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IL disability lawyerSocial Security often denies applications for disability benefits based on the testimony of “agency consulting physicians.” These are doctors who review an applicant's medical records without personally examining or treating the applicant. In some cases, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) will give greater weight to the opinions of the agency consultants over the treating physicians. This is permitted under Social Security regulations, provided the consultant's opinions are consistent with the available medical evidence.

Appeals Court Questions Social Security's Conclusions Regarding Disability Applicant's Ability to “Reach Overhead”

Here is an example of a case where an ALJ improperly credited an agency consultant. In Gibbons v. Saul, the plaintiff applied for disability benefits approximately seven years ago. The plaintiff suffered from severe chronic pain in his neck, shoulders, and arms. Several doctors provided medical evidence with respect to the plaintiff's condition.

A critical issue was whether or not the plaintiff was capable of reaching overhead. According to Social Security regulations, a person is capable of performing “sedentary work,” and therefore does not qualify for disability benefits, if they can lift up to 10 pounds.

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Cook County disability benefits lawyer, disability benefits, disability claim, chronic pain, medical evidenceSocial Security administrative law judges (ALJs) frequently go to extraordinary lengths to discredit and discount the impact chronic pain has on a person's ability to work—or even simply live a normal life. Although a litany of regulations and federal court decisions reject such a draconian approach to disability cases, we continue to see applicants with legitimate claims are turned away by the arbitrary and capricious decisions of ALJs.

Illinois Magistrate Identifies Multiple Errors in Disability Decision

Consider one recent example. In this case, a female applicant suffering from a variety of impairments—hypertension, diabetes, and asthma—filed for disability benefits in 2013. In 2016, Social Security denied her application, in large part because the ALJ overseeing the case rejected the applicant's testimony regarding the effects of her chronic pain and other symptoms. The woman then sought review of Social Security's denial with an Illinois federal magistrate judge.

In August of this year, the magistrate held that the woman was entitled to a new hearing because the ALJ's decision reached conclusions that were “legally insufficient and not supported by substantial evidence.” Problems identified by the magistrate included the following:

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medical evidence, Social Security disability decisions, Chicago Social Security disability lawyer, disability benefits, disability claimsSocial Security disability decisions are supposed to be based on medical evidence. However, far too often, Social Security officials ignore this evidence in favor of their own preconceived biases towards a disability applicant, especially those suffering from chronic pain. Even worse, officials may try to manipulate the testimony of medical experts to justify their erroneous conclusions.

Court Says Social Security Cannot “Delegate” Credibility Findings to Consulting Doctors

The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago recently expressed its exasperation with the Social Security Administration over such practices. The context was a decision to deny disability benefits to a man suffering from congenital spinal stenosis and other serious medical impairments. At a hearing before a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ), the applicant presented substantial medical evidence documenting his condition. In brief, the applicant suffers from chronic pain as the result of a degenerative back problem, which has not improved despite undergoing surgery.

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