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Will Social Security Hold My Criminal Record Against Me?

Posted on in Denied Social Security Benefits

Cook County disability benefits attorneySocial Security disability programs are designed to assist individuals who are unable to work due to a physical or mental impairment. Disability decisions are not supposed to be a judgment on the applicant's character or past conduct. However, Social Security officials often discount disability claims raised by individuals with criminal records or who are not considered “sympathetic” or “likable” enough.

Magistrate: Social Security Failed to Properly Assess Ex-Con's Mental Disorders

Such considerations, however, have no relevance under Social Security regulations. When an agency administrative law judge (ALJ) takes procedural shortcuts with an applicant they dislike, a federal court may intervene and decide that the applicant is entitled to a new hearing.

This is precisely what happened in one recent Illinois Social Security disability case. The plaintiff applied for Supplemental Security Income benefits in 2014. (SSI follows similar rules to Social Security Disability Insurance when it comes to assessing an applicant's physical and mental impairments.) For the eight years prior to the plaintiff's application, he was serving a prison sentence.

The plaintiff's SSI application claimed he suffered from a combination of mental illnesses, including major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, and drug and alcohol dependence. At a hearing before a Social Security ALJ, the plaintiff's evidence largely consisted of his own testimony and medical records from a drug and alcohol treatment center he entered following his release from prison.

The ALJ rejected the plaintiff's application. She determined that the plaintiff's mental health disorders “were less serious than he portrayed them.” In support of this position, she cited the plaintiff's failure to follow recommended treatment, the fact there were “significant gaps” in his treatment, and his “sporadic lifetime work history,” which she said pointed to some other explanation for his chronic unemployment.

On appeal, a federal magistrate found a number of flaws in the ALJ's reasoning. For example, the ALJ never properly “explored” the plaintiff's history of drug and alcohol addiction. The ALJ “mentioned” these problems but never considered that they were symptoms of the plaintiff's underlying mental disorders.

Indeed, the magistrate said the ALJ offered “vague or incomplete” rationales for most of her findings. With respect to the plaintiff's purported treatment gaps, the magistrate noted that the ALJ failed to consider the fact that the plaintiff “had just been released from prison, and apparently had little financial assets” that would enable him to seek treatment. More alarmingly, the ALJ failed to seek any expert testimony that could shed light on the plaintiff's complete medical record. 

Ultimately, the magistrate acknowledged that the plaintiff might be “unsympathetic, unlikeable, and not entirely credible,” but that did not absolve the ALJ of her responsibility to do her job.

Contact an Illinois Social Security Disability Lawyer Today

If you are seeking disability benefits and are concerned that Social Security will not treat you fairly, it is critical to have qualified legal assistance. A dedicated Chicago disability lawyer can represent you before Social Security, and if necessary before a federal judge, to ensure that your case is properly handled according to the law. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team today about your case. Call us today at 312-999-0999.



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