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b2ap3_thumbnail_obesity.jpgObesity does not simply mean a person is a few pounds over their ideal weight. Rather, it is defined as a “complex disease involving an excessive amount of body fat.” In some cases, a person's obesity may be severe enough to qualify them for Social Security disability benefits.

Now, it is important to understand that obesity, in and of itself, is no longer considered a standalone disability by Social Security. That is to say, Social Security will not assume you are unable to work because you suffer from obesity. But Social Security must take obesity into consideration when determining any limitations on your ability to work.

Magistrate: Social Security Acknowledged, But Did Not Discuss, Impact of Disability Applicant's Obesity

A recent decision from a federal magistrate judge here in Illinois illustrates the role obesity should play in a disability application. The plaintiff, in this case, applied for disability benefits, stating he has been unable to work since 2009 due to a variety of impairments, including a back injury, arthritis, and diabetes.

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IL disability lawyerWe often come across Social Security disability cases where an administrative law judge (ALJ) improperly tries to “play doctor.” In the most serious cases, the ALJ will simply ignore medical evidence outright if it poses a potential hurdle to finding the applicant is not legally disabled. Such actions violate both the letter and the spirit of disability law.

Magistrate: ALJ “Mischaracterized” Evidence Supporting Disability Claim

Fortunately, federal courts are ready and willing to call Social Security out on such behavior. This was the case in a recent decision, Karl B. v. Commissioner, where a magistrate judge said an ALJ “left some evidence out” of their decision because it “corroborated plaintiff's claims” in support of his disability application. The magistrate, therefore, ordered Social Security to conduct a new hearing.

The plaintiff in this case is a man in his early 50s. He previously held a number of jobs as a “car washer, loader, lot driver, sales representative, and sign holder,” according to court records. In his disability application, the plaintiff cited a number of impairments that prevented him from working, notably chronic pain and stomach problems arising from a 2001 armed robbery where he was shot. After an evidentiary hearing, a Social Security ALJ determined the plaintiff was not disabled and denied his application for disability benefits.

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IL disability lawyerBy law, you have the right to counsel when applying for Social Security disability benefits. This means you can–and should–work with a qualified disability benefits lawyer. And while you can waive your right to counsel and represent yourself before Social Security, this is generally not in your best interests.

Court Holds Social Security Gave Disability Applicant Adequate Warnings Regarding Waiver of Counsel

A recent decision from the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago illustrates the problems with attempting to represent yourself in a disability case. The plaintiff in this lawsuit, Jozefyk v. Berryhill, initially sought disability benefits citing a number of physical and mental impairments, including depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and avoidant personality disorder.

Prior to a hearing on his disability claim before a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ), the agency sent the plaintiff several notices explaining his right to counsel. Social Security does not provide representation itself, but it does refer applicants to services that assist in finding a qualified attorney.

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