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IL disability lawyerSocial Security disability claims are supposed to be decided on the basis of medical evidence. But in far too many cases, Social Security administrative judges (ALJs) selectively ignore medical evidence that favors the applicant. While an ALJ is not required to discuss every piece of evidence in fine detail, it is not acceptable to disregard evidence simply because it might benefit the applicant's case.

Social Security ALJ Accuses Disability Applicant of “Cheating” Without Evidence

In an April 29 decision, Muriel EF v. Commissioner of Social Security, a federal magistrate judge from here in Illinois ordered Social Security to conduct a new disability hearing for an applicant based on ALJ's disturbing “pattern” of cherry picking evidence. The plaintiff in this case is a woman in her 50s with a long history of medical impairments, including sciatica, spinal damage, and obesity.

In fact, the plaintiff's condition required her to undergo multiple spinal surgeries. Yet in denying the plaintiff's application for disability benefits, the ALJ “ignored” and “glossed over” this surgical history, as the magistrate put it. Indeed, the plaintiff “had two lumbar surgeries, which the ALJ also did not mention at all” in her decision. Another set of surgeries warranted nothing more than a mention in a single sentence. Similarly, the ALJ did not mention or discuss the results of a medical exam the plaintiff received–on her doctor's advice–after applying for disability benefits.

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arthritis, disability benefits, Chicago Social Security Disability Insurance lawyerAs we discussed in part one of this series, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that affects millions of Americans. In fact, according to the not-for-profit Arthritis Foundation, arthritis is the “number one cause of disability” in the United States. The Foundation further notes that approximately one-third of persons suffering from arthritis “have limitations in their ability to work, the type of work they can do or whether they can work part time or full time.” In many cases, a person’s rheumatoid arthritis is so severe they may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.

Using a Walker Is Not Proof of a Disability

Unfortunately, simply complaining about arthritis-related pain, no matter how severe, will not convince the Social Security Administration to award disability benefits. Social Security has very particular guidelines for assessing disability claims based on “inflammatory arthritis.” Under these guidelines, one way that a claimant can establish a disability is with medical evidence that his or her arthritis has led to “persistent inflammation or persistent deformity of one one more major peripheral weight-bearing joints resulting in the inability to ambulate effectively.” For example, if rheumatoid arthritis has progressed to the point where a person cannot walk without the assistance of a hand-held walker, that would constitute proof of a disability.

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depression, depressive disorder, Chicago Social Security Disability attorneySocial Security Disability Insurance benefits are not just for individuals who suffer from physical impairments. The Social Security Administration recognizes a wide range of mental disorders. This includes major depressive disorder, perhaps more commonly known as clinical depression. Over the next few posts on this blog, we will be looking more in-depth at how depression can affect you and your eligibility for Social Security Disability benefits. [Update: Parts two, three, and four are now posted.]

What Is Depression?

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines clinical depression as a “common but serious mood disorder” that produces a number of “severe symptoms” that affect a person's daily life. While many symptoms are not serious in and of themselves—for example, feeling sad or irritable—if they persist for more than two weeks, they may be signs of major depressive disorder. Here are just some of the symptoms of depression identified by NIMH:

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