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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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IL disability attorneySocial Security disability insurance covers both physical and mental disorders that prevent a person from working. With respect to mental or “intellectual” disorders, an IQ test is often used to help Social Security determine whether or not someone is disabled. But while a low IQ score can provide useful evidence in supporting a disability claim, it is not by itself definitive proof of such a disability.

7th Circuit: Social Security Did Not Properly Consider Disability Applicant's Limited Math Abilities

Put another way, even if a disability applicant has a low IQ score, Social Security will still deny benefits if it believes the applicant can still perform “simple, repetitive work.” More to the point, Social Security must show there is such work that the applicant could actually perform given their intellectual limitations.

In a recent decision, Williams v. Saul, a federal appeals court held Social Security failed to make such a showing. The plaintiff in this case is a 25-year-old man with an IQ of 64. At a hearing before a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ), a medical expert testified the plaintiff's “math skills were at a second-grade level.” He gave incorrect answers to basic addition and multiplication problems, and could not perform division at all.

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medial evidence, Chicago Social Security Disability AttorneyIn assessing a claim for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, it is essential for agency officials to see the most up-to-date information about a claimant's medical condition. A Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) may be quick to seize on an outdated medical report as justification for denying benefits. In such cases, the applicant has every right to seek a new hearing that takes into account his or her entire medical history.

Social Security Incorrectly Relies on 10-Year-Old MRI in Denying Benefits

Here is a recent example from right here in Illinois. The applicant in this case was a 55-year-old woman who suffers from back pain, anxiety, and depression, among other ailments. The applicant first filed for Social Security Disability benefits in 2006. She received a hearing before an ALJ in 2008. The ALJ denied the claim, and in doing so largely discredited or ignored medical evidence presented by two physicians who had treated the applicant.

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