Multiple Sclerosis Case Study #3
Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosed in 2004,
Resulting in 2007 Disability Onset
Claimant: 49 year old female
Past work: letter carrier for U.S. Postal Service, mail distribution clerk for USPS
Education: 12th grade + some college courses
Hearing Info: The hearing in this case was scheduled before a judge who hears more cases per day than any other judge in the downtown Atlanta hearing office. Although I have found that he is usually accurate in his claim analysis, I don’t really have a sense about what kinds of cases he finds more compelling than others. I have also found that a thoughtful and well reasoned pre-hearing brief and/or strong opening statement helps with this judge.
In reviewing the case and meeting with my client prior to the hearing, I felt that we had a strong case. Multiple Sclerosis had been conclusively diagnosed and my client had been fully compliant with treatment. She uses a walker to get around and the evidence in the file indicated that her condition had progressed to the point where both her physical and cognitive functioning had been impaired.
My client also presents herself very well. She comes across as being very believeable and sincere and there was no “attitude of entitlement” that sometimes can be an issue in a Social Security disability case.
Prior to the day and time of our hearing, I prepared and submitted a pre-hearing brief setting out my argument for disability. I have reproduced my brief below. When our case was called and we appeared before the judge, he had not yet read my brief. To his credit, he stopped for a few minutes and read the brief.
After reading the brief and reviewing the medical record, the judge announced that he was going to grant my request for an on-the-record decision. Although my client was present and prepared to offer testimony, no questions were asked of her. All told, we stayed in the hearing room for about 15 minutes and we left with a favorable bench decision.
Here is an edited version of the pre-hearing brief I submitted in this case:
Office of Disability Adjudication and Review
245 Peachtree Center Ave.
Suite 500, Marquis I
Atlanta, GA 30303
RE: Claimant: Sandy Johnson
Date of Hearing: March 25, 2009
Dear Judge ______:
I represent claimant Sandy Johnson with regard to her claim for disability benefits. A hearing in this case is scheduled for Wednesday, March 25, 2009 at 8:30 AM.. Please allow this letter to serve as my pre-hearing brief in this case and my request for an on-the-record decision.
Claimant Johnson is a 49 year old female (d/o/b 9-07-1959) with a high school education and some graduate classes. She is a United States Army veteran and from February, 1987 through September 24, 2007 she worked first as a letter carrier, then as a distribution clerk for the U.S. Postal Service.
The claimant protectively filed her application for Title II benefits on October 3, 2007, alleging an onset date of September 21, 2007. The claimant last appeared at the USPS work site in September, 2007. There may be earnings associated with her Social Security number after that date, but said earnings represent accrued leave or sick pay and/or retirement benefits.
The basis of the claimant’s claim for disability relates to physical and mental limitations arising from multiple sclerosis. The claimant was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in April, 2004 by Dr. Seiden, who I believe was a Veterans Administration physician. Her symptoms were mild at first, consisting of occasional tremors and rigidity. She was prescribed Avonex and she continued to work at the postal service as a distribution clerk.
By March of 2007, however, the claimant experienced a significant flare-up, consisting of right sided facial numbness and dysthesias (numbness and tingling throughout her body). The claimant also reported severe headaches. Dr. Linda Safer of Atlanta Neurology took over responsibility for the claimant’s care, and physicians at Atlanta Neurology have cared for the claimant ever since.
The medical record contains brain MRI reports documenting the presence of lesions consistent with multiple sclerosis. The record also documents an increasing number of MS flare-ups that have gradually reduced the claimant’s capacity to walk or maintain balance unassisted. The claimant also experiences hand tremors, rigidity, numbness, insomnia and recurrent headaches.
The claimant has also experienced cognitive decline and mood swings – which are also symptoms of her MS. An office note from Dr. Safer dated November 16, 2007 describes one of these flare-ups noting that the claimant is experiencing right hand tremors, difficulty with reading comprehension, blurred vision and balance issues.
In addition to her neuromuscular condition, the claimant has also been diagnosed with and treated for major depression. The claimant’s Veterans Administration psychologist Janet Williams opines that the claimant’s depression has been made worse by her MS diagnosis and that as a “result of her physical and psychological illnesses, she is unable to work.” Dr. Williams indicated in a U.S. Department of Labor OWCP form that the claimant has been disabled since September 24, 2007. Subsequent documentation produced by Dr. Williams suggest that the claimant’s major depression disability is both permanent and on-going.
Currently the claimant experiences poor muscle control in her lower extremities, right upper extremity tremors, memory loss, four to five hour long migraine headaches three to four days per week, cognitive decline, poor gross and fine motor coordination, crying spells, low energy, irritability and slow pace of activities.
Multiple sclerosis is, of course, a degenerative condition. The claimant has a long and consistent work history of over 20 years with the same employer and her decision to stop working in September, 2007 was made only when she recognized that her physical and mental condition no longer permitted her to engage in competitive work. Please consider the claimant’s request for an on-the-record decision based on the medical record in this file.
VERY TRULY YOURS,
GINSBERG LAW OFFICES, P.C.
Jonathan C. Ginsberg