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IL disability lawyerWhen applying for Social Security disability benefits, it is important to remember that the officials who will rule on your claim are not themselves doctors or medical experts. Social Security regulations require officials to carefully consider the medical evidence, as well as your own testimony regarding your symptoms, in making a decision. It is improper for Social Security to “play doctor” on its own accord or rule in a way that is not supported by the actual medical evidence presented.

Illinois Magistrate Orders New Hearing for Disability Applicant, Citing Multiple Legal Errors

Let's take this recent decision from a federal magistrate judge here in Illinois, Matthew DS v. Saul. In this case, Social Security denied the disability application of a man (the plaintiff) who suffers from “inflammatory arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and obesity.” Following a hearing, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) determined these impairments did not qualify the plaintiff for the disability benefits.

The magistrate judge, however, found that several aspects of the ALJ's decision were not supported by the medical evidence. Among the problems cited by the magistrate:

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IL disability lawyerOne of the steps in assessing an application for Social Security disability benefits is looking at what jobs, if any, a person could perform when taking into account all of their physical and mental limitations. This is normally accomplished by having the administrative law judge (ALJ) posing a “hypothetical question” to a vocational expert (VE) during a disability hearing. It is critical that the ALJ includes all of the applicant's impairments in posing this question; otherwise, the VE's answer may not accurately reflect the applicant's actual job potential.

Illinois Judge Orders Social Security to Reconsider Limits on Applicant's “Concentration, Persistence, and Pace”

Here is a recent example of an ALJ failing to ask the right question. In Kenneth L. v. Saul, the plaintiff applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits from Social Security. SSI is a need-based program available to low-income individuals who meet the same disability criteria as for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. So the legal issues in this case would be equally applicable to a plaintiff seeking disability benefits.

After a hearing, an ALJ denied the plaintiff's application after determining he retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform “a full range of work at all exertional levels,” provided the work was limited to “simple, routine and repetitive tasks not requiring work at a production rate pace.” As is standard practice, the ALJ based this conclusion on a VE's response to a hypothetical question.

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IL disability lawyerWhen you apply for disability benefits, Social Security will consider the medical opinions of your treating physician as well as non-examining consultants. These consultants basically review your medical records and offer a separate opinion as to your physical or mental impairments. In some cases, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) may decide the non-examining doctors provide a more complete or accurate view of your condition than your own physician.

Magistrate Orders New Hearing on Deceased Man's Disability Claim

But what if a non-examining doctor reviews the exact same information as your treating physician and simply offers a different opinion? For instance, could a consultant look at the tests performed by your doctor and tell the ALJ they mean something different then what your doctor concluded?

A recent decision from an Illinois federal magistrate judge, Mary T. ex. rel. Falauren T. v. Saul, presented just such a scenario. This case sadly involves a now-deceased applicant for disability benefits. The applicant's mother actually continued the case following her son's death.

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