Claimant: 47 year old female.
Occupation: overnight stocker at big-box retailer, manager at breakfast restaurant
Education: high school education
Hearing info: Claimant applied for benefits in August, 2004, alleging an onset date in October, 2003. The hearing was held in August, 2008 at the downtown Atlanta ODAR.
Background: My client was a 47 year old female with a long history of emotional instability and anger management issues. She complains of “racing” thoughts and has been under regular medical management treatment with a psychologist and counselor. My client also reports that she frequently has fits of anger and thoughts of harming herself and others. At the time of the hearing, her living arrangements had greatly contributed to her stress and emotional instability. She had been living in a room in the house of an adult child and the adult child’s spouse. My client complained that her child’s spouse was frequently verbally abusive. In addition to the emotional issues, my client also has physical problems, including back and hip pain.
Analysis: The judge in our case was a relatively new judge who had presided over less than 5 of my hearings in the past. He does not say much and I don’t have a great sense of what he is wants for to approve a case. He had previously denied a case that both my paralegal and I felt should have been approved and my paralegal came with me both to support our client and to try to get a sense of our judge.
In meeting with my client a few weeks prior to the hearing, I felt that we had a solid medical record and that she would be a good witness. My client is an intelligent woman and somewhat more introspective about her mental health issues than other bi-polar patients I have represented previously.
My main concern had to do with the babysitting work that my client was doing. She reported to me that her adult child and the adult child’s spouse had basically told her that if she wanted to keep her room, she would have to babysit her two young grandchildren three to four days a week. Although my client described her babysitting duties as essentially changing diapers and watching videos, I felt that this part time work could be a possible problem.
My client brought with her to the hearing another adult son, and a former work supervisor who was nice enough to take a day off work to come to the hearing. I planned to use the supervisor to testify about my client’s work ethic and about the physical and emotional issues that led to her resignation.
When we arrived at the hearing office, I learned from several colleagues that all of the judges were juggling multiple hearing calendars. Hearings were scheduled on the half-hour, rather than on the hour. In our case, we did not get called into the hearing room until around 2pm, an hour after our case was supposed to be heard.
The hearing assistant led us into the hearing room, which was empty. After about 10 minutes, the judge came in looking somewhat harried. He asked me for an opening statement, in which I summarized my argument for disability. The judge then asked me to ask my client about her medical treatment specifically. Normally, I would start with a work history and personal background, but the judge wanted me to go directly into the medical history so I did.
The judge interjected two or three times, and my questioning lasted no more than 20 minutes. At that point the judge interrupted me to say “I’ve heard enough, she meets the qualifications. Thanks for coming.”
I don’t know that my paralegal or I got a great deal more insight about this judge but I would like to think that the factors that weighed in our favor included:
- a long, continuous work history
- on-going medical treatment
- a good form from the treating psychiatrist
- effective testimony from the claimant
It is also possible that the judge was really pressed for time and he made a snap decision to approve this case. I just don’t know. I do know that our case was approved, which is ultimately the result I was after.