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IL disability lawyerThere are multiple different types of conditions that can affect a person’s ability to work and earn an income. Fortunately, Social Security disability benefits can provide much-needed financial assistance in these cases. However, disability claims may be denied for a variety of different reasons. When appealing a denial of disability benefits, a person’s case will be reviewed by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The ALJ may consider multiple different forms of evidence when determining whether a person is disabled, and one issue that they may consider is whether the daily activities a person performs demonstrate that they are or are not disabled.

Magistrate Overturns ALJ’s Decision Based on Improper Consideration of Subjective Symptoms

A recent decision in Illinois courts illustrates the role that a person’s daily activities may play in an ALJ’s determination of whether a person is disabled. In the case of Steven L. v. Saul, the plaintiff was a 49-year-old man who suffered from chronic liver disease, asthma, neuropathy, and affective disorder. While the ALJ found that the plaintiff’s impairments made him incapable of resuming his past work as a neurologist, she ruled that he could work in jobs where he was limited to light work and simple, routine tasks.

The ALJ’s decision was based in part on the plaintiff’s ability to participate in daily activities, specifically noting that the plaintiff stated that he regularly engaged in driving, using a computer, and caring for his children. The ALJ determined that the plaintiff’s ability to participate in these types of activities undermined his claims that he suffered limitations that affected his ability to find or maintain employment.

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IL disability lawyerA new rule that went into effect December 16, 2020, could make it harder for disabled individuals seeking to qualify for Social Security disability benefits. The rule changes the disability appeals process by allowing attorneys who work for the Social Security Administration to conduct hearings and make decisions on whether the claimant is eligible for benefits. Up until December, these hearings were always overseen by independent and impartial administrative law judges (ALJ).

Social Security Disability Benefits Process

It is important for anyone who is applying for Social Security disability to understand how complicated and drawn out this process often is and why it can be critical to have an experienced Chicago disability attorney advocating for you. There can be up to four steps in applying for benefits:

  • Initial application: Many people file their initial request for disability benefits either online or over the phone. It is rare that an applicant’s initial application is approved at this stage. If a claim is denied, the applicant can request a reconsideration.
  • Reconsideration: An applicant has 60 days from their date of denial to file a Request for Reconsideration. The Social Security Administration will again review the application. Sometimes, at this level, the agency will approve the applicant’s claim and they will begin receiving benefits. However, it is also very common for the agency to deny the claim again. If this occurs, the applicant can request a hearing.
  • Hearing: An applicant again has 60 days from the day their Request for Reconsideration was denied to file a Request for a Hearing. The hearing usually takes place at the applicant’s local Social Security Administration Office in front of an ALJ. It is highly recommended that the applicant has a qualified disability attorney who is experienced in defending denied Social Security disability benefits. Once the attorney presents all the evidence on behalf of the applicant, the ALJ will decide if the claim should be approved. If the ALJ denies the claim, the applicant can appeal the decision to the Appeals Council.
  • Appeals Council: These appeal hearings are decided by administrative appeal judges (AAJ). Unlike an ALJ, who is impartial and independent, an AAJ works directly for the Social Security Administration. The role of the AAJ is not to evaluate the applicant’s case, but only to determine if the ALJ made a technical error or did not consider any relevant medical information during the hearing.

New Policy

Under the new policy, those same AAJs will now be allowed to hear and decide hearings instead of or in addition to ALJs and this could have a detrimental impact on an applicant’s ability to obtain a fair and just hearing. In addition to requiring ALJs to be independent and impartial from the Social Security Administration, they also are required to have a minimum of seven years experience as a licensed and practicing attorney and have significant experience in trials and litigation.

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IL disability lawyerWhen a person applies for Social Security disability benefits, there are many different factors that are considered to determine whether the person is considered to be disabled. A person must suffer from a physical or mental impairment that is “medically determinable,” and this condition must have lasted or be expected to last at least 12 months. An impairment must also affect a person’s ability to find gainful employment.

If a Social Security disability claim is denied, an applicant may appeal this decision, and an administrative hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) may be held to review the case and determine whether the person is disabled. An ALJ will follow a multi-step process to evaluate the person’s claim, and one important step in this process is determining whether the claimant’s condition meets or equals any of the items included in the Listing of Impairments in the Social Security Code of Regulations.

Magistrate Reverses ALJ’s Decision Based on Improper Analysis of Listing of Impairments

One recent case in Illinois demonstrates the role that the Listing of Impairments may play in an administrative hearing. In Angela L. H. v. Commissioner of Social Security, a woman’s disability claim had been denied, and after appealing this decision, the ALJ who reviewed the case determined that she was not disabled, since her impairments permitted her to find work other than what she had previously performed.

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