Colitis Case Study

Summary: 61 year old male alleging disability based on ulcerative colitis. My client did awaiting his hearing date so we proceeded with his son as party in interest.

Client profile: my client was a 57 year old male as of his onset date, with a high school education and a 20+ year history of work as an air freight agent

Claim background: my client filed for disability in November, 2012 alleging disability as of April, 2009. It appears that he meant to allege disability as of April, 2010, as his earnings record showed job earnings for January-April, 2010. A hearing was held in an Atlanta area hearing office in May, 2015.

Factors in our favor:

  • my client had a long, consistent work history
  • my client had a documented and severe medical problem
  • my client’s death from a ruptured colon arose from his underlying medical issues
  • the judge in our case was slightly more likely than average to approve claims

Factors not in our favor:

  • my client did not have insurance so the medical record was not as complete as I would have liked
  • we did not have a completed functional capacity evaluation
  • the judge did not have the benefit of direct testimony from my client

My strategy: my experience has been that Social Security judges are generally receptive to colitis cases because of the functional issues (frequent, unscheduled bathroom breaks) associated with this disease. Further, colitis is difficult to treat effectively. I drafted a pre-hearing brief setting forth my arguments and submitted.  You can read my brief here.

The judge responded to my brief by pointing out the onset date problem – there were earnings after onset. I spoke to my client’s son about this issue and he agree to amend the onset date to a date after any reported earnings. The judge did not reply to my amended brief so we appeared at the hearing.

Hearing Report: the judge in our case is on of the more productive judges nationally and he is very busy. Before the hearing started, the judge and I discussed the case and he reiterated his concern about the onset date being before the claimant stopped working. I pointed out that I had written a follow-up brief to amend the onset date and the judge said that he had not seen it.

He took a few minutes to review my brief and my supplemental brief amending the onset date then he stated that he could accept my argument and would issue a fully favorable decision.

The judge then went on the record formally and swore in my client’s son. The judge asked a few questions about the frequency of my client’s bathroom issues then stated that he had heard enough. The judge then closed the hearing and stated that he would be issuing a favorable decision.

Conclusions: I could have obtained a favorable decision on the record if I had noticed the discrepancy between the earnings record and the onset date. Because the judge was busy and did not read my supplemental brief, my client’s son and I had to appear in court.

As noted, colitis cases are often approved because judges recognize that afflicted claimants are likely to miss work and will be very uncomfortable because of their condition. In this case, my client’s long work history certainly enhanced his credibility despite a less than extensive medical record.

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