While you may believe your symptoms are clearly disabling, there is a specific process a California administrative law judge must go through to determine whether you qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. An experienced attorney can ensure that you present your case in the best possible light at the administrative level so that you can get the benefits you need. Among other things, it is critical to have a medical record that supports your claims and to be regarded as critical. In claims that include mental health impairment, issues of a strong medical record and credibility can become especially pronounced.
In a recent District Court decision, the court considered whether an appropriate decision had been reached with regard to a claimant with mental health impairments. The court explained that the claimant had the burden of showing she hasn’t been engaged in a substantial gainful activity since becoming disabled. It reasoned that when a claimant has worked and the work is considered substantial gainful activity, there will be a finding of not being disabled. The claimant also has the burden of showing a medically severe impairment. The administrative law judge found she’d suffered from scoliosis and status post lumbar fusion. At Step 3 of the sequential evaluation process, the administrative law judge determined that the impairments didn’t medically equal listed impairments. Next it found she had the residual functional capacity to still do sedentary work.
The plaintiff argued the administrative judge erred in rejecting symptom testimony when there were no clear, convincing and specific reasons supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. The administrative law judge found that the claimant’s allegations about the severity of her symptoms and limitations was diminished because the allegations were more than expected based on the record’s objective evidence.
The claimant said she could do certain personal tasks, although her activities were somewhat limited. She lived alone but got some assistance from her sister. The court noted that her ability to do certain tasks undermined her claims that she was functionally disabled. The claimant hadn’t gotten the sort of medical care that would ordinarily be expected for a totally disabled individual. Physical examinations didn’t show certain signs that would be expected if she were functioning out of the ordinary and the findings were inconsistent with the severity of her symptoms and functional limitations and diminished how persuasive those were.
The administrative law judge had followed case law and found the plaintiff’s credibility diminished. It also cited particular medical reports in reaching its conclusions and referenced the clinical evidence in the medical record that supported his conclusions. The court did not find error.
The plaintiff also claimed that the administrative law judge had perpetrated a harmful legal error in finding her mental health impairments were not severe. She argued that the whole record showed consistent symptomology and restrictions secondary to mental impairments that would more than minimally impact her ability to work.
The administrative law judge didn’t only cite the evidence to support the conclusion he’d drawn but also discussed evidence that pointed a different way. The court determined that the administrative law judge had properly put forward the evidence on which his decision was based to provide less weight to the State agency medical consultants. The defendant’s motion for summary judgment was granted.
Even legitimate Social Security Disability benefits claims may be denied. It’s important to work with an experienced attorney. If you believe you may need to apply for Social Security Disability benefits in Fresno, contact Peña & Bromberg, PLC at 559-439-9700 or via our online form.