Claimant: 62 year old male
Past work: warehouse worker at large telecommunications company for 26 years. Following layoff he worked as a tow truck driver, a school bus driver, and finally as an employee bus driver for an airline at the Atlanta airport. My client was terminated from the tow truck position following arguments with the customers, he quit the school bus job because of stress arising from dealing with the children, and he was terminated from the employee bus driving position because of verbal altercations he had with the airline employees.
Education: high school graduate
Hearing info: this hearing was scheduled as a video hearing in July, 2009 at the Marietta video hearing office before a judge in Falls Church, Virginia. My client filed for disability in March, 2007, alleging an onset date in February, 2007. Because my client turned 62 in March of this year (2009), this claim turned into a closed period case. At age 62 my client became eligible for early retirement benefits, so the issue at hand was his claim for disability from February, 2007 through February 28, 2009.
Medical background: my client has a long history of counseling and psychological treatment for his PTSD. A Viet-Nam veteran, he has experienced classic PTSD symptoms for years, including:
flashbacks of violent combat experiences
inability to get a restful night’s sleep
anger management problems – this is perhaps my client’s biggest issues. He has been married 4 times and he has 9 adult children. He is estranged from his children and his ex-wives. As noted above, he engaged in verbal and sometimes physical confrontation with co-workers and customers in his last three jobs. My client reported to me that the day before his hearing, he got into a verbal confrontation with a caseworker at the Veterans Administration hospital who was processing a travel voucher
inability to deal with stress
In addition to the PTSD, my client has shoulder pain in both shoulders that limits his capacity to raise his arms over shoulder level, and he has lower back pain that he attributes to driving a school bus with poor shock absorbers.
My client also has a 100% disability rating from the VA arising from his PTSD. Social Security law requires judges to give weight to VA findings of this type.
Hearing Report: this was a very unusual hearing. My client and I have known each other for many years – I had represented him in a bankruptcy filing back in the early 1990’s and he has called me periodically for a variety of legal issues ever since. I had met with him twice during the pendency of his case – once this past winter when he came in to inquire about why his case was taking so long and again about a week prior to the hearing. When I arrived at the hearing office, I found him in tears and shaking violently – almost to the point where he was going into seizure. He explained that the day before the hearing he had been at the VA hospital and had gotten into an argument with a clerk there and that the stress of that experience left him unable to sleep and in a state where he was shaking uncontrollably.
As we talked and practiced testimony his shaking became more and more pronounced – to the point where I was not sure that he could proceed with the hearing. I offered to postpone the hearing and call an ambulance but he stated that he has waited for 2 1/2 years and wanted to get this case done.
When we entered the hearing room, the judge was not able to see immediately that my client was not well, although the vocational witness and hearing reporter (who were live) recognized immediately that something was not right. This is one of the few times in which the video hearing set-up worked to my client’s distinct disadvantage.
During the preliminary matter discussion the judge spoke to me about evidentiary and other matters and I used this opportunity to alert the judge to my client’s condition.
As the hearing began and the judge started asking questions to the claimant, it became very obvious that he was in a bad way. The more my client tried to talk, the more pronounced his seizing and jerking became. At times it was difficult for him to get words out.
During my direct examination, my client began to cry when we spoke about his estrangement from his family and his social isolation. After about 25 minutes of direct examination by the judge and by me it was very obvious that my client is a very disturbed individual.
To his credit, the judge came to that conclusion as well and he stopped the hearing to say that he was going to grant benefits.
Analysis: the judge in this case came to the correct conclusion although I think that a live judge would have reached the same point earlier. I recognize that the judge needed to satisfy himself that my client’s current ordeal was not a unique incident but a review of the record and the extensive VA records along with testimony should convince any reasonable finder of fact that this individual is not able to perform any kind of work.
While I have had clients break down into tears during hearings, this is the first time I have ever had a client go into seizure like activities.
Prior to the hearing I told my client that I did not want him driving home. I called the VA and ended up with an operator who told me to call 911. My client does have a somewhat amicable relationship with his ex-daughter in law because my client sometimes watches his grandson during the day (and the grandson came with him to the hearing). I called the ex-daughter in law to tell her to come get her son and when she arrived she waited for us and agreed to take my client to the ER.
I called him on his cell phone later that evening and he was resting comfortably in the hospital – he said that the ER doctors had given him medicine by IV that had stopped the shaking.