This case involved the claim of a 50 year old male with spina bifida, who was confined to a wheelchair
Claimant: 50 year old male
Occupation: past work as machinist for airplane manufacturer (20 years) and table saw operator for family owned countertop installer (6 years)
Education: High school diploma, certificate from vocational school (welding, machining); 1 course in computer networking (no degree)
Hearing Info: Claimant applied for benefits in December, 2006 alleging an onset date in November, 2006. The hearing was held in March, 2008. The claimant also advised me that he contacted his Congressman to request help in getting the hearing in this case expedited. He advised me that he provided evidence to the congressional staff person that he was facing a foreclosure. My client is computer literate and he interacted with his Congressman by email and by phone. My client strikes me as being a focused person and I believe that his success in getting help from his Congressman may be a result of his tenacity.
Background: I identified a number of very positive components about this case as I was reviewing the record. First, my client has a very solid work record. He worked for a large airplane manufacturing company for over 20 years as a machinist. This job involved fabricating metal parts for prototype airplanes. He advised me that a job of this responsibility was limited to only the best craftsmen and that he had been recognized for the quality of his work by his company on numerous occasions.
My client advised me that he was let go by the manufacturer in late 1999 primarily due to economic concerns and that he then took a job with his brother who owns a kitchen countertop installation business. This job involved operating a machine to cut custom granite countertops. He performed this job from January, 2000 through November, 2006, when he left because of his medical problems.
My client has a number of medical problems. At birth, he was diagnosed with a form of spina bifida arising from a tumor in his spinal canal. He was also born with a non-working kidney, and a malformed digestive system, which required surgery to create an anus.
A tractor accident in 1989 left him with significant damage to his right leg. Over the past few years, his left knee began to break down (perhaps because of his weight and changes to his gait as a result of the 1989 accident). My client was also unable to control his bladder or bowels and had to wear adult diapers. And my client has had lifelong weight problems – at the time of the hearing, he weighed over 350 lbs. and was unable to walk more than a few feet.
MRI reports from the past couple of years showed a cervical (neck area) disc herniation as well as degenerative disc disease at multiple levels of the spine.
Hearing Strategy: this case was heard by video in Rome, Georgia before a judge based in Chattanooga. I had appeared before this judge previously and I found him to be well prepared, intelligent and reasonable. I, therefore felt going in that we had a good case and that the judge would be sympathetic.
As noted above, my client is in a wheelchair, and I had him enter the hearing room first so that the judge could see this.
From my previous experience with this judge, I knew that he would be supportive of a claimant with a long and consistent work history. As such, I advised my client prior to the hearing to testify at length about the type of work he did, the satisfaction he got from the recognition he received and the importance of his work (my client fabricated airplane parts for prototype airplanes).
I also advised my client to explain that during the time he worked with his brother, my client received special considerations including a nearby restroom and flexible work hours.
My client did a very good job talking about his work and I think that after only a few minutes the judge had made up his mind to award benefits. The medical record in our case was good, including two medical reports from treating doctors attesting to my client’s inability to work. We did have a functional capacity evaluation report in the file that documented my client’s capacity to work at a reduced level of sedentary work but the doctor’s interpretation of that report eliminated any competitive work.
After about 15 to 20 minutes of testimony the judge announced that he had heard enough and that he intended to approve this case.
My client and his wife were understandably pleased with this result and I was as well because this was a deserving claimant.
Summary: In my opinion, the main factors that won this case were (1) a solid medical record and history of compliance with medical treatment and (2) my client’s solid work history.