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IL disability lawyerWhen applying for Social Security disability benefits, a person will need to provide evidence to show that they have severe physical or mental impairments that affect their ability to find gainful employment. If disability benefits are denied, a person can appeal this decision, and their case will be heard by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). In these types of hearings, the ALJ must base their decision on evidence provided by both sides, as well as the opinions of medical and vocational experts. Any additional evidence considered by the ALJ is known as “extra-record evidence,” and certain rules apply regarding when this type of evidence can be used.

Magistrate Reverses ALJ’s Decision Based on Reliance on Extra-Record Evidence

A recent case in Illinois, Elizabeth D. v. Commissioner of Social Security, illustrates when extra-record evidence can and cannot be used by an ALJ. In this case, a woman had been found disabled in 2003 after receiving kidney and pancreas transplants. In 2011, Social Security determined that she was no longer disabled, and she appealed this decision, stating that in addition to her prior medical issues, she also suffered from extreme fatigue, depression, anxiety, migraines, and personality disorder.

When reviewing the evidence, the ALJ chose to give limited weight to the opinions of a doctor who had been treating the plaintiff since 2003, since this doctor’s opinions relied heavily on the plaintiff’s subjective complaints. Instead, the ALJ gave great weight to the opinion of a doctor who saw the plaintiff twice in preparation for hysterectomy surgery. This doctor stated that the plaintiff had an exercise capacity of 10 METs.

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IL disability attorneyFor those who have suffered an injury, illness, or another type of physical or mental condition that has affected their ability to work, Social Security disability benefits can be crucial for ensuring that they can meet their ongoing needs. To receive Social Security disability, a person will need to show that they have experienced impairments that have affected their ability to work and earn an income. In many cases, disability benefits will be denied, but these denials must be based on valid evidence, including medical records and testimony from medical experts and vocational experts. In these cases, applicants may be unsure about their options, especially if their claims are based primarily on their own testimony regarding their condition rather than relying on medical evidence.

Magistrate Reverses Denial of Benefits Based on an Improper Consideration of Plaintiff’s Testimony

Ideally, disability applicants will want to have as much evidence as possible to show that they are disabled. However, in cases where there is a lack of medical evidence, certain procedures should be followed to obtain and explore the relevant facts of the case. This was illustrated in a recent Illinois case, Jennifer L. K. v. Commissioner of Social Security.

The plaintiff in this case was a 56-year-old woman who had sustained an injury to both of her thumbs after falling on ice. She suffered from arthritis and received a surgical procedure, after which she struggled with moving her hands and fingers and grasping objects. At an evidentiary hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) determined that the plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as an eyewear salesperson while being limited to frequent “handling and fingering.”

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IL disability lawyerTo receive Social Security disability benefits, you will not only need to show that your physical or mental conditions have caused you to be unable to work in jobs you have previously done, but you will also need to demonstrate that you are unable to find gainful employment in positions that are available in the United States economy. In many cases, Social Security disability claims are denied because a vocational expert (VE) testifies that a person should be able to work in certain jobs that fit their physical or mental limitations. However, these denials may be made based on an improper consideration of the complexity of the work a person is able to perform.

Magistrate Overrules Denial of Benefits Based on Limitations Regarding One-to-Two Step Tasks

One recent case in Illinois courts addressed work limitations and the improper denial of benefits. In the case of Michael S. v. Commissioner of Social Security, the plaintiff had applied for Social Security disability benefits based on cognitive impairments such as memory loss, attention deficit disorder, and depression. After disability benefits were denied, the plaintiff appealed this decision, and the court ruled in his favor and remanded the case to the Commissioner of Social Security for reconsideration. After considering new evidence, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) again denied benefits, and the plaintiff appealed this decision as well.

The key issue in this appeal involved the opinions of two state agency psychologists stating that the plaintiff should be limited to one-to-two step tasks while at work. Based on the testimony of a medical expert, the ALJ rejected this limitation and found that the plaintiff could perform light work while being limited to tasks that involved simple decision-making.

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