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Illinois Social Security disability application lawyerOne of the cardinal rules of Social Security disability cases is that agency officials are not allowed to “play doctor.” In other words, when a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) holds a hearing to decide whether or not an applicant is legally disabled, the ALJ must rely on medical testimony presented by qualified experts. The ALJ is not supposed to rely solely on their own interpretation of medical evidence, since, after all, they are not doctors themselves.

Federal Court Orders New Disability Hearing After ALJ Ignores Medical Evidence

Here is a recent disability case in which Social Security forgot this basic rule. This is taken from a decision by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Illinois, although this particular case originated in Indiana. The plaintiff was a 49-year-old woman who formerly worked as a hairstylist. She stopped working in 2009 due to a variety of ailments, notably degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia, and depression.

The degenerative disc disease–the plaintiff's chronic back pain–was the main focus of a hearing before a Social Security ALJ. At the hearing, the plaintiff's treating physician testified that her degenerative disc disease had progressed to the point where she qualifies as disabled under Social Security regulations. Although the doctor based his findings on examinations conducted during 2014, he nevertheless concluded that the plaintiff had been disabled since at least June 2011.

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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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Social Security disability benefits, Cook County disability benefits attorney, medical evidence, disability claim, disability hearingMedical evidence is usually the key to obtaining Social Security disability benefits. Your best source of credible medical evidence is generally your own doctor. But what if your doctor is an internal medicine generalist and not a specialist? Can Social Security disregard your doctor's views simply because they lack specialized training or experience with respect to your particular disability?

Judge Rejects Social Security's Excuses for Rejecting Primary Care Doctor's Diagnosis

A federal judge here in Illinois recently confronted these questions. The plaintiff in this lawsuit seeks Social Security benefits due to a number of physical and mental impairments. Of particular note, the plaintiff suffers from “lumbar disc abnormalities” that restrict his ability to sit, stand, and walk.

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