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Will Social Security Put My Credibility “On Trial” If I Apply for Disability?

Posted on in Denied Social Security Benefits

IL disability attorneyA Social Security disability hearing is not a criminal trial. The role of the Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) is not to assess your honesty, character, or credibility as a person. The ALJ's responsibility is to assess the medical evidence presented and make a fact-based determination as to whether or not you meet the listed requirements for disability benefits.

Federal Court Criticizes Social Security ALJ for Relying “Too Heavily” on Judgments About Applicant's Character

Although Social Security's own regulations instruct ALJs to avoid making statements regarding a disability applicant's “overall character or truthfulness,” this principle is not always followed in practice. When that happens, a federal court may decide an unsuccessful applicant is entitled to a new hearing.

To give a recent example, in a June 2020 decision, Dawn K. v. Saul, an Illinois federal magistrate judge found an ALJ relied “too heavily on character-doubting inconsistencies” in denying the plaintiff's application for disability benefits. The plaintiff is a woman in her mid-40s who applied for disability more than four years ago based on a number of impairments, notably problems with her right arm.

The ALJ determined the plaintiff's testimony regarding her symptoms were not credible. The ALJ's reasoning focused on two things: the plaintiff's “activities of daily living” and her purported failure to honestly discuss the side effects of one her medications. With respect to the first issue, the plaintiff said she was able to sit or stand “for five minutes at a time,” but she was also capable of performing basic household tasks, such as laundry and cooking. The ALJ believed these statements were contradictory. The magistrate was not convinced, noting that it was certainly possible that the plaintiff could cook or do household chores in five-minute chunks. And in any event, the ability to perform household tasks at one's own pace did not necessarily translate into the ability to work a full-time job.

Regarding the second issue, the magistrate said the ALJ “insinuated that Plaintiff lied when she testified that she had side effects from taking” one of her prescription medications. The ALJ said the plaintiff's testimony on this point conflicted with her failure to report any side effects to one of her treating physicians. But as the magistrate explained, the ALJ was manipulating the plaintiff's words. At the hearing, the plaintiff said that “sometimes” the medication made her “a little drowsy.” This suggested the magistrate did not believe the side effect was serious enough, so the magistrate said it made sense if she did not report it to her doctor. Again, this was not enough to discount the plaintiff's overall credibility. The magistrate, therefore, ordered Social Security to conduct a new hearing on the plaintiff's disability application.

Speak with an Illinois Social Security Disability Attorney Today

Social Security should never make you feel as if you are doing something wrong by applying for disability. An experienced Chicago disability benefits lawyer can represent you at a hearing and, if necessary, before a judge. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, today at 312-999-0999 to schedule a free consultation.




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