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Illinois disability attorney

Those who suffer from physical or mental conditions that make it difficult or impossible to work will often be concerned about their ability to support themselves financially. Fortunately, Social Security disability benefits are available in many cases. However, the process of applying for Social Security disability can be complicated, and disability claims are often denied for a variety of reasons. While it is possible to appeal the decision to deny disability benefits, it is important to understand the procedures followed when doing so and the types of evidence that may be considered in an appeal.

Appeals Court Upholds Decision to Deny Benefits and Refuses to Reweigh Evidence

If a disability claim is denied, an applicant will usually need to file a request for reconsideration, and if benefits are once again denied, they may request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Both sides will present evidence at this hearing, and the ALJ will follow specific procedures to determine whether the applicant is disabled and whether they should be able to find work that fits within their physical or mental limitations. If an ALJ rules that a person is not disabled, the applicant can appeal this decision. However, an appeal must be based on the claim that the ALJ committed errors, and an applicant cannot introduce new evidence or ask the appeals court to reconsider or reinterpret previous evidence.

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IL disability lawyerAlthough Social Security disability insurance is a federal program, it relies on state agencies to evaluate claimants. In Illinois, the office of Disability Determination Services within the Department of Human Services will assign medical experts to review an applicant's medical history. The state reviewers' opinions are then submitted to a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ), who must consider the record as a whole before making a final decision as to whether the applicant meets the legal criteria to receive disability benefits.

Social Security Failed to Consider 400 Pages of Records in Illinois Man's Disability Case

The state agency reviewers can only do their job properly, however, when they actually have access to all of the relevant medical evidence. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. For example, an Illinois federal magistrate judge recently ordered Social Security to conduct a new hearing for a disability applicant after it came to light the state agency reviewers never considered 400 pages of medical records relevant to the case.

The plaintiff in this case, George K. v. Berryhill, suffers from a number of physical impairments. Initially, the plaintiff's problems revolved around his back, which he seriously injured at work in 2011. But starting in 2015, the plaintiff also began to suffer from seizures and other “seizure-like activity.”

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IL disability attorneySocial Security disability decisions are supposed to be based on medical evidence, such as the findings of your treating physician. When there is a conflict in the medical evidence–i.e., different doctors reach different diagnoses–a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) is entitled to decide which evidence is more credible and consistent with the overall record. However, the ALJ cannot simply ignore uncontradicted medical evidence and substitute his or her own non-medical judgment.

Magistrate Rejects ALJ's Finding That Disabled Applicant Could Use Both of His Hands

When ALJs overstep their boundaries, a disability applicant may have recourse on appeal to a federal court if their claim for disability benefits was ultimately denied. Here is a recent example from here in Illinois. In this case, Andrew B. v. Berryhill, a former bus driver (the plaintiff) applied for disability benefits in 2014, citing a variety of impairments, including carpal tunnel syndrome, torn ligaments in his hands, and arthritis.

For purposes of the plaintiff's disability application, the critical time period was between November 2014 and January 2016. According to the expert opinion of the only doctor to examine the plaintiff during this period, the plaintiff “could only occasionally handle objects with both hands.” That is to say, the plaintiff could not “frequently” handle objects with his right hand due to his medical condition.

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