How Does Social Security Determine When You No Longer Qualify for Disability Benefits?
It is possible in a disability case for Social Security to find you that you were disabled for a certain period in the past but are now capable of working. As with all matters related to disability claims, however, Social Security must follow the available medical evidence. Agency officials cannot simply declare you are “better” based on their own intuition.
Take this recent disability case from Montana, Smith v. Saul. The plaintiff here applied for disability benefits in 2013. The plaintiff explained that due to her medical impairments, she had been unable to work since 2012. A Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) later concluded that the plaintiff did qualify for disability benefits–but only up until April 1, 2014. After that date, the ALJ believed the plaintiff’s condition improved to the point where she could perform “light work.”
The plaintiff challenged the ALJ’s findings in court. In June 2020, a federal judge agreed the plaintiff was right. She was, in fact, entitled to disability benefits after April 1, 2014. Indeed, the judge concluded that a new hearing before Social Security was unnecessary, as the evidence presented clearly supported an award of benefits.
Basically, the judge said the ALJ improperly ignored the testimony of three separate doctors who personally treated the plaintiff. The plaintiff has polymyositis–a rate inflammatory disease that weakens the muscles–as well as pulmonary hypertension (i.e., high blood pressure). The plaintiff’s treating physicians agreed these conditions were life-threatening and produced a number of symptoms that made it impossible for her to work.
The ALJ, however, gave “little weight” to these conclusions and chose to rely on the views of doctors who did not personally treat the plaintiff but instead simply reviewed her medical records. These non-treating consultants believed the plaintiff’s symptoms were under control and she could therefore resume light work. In contrast to the views of the treating physicians, the ALJ found the consultants’ opinions were “highly persuasive” because they were “internally consistent and well supported by a reasonable explanation and the available evidence.”
But the judge found this problematic. The ALJ never actually provided a “good reason” for discounting the views of the treating physicians. And as a general rule, the treating physicians’ opinions are “entitled to deference” by Social Security. Especially in this case, where the treating doctors’ views were clear, it was “legal error” on the ALJ’s part to disregard them. And had the ALJ properly credited the treating physicians’ evidence, Social Security would inevitably have found the plaintiff continued to be legally disabled after April 1, 2014. For that reason, she was entitled to an immediate award of benefits.
Speak with a National Disability Attorney Today
Even when the medical evidence overwhelmingly favors your disability application, Social Security will often find a way to try and ignore it. National SSD eligibility lawyer Stephen Barszcz can help you make sure the government follows its own rules. Contact his office today at 877-655-2667 to schedule a consultation.