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When Social Security Simply Ignores Medical Evidence of a Disability Applicant's Limitations

Posted on in Denied Social Security Benefits

IL disability lawyerIn looking at an application for disability benefits, Social Security officials must determine how your physical and mental impairments affect your ability to work in a practical sense. That is to say, if your doctors tell Social Security you can only work under certain medical restrictions, an administrative law judge (ALJ) must factor those limitations into a final evaluation of your “residual functional capacity” to work.

ALJ Failed to Consider Impact of Plaintiff's Need to Elevate His Leg Throughout the Day

Let's consider a recent disability case from here in Illinois where the ALJ failed to do this, at least in the view of a federal magistrate judge who ordered Social Security to reconsider its decision. The plaintiff in this case first applied for disability benefits more than five years ago. Although Social Security did find the plaintiff was disabled, it fixed the “onset date” of the disability in May 2014. The plaintiff alleged a much earlier onset date in September 2011.

Before the magistrate, the plaintiff argued the Social Security assigned to his case improperly evaluated several key pieces of evidence. Notably, the ALJ did not evaluate or weigh an opinion from the plaintiff's treating physician, who found that due to the plaintiff's impairments, he needed to “elevate his legs to heart level or above for 30 minutes, four times a day.”

A vocational expert who testified at the plaintiff's disability hearing told the ALJ point-blank that someone who needed to follow this type of direction “could not work in the national economy.” Yet according to the magistrate, the ALJ simply ignored this evidence. Given its relevance to the timeline of the plaintiff's alleged disability, this error alone justified a new hearing.

But this was not the only mistake the ALJ committed. The magistrate said the ALJ also disregarded evidence from a nurse and a second doctor regarding the plaintiff's need to elevate his legs throughout the day. The ALJ said the nurse was not an “acceptable medical source” for purposes of a disability hearing. The magistrate disagreed, noting the law requires Social Security to consider “other source” opinions.

The magistrate further challenged the ALJ's findings that the plaintiff's testimony regarding his symptoms were “not entirely consistent” with the evidence. Among the reasons cited by the ALJ for this finding was the plaintiff's purported failure to comply “with his prescribed treatment course” for his conditions. The problem, according to the magistrate, was the ALJ never looked at the reasons for the plaintiff's non-compliance. For example, the plaintiff might have been unable to afford treatment–he testified he had no income in 2014–and/or lacked adequate medical insurance.

Contact an Illinois Social Security Disability Lawyer Today

Social Security often only sees the evidence it wants to see in a disability hearing. But the law requires more. If you need advice or assistance in presenting your case for disability benefits to Social Security, Pearson Disability Law, LLC, can help. Our qualified Chicago disability benefits attorneys understand the legal process and can assist you with your claim from start-to-finish. Call us today at 312-999-0999 today to schedule a free consultation.




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