Because you are disabled.

File for disability benefits.

Appeal your case.

How you presented your initial application was the best you could do at that time given what you knew and were told.

But, if you were not successful, appeal (1) because you are disabled and (2) because you can improve on your presentation.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Unspecified Arthropathy, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, and Cocaine Abuse.

The magistrate judge recommended that the Administrative Law Judge’s decision be affirmed.

Among other issues, on appeal the claimant argued that the ALJ should have given his social worker’s opinion controlling weight (see Mar. 18, 2014, blog entry below regarding acceptable medical sources).  The magistrate judge noted that: “Several courts have concluded that where a licensed social worker or other unacceptable medical source is working as part of a treatment team and an acceptable medical source has ‘signed off’ on the opinions, they should be evaluated as a treating physician opinion, but that does not appear to be the case here.”

In this instance, Social Security responded: “Dr. MacAuley did not sign Mr. Greenfield's opinion and while her name is written on the report in the space for ‘treating psychiatrist,’ it appears to be in the same handwriting as the remainder of the report, which was prepared by Mr. Greenfield.” The magistrate judge agreed that there was no evidence that the social worker’s opinions had been endorsed by the psychiatrist.

The claimant also objected to the ALJ’s conclusion that the claimant was not credible.  The magistrate judge noted:

“While plaintiff contends that he cannot read or write, the ALJ recounted that plaintiff’s allegations regarding his ability to read and write contained numerous inconsistencies. . . . For example, the ALJ found it suspicious that plaintiff did not claim illiteracy in either of the prior disability applications that are part of the record. . . . In fact, as the ALJ noted . . . plaintiff specifically indicated that he could read and write English in the May 2006 adult disability report. . . . The ALJ further noted that plaintiff’s allegation of illiteracy was inconsistent with his school record, which documented that he received a grade of "B-" in reading . . . and that plaintiff was able to obtain his driver’s license in spite of alleged difficulties reading or writing . . . . While there were contrary indications in the record that supported plaintiff’s claim that he could not read or write, the ALJ’s credibility determination is entitled to substantial deference; and here, the ALJ has cited substantial evidence to support his conclusion that plaintiff’s illiteracy claim was not entirely credible.”


While illiteracy, like many other concepts, has legal definitions, many people may mistakenly use the term to describe difficulties with reading and/or writing.

Social Security regulations define illiteracy in 20 CFR 404.1564(b):  “(1) Illiteracy. Illiteracy means the inability to read or write. We consider someone illiterate if the person cannot read or write a simple message such as instructions or inventory lists even though the person can sign his or her name. Generally, an illiterate person has had little or no formal schooling.”

Students can be given social promotions in school and may earn a satisfactory grade for effort rather than mastery of subject matter.  Some states have allowed illiterate people to take oral tests for driving licenses.  Sometimes people obtain driving licenses through illegal means.

Because it is difficult to know what we don’t know especially when legal meanings are involved, it helps to have sounding boards, such as a personal advocate and a disability representative.  In any case, errors made initially on Social Security forms need to be identified and addressed as soon as possible.  

The result of not presenting a consistent functional ability statement can be a denial.

Martin v. Commissioner of Social Security, Case No. 13-10420 (D. E.D. Mich., S. Div., Feb. 17, 2014).

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