Summary: 55 year old female with 30+ year work background alleges disability based on Lyme Disease complications, fibromyalgia and medication side effects
Client profile: my client is a 55 year old female with a 30+ year history as a litigation paralegal for various law firms in the Atlanta area
Claim background: my client filed for disability benefits in the spring of 2014 alleging an onset date in the summer of 2013. Our hearing was held in the fall of 2016.
Factors in our favor:
- my client has a long and consistent work history
- the medical record in this case reflects ongoing, consistent treatment
- we have unqualified support in the form of functional capacity evaluations from two treating doctors
- the judge in our case tends to approve a higher than average number of claims
Factors not in our favor:
- my client has many work skills that could transfer into less demanding work
- Lyme Disease and fibromyalgia are “invisible illnesses” that cannot be imaged, and symptoms are subjective to a point
My strategy: I felt that this was a very strong case in that my client’s Lyme Disease was not diagnosed early enough to allow for effective treatment. Because of the damage to her immune system, she requires immunoglobulin infusions, which are painful and time consuming. Her consistency in reporting symptoms combined with her long and productive work career greatly enhance her credibility and the two supportive functional capacity forms also help greatly.
My client is very well informed and eloquent when describing her symptoms so I felt that she would make a very strong witness as well.
Our hearing started on time, with the hearing assistant escorting my client and me into the hearing room. The judge greeted my client and proceded with preliminary matters – swearing in my client, accepting exhibit file into evidence and asking me if I needed additional time to submit additional medical records (I did not – the record was complete).
There was no vocational witness at this hearing, which was somewhat unusual. The hearing notice had indicate that a VE would be there but perhaps the VE could not come unexpectedly.
In any case the judge started the hearing by asking my client about her past work and why she felt that she was disabled.
As noted above, my client is very knowledgeable about her condition. She explained that she had been a paralegal for over 30 years and that her health began to deteriorate after 2010 when she became infected with Lyme Disease. She explained that she was not diagnosed for almost 18 months and during that time, the Lyme bacteria destroyed her immune system. She described her struggles with immunoglobulin infusions and the pain and side effects of this treatment. She also spoke about her body pain and fibromyalgia symptoms as well as her severe fatigue and sleep apnea issues.
After about 10 minutes of testimony the judge looked and me and said that we could obviously go on for hours but that in light of the supportive functional capacity forms, my client’s long and consistent work history and her credible testimony he had enough information to issue an approval dating back to our alleged onset date. The judge then closed the hearing.
Conclusions: this was a very strong case, supported by consistent medical evidence, functional capacity evaluation support from treating doctors and very credible testimony. I sense that my client’s long work history was especially relevant as was the medical evidence about the immunoglobulin therapy.