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disability hearing, Social Security Disability Insurance, medical impairments, disability applicants, Chicago Social Security attorneyObtaining Social Security disability benefits is not simply a matter of proving you suffer from a physical or mental impairment. The Social Security Administration must also consider whether there are “suitable jobs” that you could theoretically perform in spite of your impairments, and whether such jobs “exist in significant numbers.” Here, the burden is on Social Security—not you as the applicant—to prove this is the case.

Woman Recovering from Brain Surgery Entitled to New Hearing

How you do quantify the amount of “suitable jobs” available? Social Security typically relies on the testimony of vocational experts (VEs) to estimate the number of jobs that might be available. Unfortunately, many VEs fail to properly explain their methodology, which makes their “expert” opinions little more than guesswork. A number of federal courts—including the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago—have expressed frustration.

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Social Security Disability Insurance, Chicago disability benefits lawyer, disability applicant, chronic back pain, disability claimsOne of the most common reasons why people seek Social Security Disability Insurance benefits is they are simply in too much pain to keep working. When that pain has a clear medical explanation, you would think that should be enough to satisfy Social Security officials. Yet in far too many cases, agency officials simply dismiss “subjective” complaints of pain, even while acknowledging a disability applicant has a serious mental or physical impairment.

Judge Criticizes Social Security for “Selective” Misrepresentation of Evidence

Let us consider a recent decision by a federal judge in southern Illinois. The plaintiff is a woman in her mid-40s who first applied for disability benefits over five years ago. Previously, she worked as a customer service representative until her medical condition left her unable to sit all day.

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Social Security disability insurance, Chicago disability benefits lawyer, mental disorder, mental health condition, legally disabledAs a society we tend to discount mental health disorders as somehow less serious than physical impairments. Many people falsely believe that depression is nothing more than “having a bad day” or “feeling sad,” and that even clinical diagnoses are something that can be waved away. Unfortunately, the people who believe this often include the officials who oversee Social Security disability insurance benefits.

Court Chides Social Security for “Inadequate” Assessment of Disability Applicant's Mental Condition

A common problem in disability cases—even those that involve physical impairments—is Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) selectively choosing to ignore evidence. With respect to mental disorders, an ALJ may attempt to cite only examples from the record that suggest the disability applicant is “improving” or perhaps exaggerating his or her symptoms, while simultaneously ignoring the larger medical record. Such cherrypicking of medical evidence is not just insulting to the applicant—it is a clear violation of Social Security regulations and binding court precedent.

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