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IL disability lawyerMany people are forced to apply for disability benefits because they are unable to work due to chronic pain. Unfortunately, Social Security officials are often quick to dismiss such complaints, even when supported by medical evidence. Some administrative law judges (ALJ) seem to think that applicants are exaggerating or fabricating their complaints of pain. This often leads ALJs to selectively cherry-pick information that they think will support denying an application for benefits.

Seventh Circuit Orders New Disability Hearing After ALJ Disregards Key Medical Evidence

But at the end of the day, Social Security must follow the law. A recent decision from the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago, Reinaas v. Saul, provides a cautionary example. This case involves a man (the plaintiff) in his mid-50s who lives on a small farm in Wisconsin. The plaintiff previously worked as a factory machine operator. While on the job, he seriously injures his spine and rotator cuff. Following multiple surgeries, he was able to return to work for a time but continued to experience headaches and significant pain in his neck and shoulder.

The physician who treated the plaintiff in connection with his workers' compensation claim eventually determined that the plaintiff could no longer work. The treating physician told Social Security that the plaintiff “had spinal disorders and nerve root compression that were presumptively disabling and that he suffered from two or more severe migraines per month despite prescribed treatment.” At a hearing, the plaintiff himself told the ALJ that his head movements were “limited” and that he suffered from migraines approximately 10 to 15 times per month.

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IL SSI lawyerIn order to receive Social Security disability benefits, you must be completely unable to work. Even if you are incapable of returning to your previous job, Social Security will also look at whether you can perform different types of work, including “sedentary” work. Among other things, sedentary work includes jobs that do not require a person to lift more than 10 pounds at once during the workday.

Illinois Magistrate: Social Security Failed to Give “Controlling Weight” to Disability Applicant's Doctor

So if your treating physician determines you cannot lift more than 10 pounds, that should weigh in favor of granting your application for disability benefits. Of course, Social Security does not always make things that easy. Take this recent decision from an Illinois federal magistrate judge, Lucy S. v. Saul. In this case, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) disregarded the findings of an applicant's treating physician with respect to her ability to lift. The magistrate took exception to the ALJ's decision and returned the case to Social Security for a new hearing.

The plaintiff in this case was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis as a teenager. She was nevertheless able to work as an MRI technologist for approximately 14 years. While moving a patient one day in 2015, the plaintiff said her “back gave out with a pop,” and she has been unable to work ever since.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_disability_20200401-004725_1.jpgSocial Security disability is a form of insurance. This means that you can only apply for benefits if you are actually covered–insured–at the time you became disabled. In most cases, your “date last insured” for disability purposes is five years after you left your last job.

Appeals Court: Social Security May Not Ignore Medical Opinions Rendered After Date Last Insured

But can Social Security consider a medical diagnosis or opinion rendered by your doctor after your date last insured (DLI) when assessing your disability claim? The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago recently addressed this question in an unpublished decision, Marquardt v. Saul. The plaintiff in this case applied for disability benefits based on his lupus and related impairments.

The plaintiff's date last insured was July 2013. In his application to Social Security, the plaintiff said his lupus rendered him unable to work prior to this date. However, he also submitted two reports from his treating neurologist, which were prepared in 2015 and 2016, respectively. These reports established the plaintiff suffered from cognitive defects as a result of his lupus. These defects, in turn, limited the plaintiff to performing “single-task jobs with breaks and no distractions.”

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