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IL disabilty lawyerThere is often a significant delay in hearing Social Security disability cases. One result of this delay is that new information regarding an applicant's medical condition may come to light after a doctor has already reviewed the record. When this happens, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) should take the time to obtain a proper expert assessment of this new information before making a decision.

Illinois Magistrate Orders New Hearing to Consider Applicant's MRIs and X-rays

Unfortunately, that is not always how things work in practice. Consider this recent decision from a federal magistrate judge here in Illinois, Renee L. M. v. Commissioner of Social Security. The plaintiff, in this case, is a woman in her 50s who applies for disability insurance benefits four years ago. Although an ALJ determined the plaintiff did suffer from a number of severe impairments, including “fibromyalgia, back arthritis, anxiety disorder, and personality disorder,” she nevertheless had the “residual functional capacity” to perform “light work” with limitations. On that basis, the ALJ denied the claim for disability benefits.

Before the magistrate, the plaintiff argued the ALJ relied on the “outdated opinion” of a state agency medical consultant. These consultants do not personally treat the disability applicant; rather they review their medical records and offer opinions to the ALJ. The ALJ is never supposed to “play doctor” themselves, but instead assess the credibility of the consultants as well as any treating physicians.

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IL disability lawyerMental impairments, such as bipolar disorder, often make it impossible for a person to focus on their work. When applying for disability benefits, Social Security officials often discuss an applicant's “concentration, persistence, and pace” to describe this focus, or lack thereof. Essentially, if the symptoms of your mental disorder–or even the treatment for your disorder–reduce your overall productivity in the workplace, that is a crucial piece of evidence in support of your claim for disability benefits.

Illinois Woman Granted New Hearing After Social Security Failed to Properly Assess Limits on Her Concentration, Persistence, and Pace

If a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) fails to properly account for limitations in your concentration, persistence, and pace, you may be entitled to a new hearing. This is precisely what happened in a recent Illinois disability case, Thea P. v. Saul. The plaintiff in this case filed for disability more than 5 years ago, citing a number of mental impairments, including bipolar disorder and depression.

In denying the plaintiff's application, the ALJ nevertheless found that she had “moderate difficulties of concentration, persistence, or pace.” During the hearing, the ALJ questioned a vocational expert (VE). Such experts commonly testify in disability hearings; their role is to explain the types and number of jobs a person could hold, taking into account certain limitations. Here, the ALJ asked the VE to consider the hypothetical employment opportunities for an individual who was limited to “performing more than simple routine tasks” without having to meet any “strict quotas” for production.

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IL disability lawyerIn a Social Security disability case, your own testimony regarding your symptoms will not be enough to secure an award of benefits. Your “subjective complaints,” as they are called in these cases, must be supported by medical evidence, such as a diagnosis from your treating physician. Absent such evidence, Social Security will deny your application.

Court Finds No Medical Evidence Disability Applicant Is Allergic to Electricity

A recent decision from the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago, Atkins v. Saul, helps to illustrate the critical role that medical evidence plays in disability cases. The plaintiff in this case is an Indiana man who claimed he was disabled based on his “hypersensitivity to chemicals and electromagnetic fields.”

The plaintiff's family doctor conducted an examination. The doctor determined that while the plaintiff had a “very odd, flat affect”–i.e., diminished emotional expression–his results were otherwise normal. Later, this same doctor diagnosed the plaintiff with “acne and allergic rhinitis,” for which he prescribed medication. But the doctor explained that, contrary to the beliefs of the plaintiff and his family, he was not allergic to electricity and “all” chemicals.

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