judge, Lorena T. v. Saul, provides a case in point. The plaintiff here applied for disability benefits based on a number of mental impairments, including her frequent panic attacks. The ALJ ruled the plaintiff did not legally qualify for disability benefits, but the magistrate reversed that decision and ordered a new hearing.

As the magistrate noted, the ALJ expressed “skepticism towards [the plaintiff's] panic attack allegations throughout his opinion.” Among other reasons for this skepticism, the ALJ cited the fact the plaintiff went on two vacations, one to Florida and the other to New York and New Jersey. Both times the plaintiff said she suffered panic attacks, but the ALJ insisted this undercut her credibility. In particular, the ALJ did not understand why the plaintiff took her second vacation after allegedly suffering a panic attack during the Florida vacation.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_illiterate_20200213-163419_1.jpgIt may surprise you to learn that roughly one in five American adults struggle with basic literacy. This is according to figures published by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics. Specifically, this group representing approximately 20 percent of adults “have difficulty” with completing tasks that involve “comparing and contrasting information, paraphrasing, or making low-level inferences.” Now you may be wondering if illiteracy qualifies a person for Social Security disability benefits. The short answer is no; the mere fact a person has little or no literacy skills is not considered a disability as such. But for applicants between the ages of 45 and 54, Social Security will consider illiteracy as a factor in favor of awarding disability benefits.

Magistrate: Social Security “Failed to Properly Evaluate” Disability Applicant's Illiteracy

Of course, that assumes the applicant can demonstrate they are, in fact, illiterate. Social Security officials often have difficulty taking illiteracy claims at face value. And in some cases, this difficulty crosses the line into simply ignoring the available evidence.

A recent decision from an Illinois federal magistrate judge, Kenneth S. v. Saul, provides a useful illustration of what we are talking about. The plaintiff in this case filed for disability benefits at the age of 47, alleging a number of physical impairments related to his back, neck, shoulder, and hip. The plaintiff informed Social Security he was illiterate, but managed to work as a production laborer at a syrup factory for over 20 years thanks to a “benevolent employer.”

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Chicago Social Security Disability LawyersSocial Security Disability cases often turn on agency officials’ subjective views of the applicant’s “credibility.” This is a particular issue when the applicant’s inability to work is due to chronic pain. Put bluntly, Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) have a history of disregarding complaints of pain as faking or exaggeration on the part of the applicant.

Social Security Chided Again for Equating Life Activities With Employment

The law, however, at least as it is supposed to be applied in Illinois, is that Social Security cannot simply ignore an applicant’s testimony regarding their pain. Nor can Social Security point to evidence the applicant is capable of performing daily “life activities” as conclusive proof that he or she can hold down a physically demanding full-time job.

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