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Can I Be Denied Disability Benefits If I Am Unable to Testify in Person?

 Posted on February 09, 2016 in Already Applied for Disability Benefits

Chicago Social Security Disability AttorneysWhen you apply for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, there is typically a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), an agency official charged with reviewing your medical history and case file. At this hearing, you may give testimony regarding your disability and how it prevents you from working. The ALJ's assessment of your credibility is one factor in deciding whether or not you are eligible for benefits.

But what if your medical condition makes you unable to testify? Can the ALJ simply decide you lack credibility because you were prevented from attending the hearing in person? A recent Illinois case illustrates how Social Security may handle (or not handle) such situations.

ALJ Improperly Rejects Credibility of Applicant Who Never Testified

The applicant in this case way an Illinois woman in her early 20s who suffers from asthma. The applicant told her treating physician that she “has frequent asthma attacks lasting from 30 minutes to sometimes 24 hours, as many as three to four times a week.” And during the three-year period prior to her Social Security disability hearing, the applicant “frequently sought emergency room treatment for her asthma.”

On the day of her scheduled hearing in 2011, the applicant did not appear in person. Her attorney informed the ALJ that she was “ill and was unable to attend.” The ALJ refused to postpone the hearing or excuse the applicant's absence for medical reasons. Ultimately, the ALJ also cited this absence as one reason for denying the applicant's claim for disability benefits.

In reviewing the subsequent appeal, a federal magistrate said the applicant was entitled to a new hearing. Among other problems, the magistrate noted that “without [the applicant's] testimony at the hearing, the reasons the ALJ gave in support of the credibility determination are inadequate.” For example, the ALJ apparently “misread” a note provided by the applicant's doctor in support of her request for a postponement.

The magistrate said the ALJ was also too quick to reject the applicant's claims regarding her serious mental impairments, including depression and bipolar disorder. The ALJ cited inconsistencies in the applicant's treatment for these impairments. But as the magistrate noted, since the applicant was unable to testify in person, “the ALJ had no way of knowing whether one of these reasons was behind [the applicant's] sparse mental-health treatment record.” Instead of scheduling a supplemental hearing to receive the applicant's testimony, the ALJ instead drew “inferences” about the claimant's condition based on an incomplete record. The magistrate said that was not acceptable.

Get Help With Your Disability Case

Social Security officials are often quick to deny a disability applicant's claim without providing sufficient reasons. This means it may take several years to fully resolve a claim as multiple layers of appeals may be necessary to secure a favorable outcome. If you are unable to work due to one or more serious medical impairments, you should speak with an experienced Chicago Social Security Disability attorney as soon as possible. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0993 if you have any questions or concerns.



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