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IL disability lawyerAs we have discussed many times before, it often takes many years for a disability applicant to receive a final decision from Social Security. And in many of those cases, there may be several years of additional appeals following a denial of disability benefits. During this lengthy period, many disability applicants, unfortunately, pass away. Under the law, the applicant's spouse, children, or other beneficiaries may continue to pursue the disability claim.

Magistrate Rules Social Security Failed to Properly Justify Decision Denying Now-Deceased Woman Disability Benefits

Just recently, a federal judge here in Illinois ruled in favor of a widower who sought to reverse a Social Security decision denying his late wife's claim for disability benefits. The deceased injured her back in 2012 while working at a retail store. The injury was severe enough that she required surgery. But even then, she continued to suffer from chronic leg and back pain. This eventually led to her filing an application for disability benefits in 2014.

Following a 2016 hearing, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) determined the deceased was not legally disabled. Despite her impairments, the ALJ said she could still perform “light work with certain restrictions.” The applicant died in 2017, so her husband appealed the ALJ's decision on her behalf.

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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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disability benefits, Chicago Social Security attorney, apply for disability, disability claim, Illinois disability caseThe Social Security Administration uses a five-step process to determine whether or not someone is eligible for disability benefits. At the first step, a Social Security administrative law judge will “consider your work activity.” Legally, a person is only considered disabled if he or she has been unable to “do any substantial gainful activity” due to their medical impairments “for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” In plain English, you generally need to be out of work for at least one year before you can apply for disability.

Judge Rejects Fired Schoolteacher's Disability Claim

This is not to say you cannot earn any money in the 12 months preceding the alleged onset date of your disability. Social Security defines “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) as a monthly threshold. For example, in 2018 a person may earn up to $1,180 per month and still qualify for disability benefits (or $1,970 if they are blind). There are also cases where a handicapped person may engage in “sheltered employment” without it constituting SGA.

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