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What Happens if Social Security Disregards My Medical Evidence?

Posted on in Social Security Disability Medical Conditions

medical evidence, Social Security disability decisions, Chicago Social Security disability lawyer, disability benefits, disability claimsSocial Security disability decisions are supposed to be based on medical evidence. However, far too often, Social Security officials ignore this evidence in favor of their own preconceived biases towards a disability applicant, especially those suffering from chronic pain. Even worse, officials may try to manipulate the testimony of medical experts to justify their erroneous conclusions.

Court Says Social Security Cannot “Delegate” Credibility Findings to Consulting Doctors

The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago recently expressed its exasperation with the Social Security Administration over such practices. The context was a decision to deny disability benefits to a man suffering from congenital spinal stenosis and other serious medical impairments. At a hearing before a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ), the applicant presented substantial medical evidence documenting his condition. In brief, the applicant suffers from chronic pain as the result of a degenerative back problem, which has not improved despite undergoing surgery.

The ALJ, however, largely disregarded the testimony of the applicant and his treating physicians. Instead, the ALJ leaned heavily on the testimony of a consulting physician who specialized in lung disease—not back problems or chronic pain—who reviewed the applicant's medical records but did not personally examine or treat him. Nevertheless, the ALJ said the consultant's views were entitled to great weight because he conducted a “careful analysis” of the applicant's condition, although the ALJ offered no specific examples.

More to the point, the consultant testified the applicant was still capable of working in spite of his condition. The problem, the Seventh Circuit said, was that the consultant did not take into account the applicant's chronic pain. In fact, the consultant never expressed an opinion on the credibility or scientific basis of the applicant's complaints of pain. The consultant noted it was the ALJ's job to assess “credibility.” But the ALJ suggested, falsely, that this was the consultant's job.

The Seventh Circuit was not amused by this circular reasoning. The Court noted that as a matter of law, “The ALJ cannot delegate to any doctor, and certainly not to a non-examining doctor, the task of evaluating the claimant's credibility.” This was not a minor point, the Court said. If the applicant's “own account of his pain and resulting limitations” were accurate, it should show that he is “totally disabled and eligible for benefits.” Additionally, the Seventh Circuit said the ALJ should have considered whether or not the applicant's spinal stenosis qualified him as “presumptively disabled” under Social Security regulations. For these reasons, the appeals court said the applicant was entitled to a new disability hearing.

Need Help Presenting Your Disability Case?

Gathering medical evidence is often the first step towards pursuing a successful claim for disability benefits. But as cases like the one above illustrate, it is not the only step. Convincing Social Security to grant your disability claim is often a multi-stage process that requires judicial intervention. If you need help with your own claim from a qualified Chicago Social Security disability lawyer, contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, today.



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