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Will Taking a Vacation Affect My Ability to Receive Disability Benefits?

Posted on in Social Security Disability

IL disability lawyerIn reviewing your application for disability benefits, Social Security will not just look at your medical record. It will also review many other aspects of your personal life, such as your ability to perform household tasks or even the vacations you have taken. In some cases, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) may even cite the fact you went on vacation as proof your testimony regarding your disability is not “credible.”

Magistrate: Vacations Do Not Disprove Disability Applicant's Testimony Regarding Her Panic Attacks

Federal courts, however, have cautioned Social Security not to simply assume an applicant is not credible simply because they were able to go on vacation. A recent decision from an Illinois federal magistrate judge, Lorena T. v. Saul, provides a case in point. The plaintiff here applied for disability benefits based on a number of mental impairments, including her frequent panic attacks. The ALJ ruled the plaintiff did not legally qualify for disability benefits, but the magistrate reversed that decision and ordered a new hearing.

As the magistrate noted, the ALJ expressed “skepticism towards [the plaintiff's] panic attack allegations throughout his opinion.” Among other reasons for this skepticism, the ALJ cited the fact the plaintiff went on two vacations, one to Florida and the other to New York and New Jersey. Both times the plaintiff said she suffered panic attacks, but the ALJ insisted this undercut her credibility. In particular, the ALJ did not understand why the plaintiff took her second vacation after allegedly suffering a panic attack during the Florida vacation.

The magistrate's position was that the ALJ should have dug a bit deeper before jumping to conclusions. The ALJ never asked the plaintiff what she actually did on her vacations or how she responded to her panic attacks. For instance, the magistrate said the plaintiff might have “had the opportunity to isolate herself in a hotel room during a panic attack, or that she tried to use Xanax to get through the trips but was unsuccessful.” If so, that would not be “inconsistent” with the plaintiff's overall testimony regarding her panic attacks. The magistrate concluded the ALJ essentially failed in his duty to ask appropriate “follow-up questions.”

The ALJ also cited the plaintiff's purported failure to take all of the medications prescribed by her doctors as proof that her panic attacks were not severe. The magistrate again took issue with the ALJ's reading of the evidence. Indeed, the ALJ himself acknowledged the plaintiff experienced a number of side effects from her medications, and that is why she stopped taking them. The magistrate said the ALJ could not punish the plaintiff for acting as she did.

Speak with a Chicago Social Security Disability Attorney Today

Social Security is often quick to jump on anything that it perceives as undermining the credibility of a disability applicant's testimony. An experienced Chicago disability benefits lawyer can assist you in fighting back against such efforts. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, today at 312-999-0999 to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team.




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