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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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IL disability lawyerSocial Security disability claims are supposed to be decided on the basis of medical evidence. But in far too many cases, Social Security administrative judges (ALJs) selectively ignore medical evidence that favors the applicant. While an ALJ is not required to discuss every piece of evidence in fine detail, it is not acceptable to disregard evidence simply because it might benefit the applicant's case.

Social Security ALJ Accuses Disability Applicant of “Cheating” Without Evidence

In an April 29 decision, Muriel EF v. Commissioner of Social Security, a federal magistrate judge from here in Illinois ordered Social Security to conduct a new disability hearing for an applicant based on ALJ's disturbing “pattern” of cherry picking evidence. The plaintiff in this case is a woman in her 50s with a long history of medical impairments, including sciatica, spinal damage, and obesity.

In fact, the plaintiff's condition required her to undergo multiple spinal surgeries. Yet in denying the plaintiff's application for disability benefits, the ALJ “ignored” and “glossed over” this surgical history, as the magistrate put it. Indeed, the plaintiff “had two lumbar surgeries, which the ALJ also did not mention at all” in her decision. Another set of surgeries warranted nothing more than a mention in a single sentence. Similarly, the ALJ did not mention or discuss the results of a medical exam the plaintiff received–on her doctor's advice–after applying for disability benefits.

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IL disability lawyerSocial Security officials often deny applications for disability benefits  because they fail to properly consider all of the available medical evidence. This includes not just evidence regarding an applicant's physical condition, but also their mental state. That is to say, Social Security may incorrectly–and illegally–discount the expert opinions of a disability applicant's treating psychiatrist.

Mischler v. Berryhill

The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago recently addressed such a case. The plaintiff here is a 47-year-old woman who suffers from a number of physical and mental impairments, including depression. More than five years ago, the plaintiff applied for disability benefits.

Before a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ), the plaintiff presented evidence that she was first diagnosed with major depressive disorder in 2001. As is often the case with psychiatric disorders, the plaintiff's symptoms ebbed and flowed over time. In 2008, she required hospitalization for her depression. And starting in 2003, she began seeing a psychiatrist.

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