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IL disability lawyerIf you are suffering from medical conditions that make it difficult or impossible to work, you may struggle to meet your needs. Fortunately, you can apply for Social Security disability benefits, which will provide you with financial support while you are unable to work. However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) often denies benefits to applicants, leaving them unsure about their ability to support themselves. If your disability claim has been denied, you can appeal this decision, and your appeal may be based on a variety of factors, including the fact that more recent medical evidence shows that you are disabled.

Magistrate Reverses Disability Denial Based on Outdated MRI Tests

One recent Illinois case demonstrates the legal issues that can arise when Social Security bases a denial of benefits on test results that may no longer be relevant. In the case of Dennis E. C., Jr. v. Commissioner of Social Security, an administrative law judge (ALJ) had denied benefits to the plaintiff based on the opinion that he had the ability to perform work in jobs available in the economy.

The plaintiff, a 39-year-old man, had previously worked as a janitor, a warehouse freight handler, and other temporary labor positions, but he reported being unable to work because of severe back pain that made it difficult to stand or sit for extended periods. He also reported difficulty kneeling, squatting, bending, reaching, climbing stairs, and performing other work-related tasks.

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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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