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b2ap3_thumbnail_medical-impairment.jpgIn a typical Social Security disability case, an administrative law judge (ALJ) will hear medical opinions from a number of different experts. In addition to the disability applicant's own treating physicians, the ALJ will also review the views of non-treating “consultants” who have examined the applicant's medical records. For disability cases filed before March 2017, the ALJ is normally required to give the treating physician's views “controlling” weight in the event of a conflict. That said, it is permissible to discount those opinions in favor of the non-treating consultants.

Magistrate: ALJ Cannot Rely Solely on Her “Lay Expertise” in Assessing Applicant's Mental Impairments

What the ALJ may not do, however, is ignore all of the medical evidence and “play doctor” themselves. The ALJ is a legal officer, not a medical professional. That means their job is to apply the law fairly and impartially.

But we often see ALJs step outside this legal role to make improper medical diagnoses. A recent disability case from here in Illinois, Christopher P. v. Saul, provides a useful illustration. The plaintiff here applied for disability benefits over five years ago. As part of the application process, the plaintiff's treating psychiatrist opined that he suffered from a number of mental impairments that included “marked limitations in concentration, persistence, or pace, and three episodes of decompensation, along with other disabling symptoms.”

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IL disability lawyerPsychiatric disorders often manifest themselves through inconsistent symptoms. That is to say, a person can feel “fine” one day yet be totally incapable of leaving the house the next. Such inconsistency often leads Social Security disability officials to incorrectly conclude an applicant's medical disorder is not “severe” enough to justify an award of benefits.

Court Orders New Hearing After Social Security Official Disregards Testimony from Multiple Psychiatrists

Take this recent Illinois disability case, Nicole D. v. Saul. The plaintiff in this case applied for disability benefits more than five years ago. She suffers from a number of psychiatric disorders, including major depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

At a disability hearing, the plaintiff presented expert opinions from three of her treating physicians. The first doctor, a psychiatrist, explained the plaintiff's mental disorders were “severe enough to meet or equal” Social Security's disability requirements. The psychiatrist based her findings on her extensive treatment of the plaintiff, which encompassed approximately 40 consultations between 2014 and 2016.

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IL disability lawyerIn a Social Security disability case, your own testimony regarding your symptoms will not be enough to secure an award of benefits. Your “subjective complaints,” as they are called in these cases, must be supported by medical evidence, such as a diagnosis from your treating physician. Absent such evidence, Social Security will deny your application.

Court Finds No Medical Evidence Disability Applicant Is Allergic to Electricity

A recent decision from the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago, Atkins v. Saul, helps to illustrate the critical role that medical evidence plays in disability cases. The plaintiff in this case is an Indiana man who claimed he was disabled based on his “hypersensitivity to chemicals and electromagnetic fields.”

The plaintiff's family doctor conducted an examination. The doctor determined that while the plaintiff had a “very odd, flat affect”–i.e., diminished emotional expression–his results were otherwise normal. Later, this same doctor diagnosed the plaintiff with “acne and allergic rhinitis,” for which he prescribed medication. But the doctor explained that, contrary to the beliefs of the plaintiff and his family, he was not allergic to electricity and “all” chemicals.

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