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Il disability lawyerWhen Social Security denies an application for disability benefits, the applicant has the right to appeal. The appeals process often includes a number of stages, including filing a formal petition for review with a federal judge, who has the authority to order Social Security to conduct a new hearing on your application.

Judge: ALJ Used “Template” Language, Failed to Explain Reasons for Rejecting Disability Claim

Your chances on appeal are much stronger if you are represented by an experienced Social Security disability attorney. But there are cases where a disability applicant has represented themselves and still managed to prevail on appeal. In fact, it happened just recently to a woman from right here in Illinois.

The plaintiff in this case first applied for disability benefits six years ago, citing her inability to work due to diabetes and blindness in one eye. A Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) held a hearing on the plaintiff's application in 2016. After hearing the plaintiff's testimony and other evidence, however, the ALJ denied the application for benefits.

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Illinois social security disability lawyer debtsMany Illinois residents are understandably reluctant to hire an attorney to represent them when applying for Social Security disability benefits, because they simply cannot afford to pay a lawyer–especially when they are already unable to work and have limited financial resources. This is why a qualified disability lawyer works on a contingency basis. In other words, the lawyer only accepts payment if they obtain a disability award for the client.

Federal law also requires Social Security to pay applicants’ attorney’s fees in certain cases. Specifically, the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) provides that when an applicant prevails in litigation against the Social Security Administration–and the government's position was not “substantially justified”–then a judge may order an award of attorney's fees to the successful applicant. However, an EAJA award is payable directly to the disability applicant rather than his or her attorney.

Seventh Circuit Upholds Using Attorney Fee Award to "Offset” Poor Disability Recipients' Debts

The distinction of whom the award is paid to is critical, because there are cases where the federal government can use money awarded for attorney’s fees to “offset” debts owed by the applicant for matters unrelated to their Social Security case. For example, if an applicant is behind on their student loans or child support payments, the U.S. Treasury can use a disability-related award of attorney’s fees to pay off those debts without the applicant’s consent.

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social security appeals, Chicago disability lawyerMany people are denied Social Security Disability Insurance benefits on their first application. Disability cases are initially heard by an administrative law judge (ALJ), who, despite the title, is not a judge in the conventional sense. An ALJ is actually an employee of the Social Security Administration who initially reviews claims on behalf of the Commissioner of Social Security. Typically, an ALJ examines a disability applicant's medical record, questions the applicant, and reviews expert testimony before approving or rejecting a disability claim. If the ALJ rejects a claim, the applicant may appeal to a federal court.

Judge Unimpressed With Social Security Official's “Scattershot Analysis”

In a recent case, a federal appeals court in Chicago harshly criticized an ALJ who denied a Social Security disability claim despite overwhelming evidence the applicant was “totally disabled.” The applicant was 22 years old and previously worked as a “warehouse worker, landscape laborer, and forklift driver,” according to court records. In 2010, he was “struck in the back of his head by an assailant wielding a bar stool as a weapon.” The applicant subsequently required brain surgery, during which he suffered a seizure.

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