When you apply for Social Security benefits based on your disability, expect the government to fight back aggressively. They will have lawyers well-versed in Social Security law. They may have medical experts with impressive resumes. However, if you come to your Social Security hearing armed with the right legal representation and the right medical experts supporting your position, then you can overcome all that, succeed and get the award of benefits you need. Before you go, though, make sure you have a skilled Chicago Social Security attorney on your side.
In a disability case, medical evidence will, of course, most likely be center-stage. One of the most powerful forms of medical evidence that you can place on your side is the testimony of treating physicians stating that you are, in fact, disabled.
The testimony of treating physicians generally carries a great deal of weight. Additionally, as a recent Social Security case from here in Chicago shows, the administrative law judge (ALJ) hearing your case must either given those doctors’ opinions weight, or give very specific reasons why she didn’t.
In that case, D.L.E. alleged he was disabled due to back problems. In ruling against D.L.E.’s claim, the ALJ gave little weight to the testimony of the two treating physicians C.L.E. presented, but gave significant weight to the independent medical examiner, who testified on behalf of the government.
The law requires that an ALJ give a treating physician’s opinions “controlling weight” if it is well-supported and not contradicted by “other substantial evidence.” If there are valid bases for discounting the opinions of a treating physician, the ALJ must spell out those reasons in specific findings of fact.
Winning the battle of competing medical testimony
The ALJ did not give much credence to D.L.E.’s treating physicians because one, who had treated him for years, was not a spine specialist. The other doctor, who was a spine specialist, had only treated D.L.E. for four months. The District Judge, in reversing the ALJ’s ruling, explained that the ALJ was on solid legal ground when she considered “the doctors’ specialties in weighing their opinions.” Additionally, if the independent medical examiner had been an experienced spine specialist, that might have been a sufficient basis for rejecting the doctors’ testimony… but the government didn’t have that. What the government had was an independent examiner who, just like D.L.E.’s primary doctor, was not a spine specialist. And what the ALJ was not allowed to do was to find these two doctors’ sufficiently opinions contradicted – and and worthy of being discounted – “in favor of the opinions of nonexamining consultants who do not specialize in spines.”
The period of time that a doctor has been treating you matters, as well. However, even a short doctor-patient relationship may be enough to give that doctor the ability to give testimony that carries controlling weight. In other words, the ALJ couldn’t discount the opinions of D.L.E.’s spine specialist because that specialist had been treating the man for only four months and then, within the same opinion, give full weight to the opinions of an independent medical examiner who saw D.L.E. exactly once.
When you head into a Social Security disability benefits hearing, you need persuasive doctors on your side. You also need to be sure that the ALJ deciding your case is giving those doctors’ opinions the weight they deserve. In other words, you need legal representation from the skillful and effective Chicago Social Security attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eisenstein, Johnson, Bareck & Bertuca. Our attorneys have many years of helping disabled people throughout the Chicagoland area to get the benefits they deserve. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 800-444-1525 or through our website.