It Takes Patience to Properly Decide Social Security Disability Hearing Claims

August 19, 2013

What does it take to get approved for Social Security Disability benefits by an Administrative Law Judge in the Chicago metropolitan area? Well, there are countless rules and regulations guiding disability decisions – whether a person’s given health problem is diabetes, a heart condition, back pain, arthritis, a psychiatric impairment or something else.  People are often confused by the notion of whether a certain health problem or diagnosis “qualifies” for Social Security disability.  In our experience at Nash Disability Law, helping more people in the Chicago metropolitan area win Social Security disability benefits than any other law firm, what we observe is the following:  

Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) in the Chicago metropolitan area (whether the hearing is in the Loop, Oak Brook, Evanston, Orland Park or Valparaiso)  look at your medical records.  These include hospitalization records and outpatient records of where you have been to the doctor, particularly in the one to two years before your given hearing.  It’s not uncommon for Social Security disability claimants to be sent to “independent” medical exams by SSA, which are often rather cursory.

It is common sense that the judge deciding the case would not want their own family member’s health condition “understood” in a hasty, formulaic manner, but what view does a given judge have toward a Social Security Disability claimant and the process?  Certainly they look at the records of the doctors treating the claimant, in further search of the Holy Grail of the SSDI process: “objective evidence.”  And the ALJ’s life experience (both in the practice of law and outside of it), SSA training and a wealth of informal patterns of thinking and customs come to bear on what inferences are drawn from the given medical and non-medical records.

 Compare our ad where attorney Tom Nash highlights that his father was a judge, and Tom learned that people in court deserve respect and understanding.  This becomes important because symptoms disable people – not medical labels or complicated medical words on pieces of paper.  It’s entirely understandable that Social Security law and the ALJs focus on medical evidence and its relationship to testimony.  At Nash Disability Law (“NDL”), we wouldn’t have it any other way.  However, one of the senior attorneys here at NDL, Russ, had an uncle who was a Social Security Administrative Law Judge for over 25 years.  Russ often pointed out that if SSA wanted to have a program where all one did was compare the findings in the records to complicated rules in some regulatory book, a judge could quickly dispatch of a great volume of claims.  But despite the siren song of such a magic formula for “accurately” deciding the future of claimants who are often and unfairly harshly viewed and scapegoated it, most everyone believes testimony and credibility should be an important part of the process and bottom-line judgment.  Russ was fond of suggesting that if other facts and the credibility of testimony are important, then it takes patience at a hearing to achieve the just result. It does. And particularly when judges grow numb to human individuality in the context of  seemingly similar fact patterns.