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Herrmann v. Colvin: SSI Benefits Eligibility

Applying for disability benefits is a complicated process that often seems like it is stacked against claimants who know little about how the system works. It is for that reason that one of the best things claimants can do is to consult with a disability benefits attorney as early in the process as possible.

Herrmann v. Colvin, a case from United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, involved claimant who was denied Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for her medical conditions prior to reaching the age of 55 but was determined to be disabled upon turning 55. This resulted in a partial payment of disability benefits. Claimant appealed this partial denial of her application for benefits.

As our Boston Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits attorneys can explain, SSI is a program designed to provide benefits to low-income people who are elderly, blind, or otherwise disabled, regardless of claimant’s prior work history. There is no requirement to pay into the system with SSI as there is with Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

In Herrmann, claimant’s treating physicians, along with three consulting doctors hired by the United States Social Security Administration (SSA), concluded claimant suffered from fibromyalgia, spinal disk disease, an extreme sensitivity to light known as photophobia, as well as other medical conditions not specifically identified in court records. Her conditions cause difficulty with walking, gripping objects, sitting and standing, and an inability to concentrate in a brightly lit environment or while viewing a computer screen.

These various impairments resulted in a disability level that would not even allow claimant to perform light work, which is defined an ability to lift up to 20 pounds at one time and the ability to frequently lift 10 pounds and be able to carry these objects on a regular basis. The appeals court concluded if this assessment was correct, claimant was disabled prior to turning 55 and should be entitled to back pay.

Appellate court noted Administrate Law Judge (ALJ) brushed aside this definition when making a finding claimant was not disabled prior to turning 55. As is typical with many of Judge Posner’s opinions from the Seventh Circuit, he was critical of ALJ’s ability to often claim a claimant’s physician’s opinion is not sufficient evidence unless it can be backed up with other physician’s notes.

Essentially, appellate court found this ALJ has a habit of finding claimants’ doctors’ are not credible to form an opinion without corroboration. Appellate court found this an improper reason to conclude a doctor’s opinion is not credible. Appellate court also took issue with how ALJ extrapolated unreasonable conclusions from SSA’s doctors in the process of discrediting claimant’s doctor’s opinion.

ALJ also relied heavily on the Vocational Expert’s statement of there being thousands of jobs in the local and statewide economies claimant could perform without citing any sources for all alleged data. Appellate court also criticized VE for using book written in 1977 to determine which jobs claimant had the ability to perform. Ultimately, appellate court reversed and remanded ALJ’s finding claimant was not disabled until age 55.

If you are seeking Social Security Disability Insurance in Boston, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:

Herrmann v. Colvin, December 4, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

More Blog Entries:

Williams v. Colvin: Determining the Date of Disability for the Purpose of SSDI, August 10, 2014, Boston Disability Lawyers Blog