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IL disability lawyerWhen a person applies for Social Security disability benefits, there are many different factors that are considered to determine whether the person is considered to be disabled. A person must suffer from a physical or mental impairment that is “medically determinable,” and this condition must have lasted or be expected to last at least 12 months. An impairment must also affect a person’s ability to find gainful employment.

If a Social Security disability claim is denied, an applicant may appeal this decision, and an administrative hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) may be held to review the case and determine whether the person is disabled. An ALJ will follow a multi-step process to evaluate the person’s claim, and one important step in this process is determining whether the claimant’s condition meets or equals any of the items included in the Listing of Impairments in the Social Security Code of Regulations.

Magistrate Reverses ALJ’s Decision Based on Improper Analysis of Listing of Impairments

One recent case in Illinois demonstrates the role that the Listing of Impairments may play in an administrative hearing. In Angela L. H. v. Commissioner of Social Security, a woman’s disability claim had been denied, and after appealing this decision, the ALJ who reviewed the case determined that she was not disabled, since her impairments permitted her to find work other than what she had previously performed.

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IL disability lawyerThe general rule in Social Security disability cases is that agency officials should give “controlling weight” to the medical conclusions of an applicant's treating physicians unless those opinions are not supported by the other evidence presented. If a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) decides to give a treating physician's views less-than-controlling weight, it is the ALJ's responsibility to explain their reasons. In fact, there is a required checklist of factors the ALJ is required to follow in such cases.

Magistrate Orders New Hearing After ALJ Fails to Follow “Checklist”

But this does not mean the ALJ actually follows the checklist. A recent decision from a federal magistrate judge here in Illinois, Kenneth P. v. Saul, offers a useful illustration. In this case, the plaintiff suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS) and applied for disability benefits five years ago. A Social Security ALJ denied the plaintiff's application after only giving “some weight” to the medical opinions offered by the plaintiff's treating neurologist.

As the magistrate explained, the neurologist concluded that the plaintiff's “fatigue and balance issues” related to his MS made him unable “to sustain a regular 40-hour work schedule.” The plaintiff also suffered from mental limitations that prevented him from “adequately” performing any type of desk job that required “memory and attention.”

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Social-Security-disability-claim-Chicago.jpgOne of the factors that Social Security officials consider in assessing a claim for disability benefits is the type and number of jobs an applicant might be able to perform despite his or her impairments. Social Security generally relies upon the opinions of “vocational experts” to provide this information. An administrative law judge (ALJ) will pose a series of “hypotheticals” to the vocational expert, who in turn is supposed to offer a realistic assessment of the applicant's job prospects.

Judge Rebukes Social Security Expert for Making Up Job Figures

Unfortunately, this system has a number of flaws. First, vocational experts are supposed to rely on a listing of occupational information last revised in 1991—a time before most people even had access to the Internet. Vocational experts also rely on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which offers more recent information on wages and productivity. Yet what happens when a vocational expert does not cite any source for his or her information? A federal magistrate in Illinois recently confronted this exact situation.

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