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IL disability lawyerSocial Security administrative law judges (ALJs) are expected to rely on medical evidence when assessing an application for disability benefits. The most critical form of medical evidence comes from the applicant's own treating physicians. But the ALJ may also consider other forms of evidence, including something known as a GAF score.

GAF stands for the “Global Assessment of Function.” It is a rating system used to assess a disability applicant's mental function on a 1 to 100 scale. A higher score typically indicates a higher degree of mental functioning.

Now, a GAF score is simply a doctor's opinion regarding the overall impact of an applicant's mental disorders at a given time. It is not an objective diagnostic test. And an ALJ is not allowed to grant or deny disability benefits based solely–or even primarily–on a GAF score. Rather, it is simply one piece of information the ALJ may consider as part of an applicant's overall case.

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IL disability lawyerThere are situations where Social Security may award disability benefits but fix a different onset date than alleged by the applicant. The alleged onset date is basically the day you became unable to work due to your physical or mental impairments. This date is important because, under Social Security regulations, a successful applicant can claim up to 12 months of retroactive benefits from the date of their application.

In other words, let's say Mary filed for disability benefits in January 2018 with an alleged onset date of June 2017. If Social Security subsequently grants the application and agrees with the onset date, Mary would be entitled to retroactive benefits starting in November 2017, or five months after the alleged onset date. (Social Security imposes a five-month waiting period for all disability benefits.)

Magistrate Finds Social Security's Reasons Unclear for Disagreeing with Plaintiff's Alleged Onset Date

If Social Security grants your application but disagrees with your alleged onset date, you can appeal the latter decision. Social Security must then show why it determined the applicant did not become legally disabled until a different date than alleged.

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IL disability lawyerEpilepsy is a disorder of the central nervous system that frequently leads to seizures and other unusual behaviors, such as loss of awareness. And while many people are able to lead a full, active life with epilepsy, there are cases where the symptoms may be so severe as to render an individual unable to work. In such circumstances, epilepsy may qualify as a disability for Social Security purposes.

Court of Appeals: Social Security Improperly Discounted Views of Disability Applicant's Primary Care Doctor

Of course, Social Security may attempt to minimize or disregard the impact of epilepsy on a disability applicant. Although Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) are normally expected to give great weight to the medical conclusions of a disability applicant's treating physician, we often see cases where just the opposite occurs: The ALJ will discount the treating physician's views without offering sufficient reasons for doing so.

Such practices may be commonplace at Social Security, but they are in direct contravention of the law. For example, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago recently ordered Social Security to conduct a new disability hearing for a 27-year-old applicant (the plaintiff) who filed for benefits on the basis of his epilepsy. The plaintiff's primary care physician explained that despite medication, the plaintiff suffered from “chronic fatigue, memory loss and the need to lie down frequently.” It was the primary care physician's expert opinion that the plaintiff's epileptic seizures had caused “brain damage” and that even if the plaintiff could find work he would “need frequent breaks and miss work frequently because of his symptoms.”

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