Summary: this case involved the claim of a 57 year old woman claiming disability based on depression and diverticulitis
Client profile: 57 year old female
Education: 2 years college
Past work: nanny, receptionist, interior designer
Claim background: this was my client’s second ALJ hearing. Originally she filed for benefits in 2007 and was denied at hearing in October, 2009. She refiled the current application in February, 2010 and the 2nd hearing was held in February 2012. Unfortunately for my client, the second hearing was held before the same judge as the first, although we were basing our claim on different medical issues.
Factors in our favor:
- my client’s age – Social Security recognizes that claimants over the age of 50, and then 55 will have a much more difficult time re-entering work force
- consistent work history
- consistent mental health treatment including two psychiatric assessments showing severe, recurrent major depression
- medical records showing chronic kidney disease and diverticulitis
- in claim #1, my client asserted disability based on obesity, chest pain, hypertension and sleep anea – in this case I focused on depression and diverticulitis, which I felt were far better documented
Factors not in our favor:
- case was assigned to the same judge who denied claim one
- my client’s limited financial resources limited her to county mental health treatment and emergency room treatment
My strategy: because this case was assigned to the same judge who had heard my client’s previous case, I felt that I needed to quickly and clearly identify why this claim was different. I did not represent my client in her previous hearing and it is possible that the judge did not like the previous attorney. The judge in this case is always prepared and he reads the files carefully so I felt that my main goal was to establish my client as credible and believable.
Hearing Report: my client and I entered the hearing room and the judge introduced himself. There was no vocational witness present. The judge accepted the evidence into the record and asked me for an opening statement. I noted that this was my client’s second hearing and that since the previous denial, her symptoms of depression had become very severe. I referenced the psychiatrist’s diagnosis and stated that my client would testify that she experiences frequent panic attacks, crying spells, periods of isolation, poor sleep and often loses track of time. I also noted that she had been hospitalized for diverticulitis and that she experiences frequent abdominal pain and severe constipation due to her pain medications.
The judge then asked me to question my client. I began my direct examination by asking my client about her depression. We discussed her symptoms and her efforts to recover. My client became very tearful during her testimony but with some prompting by me did note all of her symptoms.
I next turned to the diverticulitis and elicited testimony that she had been hospitalized for severe stomach pain and that she experiences constipation and nausea on a regular basis.
I concluded my direct examination by asking my client why she felt that she would not be a reliable employee – she testified that she had no energy during the day and frequently did not get out of bed.
The judge had no questions – he closed the hearing and said he would issue a decision as soon as he could.
Conclusions: the judge in this case is usually fair and prepared. Sometimes he gives an indication of what he plans to do and sometimes he does not. I would have felt better about this case if the judge had asked some questions but ultimately this case will turn on whether the judge found my client credible and whether he feels that the medical evidence is compelling enough.