Fibromyalgia case study #5
Claimant: 52 year old female.
Occupation: My client previously worked as the accounting manager for a plate glass installation contractor, and as a staff accountant for two other companies
Education: college degree
Hearing info: Claimant applied for benefits in October, 2005, alleging an onset date of October, 2003. The hearing was held in September, 2008 at the north Atlanta ODAR.
Background: My client’s profile is similar to what I frequently see in fibromyalgia cases. She is a high achieving, detail oriented female whose symptoms began to express themselves following a physical or emotional trauma. In my client’s case, she experienced both types of trauma. Physically, she underwent surgery in the mid-1980’s to repair a congenital abnormality in her jaw. The surgery was unsuccessful and resulted in subsequent surgeries, ultimately leaving her with an asymmetrical facial appearance and permanent numbness on the right side of her face. Emotionally, the claimant was involved in the care of a parent with Alzheimers and was the primary caretaker during her parent’s difficult final months.
During the last few months of her parent’s life, my client began to experience a great deal of fatigue, myofascial and muscle pain, as well as symptoms of memory loss and cognitive decline. She resigned from her job when her employer refused to pay her for her last payroll period, contending that my client was “not mentally present at work.”
Analysis: The judge in our case was well known to me. He is a very polite and pleasant person who is always studies exhibit files carefully. The exhibit file in this case was provided to me on CD, however the exhibits were not numbered or organized. My office had previously submitted a request for an expedited hearing based on “dire need” as my client’s house was in foreclosure. The judge later explained to me that when the hearing office accepts a case as “dire need,” the exhibit file will not be worked up or organized.
In any case, I prepared a pre-hearing brief to set out my arguments and I hand delivered the brief along with updated records to the hearing office. Not surprisingly, the new evidence and brief were lost by the hearing office staff, but I had an extra copy which the judge had an opportunity to read prior to the hearing. I had hoped to spare my client from the stress of having to appear at a hearing, but that was not to be.
I felt like we had a very strong case. My client’s pain management physician as well as her primary care physician had prepared helpful functional capacity forms for me, and the record was consistent and thorough. I felt that the judge would be receptive to our fibromyalgia based disability argument.
Once the hearing commenced, I was reassured that this would be a winning case. The judge had obviously reviewed the record and his questions were more in the nature of confirming information as opposed to asking open ended questions. It was clear to me that he saw my client as a credible witness and after about 15 minutes of questioning, he turned to the vocational witness and asked the following question:
Mr. VE, assume we have an individual limited to sedentary work, who would need a job with a sit/stand option that would allow for a change of position every 15 minutes. The hypothetical individual has a poor ability to maintain attention and concentration and a poor capacity for maintaining persistence and pace in a work setting. This person has a fair capacity to deal with work stress. Could this hypothetical person perform the claimant’s past work?
Could this hypothetical person perform any other work?
The judge then asked if I had any questions (obviously not) then he told us that because this was a dire need case, he would issue a bench decision. He excused us for about 10 minutes, then read out the fully favorable bench decision. For those not familiar with the term, a “bench decision” is a fill-in-the-blank form in which the judge hand writes in his findings. It it not detailed like a regular decision but is designed to expedite payment.
In thinking about this hearing, I think that the factors that were the biggest help to my client included:
solid work history
regular visits to the doctor
complete support with RFC forms from two treating doctors