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IL disability attorneyFibromyalgia is one of the more difficult medical conditions to address in the context of applying for Social Security disability insurance. The medical definition of fibromyalgia, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is a “condition that causes pain all over the body (also referred to as widespread pain), sleep problems, fatigue, and often emotional and mental distress.” While fibromyalgia can manifest itself through these symptoms, there is no simple medical “test” that can diagnose a patient with the condition.

As a result, Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) tend to discount subjective complaints of pain by disability applicants as insufficient to prove their fibromyalgia prevents them from working. Illinois courts have repeatedly told Social Security, however, that ALJs cannot require such “objective” tests to confirm a fibromyalgia diagnosis.

Appeals Court Rejects Widower's Appeal of Social Security Decision

At the same time, an ALJ may consider additional objective evidence when evaluating the “severity” of fibromyalgia under the Social Security Administration's disability listings. A recent decision from the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago, Gebauer v. Saul, illustrates this principle in greater detail. This sad case actually involved the widower of a woman (the decedent) who died suddenly while her application for disability benefits was still pending.

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Il disability lawyerWhen Social Security denies an application for disability benefits, the applicant has the right to appeal. The appeals process often includes a number of stages, including filing a formal petition for review with a federal judge, who has the authority to order Social Security to conduct a new hearing on your application.

Judge: ALJ Used “Template” Language, Failed to Explain Reasons for Rejecting Disability Claim

Your chances on appeal are much stronger if you are represented by an experienced Social Security disability attorney. But there are cases where a disability applicant has represented themselves and still managed to prevail on appeal. In fact, it happened just recently to a woman from right here in Illinois.

The plaintiff in this case first applied for disability benefits six years ago, citing her inability to work due to diabetes and blindness in one eye. A Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) held a hearing on the plaintiff's application in 2016. After hearing the plaintiff's testimony and other evidence, however, the ALJ denied the application for benefits.

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IL disability lawyerIn a recent post, we discussed a federal appeals court decision that chastised Social Security for its failure to properly consider the limits on a disability applicant's "concentration, persistence, and pace.” Such limitations are relevant when assessing an applicant's hypothetical ability to work in spite of their medical impairments. Yet Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) routinely downplay limitations on concentration, persistence, and pace when questioning vocational experts (VEs) at disability hearings.

Court: ALJ Failed to Ask the Right Question of Vocational Expert

And in fact, the same federal appeals court that handed down the decision we previously discussed had to remind Social Security of this yet again. On February 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit here in Chicago ordered Social Security to conduct a new disability hearing after the ALJ failed to “properly address” the plaintiff's “limitations in concentration, persistence, or pace.”

The plaintiff in this particular case, DeCamp v. Berryhill, is a 55-year-old woman who applied for disability benefits, citing her brain tumor, neck and back pain, and bipolar disorder as impairments. At a 2015 hearing before an ALJ, the plaintiff testified that she suffered from frequent migraines–approximately four per week–and that she was limited in her daily activities due to chronic pain. As part of the hearing, the ALJ also posed a hypothetical question to a VE, which asked if an unskilled laborer who “may be off task or off pace up to 10 percent of the work day” outside of normal breaks could still find work in the national economy. The VE replied such work would be hypothetically available; however, if the applicant were “off pace or off task more than 15 percent of the day,” as opposed to 10 percent, then there would be “no competitive work available.”

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