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Making Sure Social Security Does Not Wrongly Discredit a Disability Applicant's Testimony

 Posted on October 30, 2015 in Already Applied for Disability Benefits

applicant testimony, social security appeal, Chicago Social Security Disability AttorneySocial Security Disability Insurance applicants often face an uphill battle with agency officials who are determined to reject a claim. Oftentimes, Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs)—the agency employees charged with conducting initial reviews of disability cases—will employ “boilerplate language” to avoid addressing specific evidence, a practice expressly forbidden in Illinois by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. But even when ALJs offer more detailed explanations of their decision-making, they may still unfairly (and illegally) discount a disability applicant's testimony. In some cases, courts have ordered the Social Security Administration to reconsider a claim after misrepresenting an applicant's testimony.

ALJ's “Misstatement” Entitles Applicant to New Hearing

The following includes a recent example from here in Illinois. The claimant in this case suffered from congestive heart failure as the “result of a pulmonary embolism and a heart attack.” A Social Security ALJ nevertheless denied the applicant's request for disability benefits, determining in spite of these medical impairments the applicant “had the residual functional capacity to perform light work” and that his “complaints regarding the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of his alleged symptoms are not credible in that they are inconsistent” with this finding.

On appeal, a federal magistrate found the ALJ's decision was based on a “misstatement of the record” and ordered Social Security to reconsider the applicant's claim. The specific “misstatement” referred to the ALJ's consideration of the applicant's testimony regarding his “fatigue as a side effect of the numerous medications he takes each morning.” The applicant testified his medication makes him “oopy and light-headed,” and requires him to sleep throughout the day. The ALJ said this testimony was not credible because “the claimant's treatment notes indicate no such drowsiness,” and the applicant himself ceased reporting such symptoms after November 2008, several months before the applicant filed his disability claim.

But in fact, the magistrate said, there were two separate notes made by health care providers after November 2008 where the claimant said he was “out of sorts” and “feeling tired” as a result of taking his morning medications. These omissions alone justified remanding the applicant's case back to Social Security for further proceedings. “Because the ALJ misstated or overlooked relevant evidence in the record,” the magistrate explained, “it is impossible for [the court] to determine whether he considered the entire record in making his determination, and this requires a remand.” The magistrate added Social Security must reconsider several other issues related to the applicant's claim, including whether he is, in fact, capable of performing “light work” and any hypothetical limits on such work.

Need Help from a Social Security Lawyer?

The case above illustrates how even a seemingly minor error by Social Security officials can affect a disability claim. While not all Social Security disability claims ultimately succeed, all applicants are entitled to a fair, impartial examination of the entire evidentiary record, free from agency bias or inaccurate statements of the case. That is why, if you or a loved one is disabled and unable to work, it is imperative you speak with a qualified Chicago Social Security Disability Insurance attorney right away. Contact the offices of Pearson Disability Law, LLC, today to speak with someone about your case.



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