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IL disability attorneyThere is a tendency among Social Security officials to take claims involving psychological impairments less seriously than those involving physical impairments. Legally, this should not matter. If a person is unable to work due to a documented mental disorder, they are just as entitled to disability benefits as someone with a physical impairment. Unfortunately, that is not always the reality.

Illinois Magistrate Orders a New Hearing, Criticizes ALJ for “Playing Doctor”

Take this recent decision from an Illinois federal magistrate judge, Anthony S. v. Saul. In this case, a 55-year-old man (the plaintiff) applied for disability benefits, citing a number of psychological impairments, including post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder. After a hearing, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) determined these impairments did not prevent the plaintiff from performing some types of “light work” and denied his disability claim.

The magistrate, who reviewed the case after the plaintiff sued the Social Security Administration, noted the ALJ failed to “explicitly” state a “single theory” to explain the decision to deny benefits. Based on the content of the ALJ's decision, however, the magistrate interpreted rationale as that the plaintiff was “malingering,” i.e., the “intentional production of false or grossly exaggerated [] psychological symptoms.”

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IL disability lawyerWe often come across Social Security disability cases where an administrative law judge (ALJ) improperly tries to “play doctor.” In the most serious cases, the ALJ will simply ignore medical evidence outright if it poses a potential hurdle to finding the applicant is not legally disabled. Such actions violate both the letter and the spirit of disability law.

Magistrate: ALJ “Mischaracterized” Evidence Supporting Disability Claim

Fortunately, federal courts are ready and willing to call Social Security out on such behavior. This was the case in a recent decision, Karl B. v. Commissioner, where a magistrate judge said an ALJ “left some evidence out” of their decision because it “corroborated plaintiff's claims” in support of his disability application. The magistrate, therefore, ordered Social Security to conduct a new hearing.

The plaintiff in this case is a man in his early 50s. He previously held a number of jobs as a “car washer, loader, lot driver, sales representative, and sign holder,” according to court records. In his disability application, the plaintiff cited a number of impairments that prevented him from working, notably chronic pain and stomach problems arising from a 2001 armed robbery where he was shot. After an evidentiary hearing, a Social Security ALJ determined the plaintiff was not disabled and denied his application for disability benefits.

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