Summary: 26 year old female with an 11th grade education alleging disability based on schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder and anger control issues. This claim was denied.
Client profile: my client is a 26 year old female with an 11th grade education (but no GED) and past work as an auto detailer, and a sales clerk.
Claim background: my client filed for benefits in the summer of 2013. A hearing was held before a judge appearing by video in an Atlanta area hearing office in July, 2016.
Factors in our favor:
- consultative evaluation indicated that my client was impulsive and easily agitated, that she would likely have difficulty getting along with the public, co-workers and supervisors, and that she would have difficulty coping with typical workplace stressors.
- my client alleged, and the record indicated, that she periodically experienced visual and audio hallucinations
Factors not in our favor:
- my client is very young
- the medical record in this case is very sparse – my client has not been diligent in seeking mental health care
- my client has had an on-going issue with alcohol and marijuana (although she claims to be sober now)
My strategy: This case did not develop as I had hoped in that my client did not pursue ongoing mental health treatment. My hope was that the judge would find significant work limitations within the conclusions of the consultative psychologist.
Hearing Report: the hearing in this case was scheduled for 9:15am. At 9:15, my client had not yet arrived and the judge wanted to go on the record. We started the hearing and went through preliminary matters and took testimony from the vocational witness about my client’s past work.
Just as the judge was going to start with hypothetical questions, my client showed up. The judge stopped the hearing and seated my client. The judge asked my client why she was late and my client replied that her friend who had given her a ride had trouble finding a place to park.
The judge then questioned my client extensively about her alleged impairments. I followed up with several questions about my client’s anger control issues, and problems she had experienced on the job.
After taking testimony the judge posed several hypothetical questions to the vocational witness. The most relevant question included the following limitations:
Based on the consultative examination exhibit, assume that the hypothetical person could only occasionally interact with the general public, co-workers and supervisors and that because of problems dealing with stress, the hypothetical person would be limited to simple, one or two step tasks.
The VE responded that based on those limitations the hypothetical person could perform the claimant’s past work as an auto detailer and that she could perform other medium, unskilled work.
I followed up with my own hypothetical asking the VE if a hypothetical person could perform competitive work if she was off task 20% of the time due to emotional instability, and other mental health issues. The VE testified that this limitation precluded all work.
Conclusions: the judge obviously interpreted the consultative examination conclusions to reflect a somewhat mild level of impairment. My guess is that this interpretation would be sustained on appeal.
The judge also advised my client that she would have to make her decision based on what was contained in the medical record, which I read as a signal that this record was not sufficient for an approval.
Given SSA’s current climate, a young claimant would need to show overwhelming mental health provider evidence and support to win a favorable decision. I think that my client has some significant problems but I don’t think that the evidence is enough to cross the threshold for an approval.