Depression and Anxiety
Social Security Disability Case Study #2
Claimant: 52 year old male
Occupation: Claimant had been a used car salesman for many year. In the spring of 2005, he lost his job and became homeless. In the fall of 2005, he began taking day labor jobs to generate enough money to buy food
Education: high school graduate
Hearing info: Claimant applied for benefits in April, 2006, alleging an onset date in December, 2005. The hearing was held in August, 2008 at the Atlanta downtown ODAR.
Background: My client’s disability arises from a horrible injury he suffered when he drank a milkshake spiked with caustic cleaning fluid. A cook at the restaurant where the claimant was working as a parking lot cleaner offered my client a “free” drink. Unbeknownst to my client, the cook had intentionally poisoned the shake with chemicals. The cook claimed that this was a practical joke gone bad but it left my client with severe damage to his throat and esophagus and almost cost him his life. My client spent several weeks in the hospital and suffered many complications.
By April or May of 2006, my client’s condition had stabilized somewhat and he took up residence with a family friend. In late December, 2006, he secured part time work for a local restaurant, preparing food for catering services. He has continued to work 10 to 15 hours a week thereafter. His total income in 2006 averaged less than $600 per month, several hundred dollars less than what SSA considers to be “substantial gainful activity.”
Analysis: The judge in our case was a new judge and I had not appeared before her previously. In reviewing the record, I felt that we had a good argument for a closed period of disability (from December, 2005 through December, 2006) but not necessarily thereafter.
Even though my client had not had much medical or mental health treatment after March of 2006, I felt that most judges would accept that for at least 12 months my client would have had a hard time working.
I discussed this closed period possibility with my client, but he did not want to forego on-going disability. Nevertheless in my opening statement I made sure to emphasize that my client was out of work for 12 consecutive months.
What Happened: The judge called the case and asked me for an opening statement. I described the events of that December, 2005 day and talked about both the physical and mental health issues that my client had been facing. The file contained a helpful consultative examination report from a Social Security retained psychologist and I made sure to reference the consulting psychologist’s opinion that included a number of significant work limitations
The judge then asked me to present my case and I questioned my client about his past work, about the events of the day he was poisoned, and the aftermath. I made sure to establish that he was both mentally and physically unable to perform any activity through December, 2006. I then asked him about his part time work and established that he was performing to his maximum capacity. I then asked about the after effects of the poisoning. He spoke about his physical problems – pain in his throat, problems with balance and his mental problems – problems concentrating, depression, flashbacks, poor sleep and angry outbursts.
The judge then took over. To her credit she had studied this file carefully and she asked specific questions about my client’s past use of alcohol and street drugs. She asked a number of questions about exactly what he did at work and whether he could do more than he was already doing.
After questioning the claimant, the judge then turned to the vocational witness and posed several hypotheticals. The first three hypotheticals included moderate limitations. Hypo 4 tracked the consultative psychological exam and Hypo 5 accepted the claimant’s testimony as true.
Generally, when a judge asks more than one hypothetical question that includes “moderate” limitations, it is not a good sign. However, to my surprise, after asking the last hypothetical (which generated an answer of “no jobs”) the judge looked at us and announced that she was paying this case.
I believe that the factors that influenced our judge were:
- long work history
- significant objective injury
- strong consultative psychological exam report