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IL disability lawyerA key part of the disability application benefits process is when Social Security asks a vocational expert to answer a “hypothetical” question designed to ascertain what potential jobs, if any, exist in the marketplace for a person with certain physical or mental limitations. Remember, it is not enough to prove you have a disability. Social Security also needs to figure out whether your disability–or a combination of disabilities–makes it impossible for you to find meaningful work. The hypothetical question is supposed to help determine the answer.

Seventh Circuit Orders New Hearing for Disability Applicant

But this assumes Social Security asks the right hypothetical question, to begin with. 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 plaintiff after determining an administrative law judge (ALJ) asked an “incomplete” hypothetical question. This error alone was sufficient, the court said, to justify reconsideration of the plaintiff's application for disability benefits.

The plaintiff applied for disability, citing a number of impairments, including depression, attention deficit disorder, fibromyalgia, and degenerative disc disease. Much of the plaintiff's impairments stemmed from a 2007 slip-and-fall accident. Following this accident, the Seventh Circuit noted, the plaintiff could “no longer live the active life she had before her fall.” Even seven years after the fall, the plaintiff could not sit or stand for more than 30 minutes at any one time. By that point, she had already filed an application for Social Security disability insurance benefits.

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IL disability lawyerIt is a sad truth that many of our U.S. military veterans suffer from mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. Unfortunately, Social Security officials often compound the suffering of our veterans by refusing to classify them as disabled, even in the face of overwhelming medical evidence. Indeed, there are many cases where the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) considers a veteran disabled but Social Security does not.

Federal Court Identifies Multiple Problems with Social Security Ruling

A recent decision by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago illustrates the unnecessary hardships faced by our veterans when dealing with the Social Security disability process. The plaintiff in this case is a 49-year-old woman who served as a chief petty officer in the United States Navy. During her service, the plaintiff was subjected to sexual harassment from her supervising officer. This led the plaintiff to develop migraines and sleeping problems.

After receiving an honorable discharge from the Navy eight years ago, the VA diagnosed the plaintiff with PTSD, military sexual trauma, and major depressive disorder. The plaintiff eventually applied for and received VA disability benefits. Then in 2013, the plaintiff applied for Social Security disability benefits. But Social Security denied her application after an administrative law judge (ALJ) after concluding the plaintiff “was still able to perform certain work and thus was not disabled.”

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IL disability lawyerLast year, we discussed a case that was pending before the U.S. Supreme Court involving Social Security regulations for compensating lawyers who successfully pursue disability claims on behalf of their clients. On January 8, 2019, the Court issued its decision, which provided important clarification of the law in this area.

Justices: Caps for Agency, Court Representation Are Separate

To briefly review what this case, Culbertson v. Berryhill, was about: A Social Security attorney from Florida represented a woman who was seeking disability benefits. After going through the lengthy administrative review process, Social Security denied the woman's application. The woman then decided to challenge that decision by suing the Social Security Administration in federal court.

As part of the lawsuit, the woman signed a contingency-fee agreement with her attorney, which provided he would receive 25 percent of any past-due disability benefits she received if the court action proved successful. And in fact, the lawsuit did succeed. Social Security awarded past-due benefits and the agency withheld 25 percent of that amount to pay the attorney's fees.

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