Lifelong Depression Social Security Disability
Closed Period – Case Study #8
Claimant: 50 year old male
Occupation: computer software sales and marketing large scale software solutions to large corporations
Education: college degree
Hearing info: Claimant applied for benefits in the summer of 2008, alleging an onset in May, 2001. During my pre-hearing meeting with my client, we decided to amend the onset date to August, 2005, and to ask for a closed period of disability ending in early 2008. I recommended this change after reviewing my client’s earnings record – he had earned $75,000+ from 2001 through 2005, did not work in 2006 and 2007, and started working again at at $50,000+ level in 2008 and 2009. There were, however, no earnings in 2010 and this hearing was scheduled for a video hearing in mid-summer 2010.
Background: this was an interesting case in that my client’s work history alternates between periods of productivity and periods of inactivity associated with depression. He asserts that he has suffered from depression since childhood, possibly arising from the trauma of emotional and physical (but not sexual) abuse by family members.
In reviewing his work history, I noted that in the 1990’s he was employed regularly with one company in sales and marketing of enterprise level computer software. By the early 2000’s, however, he was unable to keep a job for more than 12 months, and more frequently, he would lose his job after three or four months.
When he was able to work, he earned very good money – in reviewing his earnings record, I noted that he was earning between $50,000 and $80,000 annually, even though he might actually work for three or four months total during a year.
When he was not working, my client stated that he stayed at home and isolated himself from friends and family, and that he sometimes stayed in bed for days at a time. He asserts that during these “down periods,” he was completely unproductive and barely able to maintain his own hygiene.
During the closed period we were claiming, my client worked for only one two month stretch and he was terminated from that job for poor performance and attendance. After the closed period – in 2008 and 2009, my client worked more or less full time, although he became unproductive again in 2010.
Analysis: In reviewing the file and after meeting with my client, I felt that we should amend our onset date to the date in August, 2005 where my client finished an 8 month job. There was a two month “unsuccessful work attempt” in October and November, 2005, but I felt that the judge would not consider this attempt as “substantial gainful activity” even though my client earned around $5,000. I also recommended to my client that we ask for a closed period because of the full time work in 2008 and 2009. I was and am concerned about his current period of inactivity but I got the sense that his current lack of earnings may be somewhat due to the current economy and the difficulty anyone in software sales might have finding work.
The record contained two extensive narrative reports obtained by my client’s long term disability insurance carrier. One report was from a psychiatrist and the second was from a psychologist – both supported his LTD claim and stated that he suffered from extreme and debilitating depression. I also had extensive office treatment records from treating psychiatrists and psychologists along with several brief letters attesting to his “complete inability to work.” I felt that the medical record in this case was very helpful and strong.
Hearing Report: the judge in this case works at the video hearing office in Falls Church, Virginia. I have appeared before him several times and I have always found him reasonable and pleasant. I did submit a short pre-hearing brief explaining the somewhat unusual earnings record and job history – the judge had not read my brief prior to the hearing but he did read it prior to starting the hearing.
This hearing was actually my second hearing scheduled for this day, and the judge was running late because a non-attorney representative had run very long earlier that day. This judge schedules hearings every 45 minutes and I sensed that he did not want another long hearing.
The judge opened the hearing by introducing the vocational witness and hearing assistant and reviewing a few preliminary matters. I noted that his introductory presentation was shorter than usual. He then asked me to offer an opening statement and then move right into testimony. I began by identifying my client’s impairment – his chronic and lifelong depression. I asked him about his past work and established that the jobs in his industry were not “project” type of jobs and that his increasingly short stints at his various employers was not typical, and elicited testimony that he had been terminated from all of his jobs in the 2000’s for performance and attendance problems.
I then turned to the medical issue and asked about his symptoms. He explained that during his “down” periods, he was extremely unproductive, that he tended to isolate himself and that he was not able to sustain family or friend relationships.
While I was asking about symptoms, the judge interrupted me and stated that he felt he had enough information to pose questions to the vocational witness. The judge then turned to the VE and asked the following hypothetical question:
Assume we have an individual who is the same age as the claimant with the same work background. Assume I find that because of a non-exertional impairment – severe and chronic depression – this hypothetical person cannot use independent judgment in a work setting, and that due to emotional problems, he cannot maintain sufficient attention and concentration to complete a workday? Is there any work such a person could perform in the regional or national economy.
Not surprisingly, the vocational witness answered “no.” The judge asked if I had any questions and I recognizing that there was no need to say anything I said “no thank you.”
Summary: the judge will be issuing a favorable decision for the closed period requested. The medical record was uncontradicted and persuasive and my client came across as a credible witness.