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IL disability lawyerSocial Security officials often deny applications for disability benefits  because they fail to properly consider all of the available medical evidence. This includes not just evidence regarding an applicant's physical condition, but also their mental state. That is to say, Social Security may incorrectly–and illegally–discount the expert opinions of a disability applicant's treating psychiatrist.

Mischler v. Berryhill

The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago recently addressed such a case. The plaintiff here is a 47-year-old woman who suffers from a number of physical and mental impairments, including depression. More than five years ago, the plaintiff applied for disability benefits.

Before a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ), the plaintiff presented evidence that she was first diagnosed with major depressive disorder in 2001. As is often the case with psychiatric disorders, the plaintiff's symptoms ebbed and flowed over time. In 2008, she required hospitalization for her depression. And starting in 2003, she began seeing a psychiatrist.

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Chicago disability benefits lawyer, Social Security disability benefits, mental disorders, social functioning, major depressive disorderMental disorders often impair a person's social functioning. This is an important factor when applying for Social Security disability benefits, since one of the key questions agency officials must consider is whether an applicant has the “residual functional capacity” (RFC) to hold down a job, taking into account the limits on his or her social functioning. But as we often find when it comes to Social Security, the agency's administrative law judges (ALJs) are quick to minimize and dismiss concerns regarding social functioning—and mental disorders in general.

Court Cites Failure to Properly Consider Applicant's “Moderate Difficulties” in Social Settings

Consider a recent decision by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago. The Court ordered a new hearing for a woman in her mid-40s who first applied for disability benefits over five years ago. The woman—who we will identify here as the plaintiff—suffers from a number of physical and mental impairments, including major depressive disorder.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_mental-disorder-Chicago.jpgPsychiatric disorders often pose a challenge for Social Security Disability Insurance applicants. Social Security officials tend to discount medical evidence of serious mental health problems, such as depression. The attitude of many administrative law judges is that if a person can function at home with a documented mental disorder, they can also handle the stress of a full-time job.

Social Security Must Consider Stresses of the Workplace

However, that is clearly not always the case. For example, in a recent disability case from Springfield, a federal magistrate faulted Social Security's treatment of a 51-year-old applicant's claim. The applicant worked for many years as an attorney. About six years ago, he stopped working due to a variety of mental and physical impairments. Of note, the applicant's physicians diagnosed him with depression, sleep apnea, insomnia, and migraine headaches. At one point the applicant was diagnosed with major depressive disorder after he expressed “suicidal ideations” to an emergency room doctor.

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