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IL disability lawyerWhen a person applies for Social Security disability benefits, there are many different factors that are considered to determine whether the person is considered to be disabled. A person must suffer from a physical or mental impairment that is “medically determinable,” and this condition must have lasted or be expected to last at least 12 months. An impairment must also affect a person’s ability to find gainful employment.

If a Social Security disability claim is denied, an applicant may appeal this decision, and an administrative hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) may be held to review the case and determine whether the person is disabled. An ALJ will follow a multi-step process to evaluate the person’s claim, and one important step in this process is determining whether the claimant’s condition meets or equals any of the items included in the Listing of Impairments in the Social Security Code of Regulations.

Magistrate Reverses ALJ’s Decision Based on Improper Analysis of Listing of Impairments

One recent case in Illinois demonstrates the role that the Listing of Impairments may play in an administrative hearing. In Angela L. H. v. Commissioner of Social Security, a woman’s disability claim had been denied, and after appealing this decision, the ALJ who reviewed the case determined that she was not disabled, since her impairments permitted her to find work other than what she had previously performed.

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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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IL disability lawyerSocial Security disability cases are supposed to center on medical evidence, in particular, the diagnosis and expert views of the applicant's treating physicians. Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) are normally expected to give “controlling weight” to a treating physician's views. If the ALJ discounts or rejects this testimony, there are a number of regulatory factors that must be considered and explained.

Magistrate: ALJ Failed to Follow Agency Regulations Before Discounting Doctor's Evidence

But as we have often found in practice, ALJs often disregard treating-physician evidence without giving a valid explanation, or even any explanation at all that conforms to the agency's own regulatory factors. A recent decision from a federal magistrate judge here in Illinois, Deborah AM v. Saul, offers a textbook example of this problem.

In this case, the plaintiff applied for disability benefits nearly five years ago. Following a hearing on the plaintiff's application, a Social Security ALJ held she did not legally qualify for disability benefits. The ALJ reached this conclusion after deciding not to give controlling weight to the evidence offered by the plaintiff's treating physician.

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