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Il disability lawyerIn determining eligibility for disability insurance benefits, Social Security must first determine your “residual functional capacity” or RFC. This is an assessment of your ability to work, taking into account any documented physical or mental impairments that you have. By law, Social Security must take all of your limitations into account when formulating an RFC.

Magistrate: Social Security Acknowledged Disability Applicant's Severe Headaches, Yet Did Not Account for Them in RFC

That does not, however, mean that Social Security officials always follow the law. A recent decision from a federal magistrate judge here in Illinois, Charlene J. v. Saul, provides a case in point. This case actually involves a plaintiff who filed for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. SSI is a type of benefit available to low-income individuals who do not enough of a work history to qualify for disability insurance (SSDI). That said, Social Security uses the same RFC standards when assessing SSI and SSDI claims, so the issues discussed here also apply to disability cases.

Here, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) determined the plaintiff suffered from a number of impairments, including the loss of vision in one eye, type-2 diabetes, and chronic headaches. The ALJ then found that despite these conditions, the plaintiff had the RFC to perform a “full range of medium work” with certain limits. Based on this RFC, the ALJ said the plaintiff could still perform her prior job as a cashier and denied her application for benefits.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_disability_20200401-004725_1.jpgSocial Security disability is a form of insurance. This means that you can only apply for benefits if you are actually covered–insured–at the time you became disabled. In most cases, your “date last insured” for disability purposes is five years after you left your last job.

Appeals Court: Social Security May Not Ignore Medical Opinions Rendered After Date Last Insured

But can Social Security consider a medical diagnosis or opinion rendered by your doctor after your date last insured (DLI) when assessing your disability claim? The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago recently addressed this question in an unpublished decision, Marquardt v. Saul. The plaintiff in this case applied for disability benefits based on his lupus and related impairments.

The plaintiff's date last insured was July 2013. In his application to Social Security, the plaintiff said his lupus rendered him unable to work prior to this date. However, he also submitted two reports from his treating neurologist, which were prepared in 2015 and 2016, respectively. These reports established the plaintiff suffered from cognitive defects as a result of his lupus. These defects, in turn, limited the plaintiff to performing “single-task jobs with breaks and no distractions.”

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IL disability lawyerIn assessing disability claims, Social Security looks at whether or not you have an “impairment” that is considered “severe” enough to prevent you from working. A Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) is also expected to consider symptoms that, while not qualifying impairments in and of themselves, may exacerbate such an impairment. In particular, the ALJ needs to determine how your symptoms and impairments, taken as a whole, may restrict the type of work you are able to perform, if any.

Social Security Failed to Consider Leg Weakness in Assessing Illinois Woman's Disability Claim

To illustrate these principles in greater detail, here is a recent case, Ramona G. v. Saul, where the ALJ failed to properly consider an applicant's symptoms. The plaintiff, in this case, applies for disability benefits three years ago. The main issue raised in the plaintiff's application was her back impairment. In conjunction with this impairment, the plaintiff also presented medical evidence that she suffered from weakness in her right leg.

The ALJ determined that this leg weakness was not itself a “medically determinable impairment” under Social Security regulations. The ALJ went on to deny the plaintiff's application for disability benefits. In response, the plaintiff filed for judicial review with an Illinois federal magistrate judge.

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