Summary: this case involved the claim of a 47 year old female alleging disability based on fibromyalgia
Client profile: 47 year old female
Education: high school graduate + 2 years of college
Past work: apartment leasing agent, apartment complex property manager, residential real estate sales agent, my client also reports two unsuccessful work attempts at unskilled jobs post her alleged onset date
Claim background: my client filed for benefits in February, 2010 alleging an onset date in November, 2008. A hearing was held in her case in February, 2012. The judge in our case hears a high volume of cases and does not use vocational witnesses – he relies primarily on medical records and secondarily on his evaluation of the credibility of claimants.
Factors in our favor:
- My client has a long and continuous work history including instances where she worked 2 jobs at the same time.
- My client’s diagnosis has been confirmed by three physicians.
- Despite aggressive attempts at pain management, including epidural and SI joint injection and narcotic pain medication, my client’s symptoms have not been relieved.
Factors not in our favor:
- We were not able to obtain a functional capacity form from any of the treating doctors.
- A fibromyalgia diagnosis is inherently difficult to prove or disprove.
My strategy: I felt that the medical records in this case painted a picture of an individual with a long work history who would not have stopped working but for her medical issues. I wanted to demonstrate through testimony that she fits the profile of a “classic” fibromyalgia patient – a Type “A” female who worked in a high stress work environment who began experiencing the pain, confusion and other symptoms of fibromyalgia after a triggering event – in this case a hysterectomy.
Hearing Report: as noted above, the judge in this case manages a very busy caseload and holds a lot of hearings. He does not use vocational witnesses and generally he does not say very much during the hearings. In this case, the judge was appearing by video in a remote location. My client and I entered the courtroom and sat down in front of the video screen. The judge introduced himself, accepted the evidence into the record then asked me for an opening statement.
In my opening I described my client as a hardworking, high achieving person whose health began to fail after a hysterectomy in 2009. I noted that her fibromyalgia had been diagnosed by her family physician, a rheumatologist and a pain management doctor and that her symptoms were not improving despite aggressive treatment.
The judge then asked me if I wanted to examine my client. I conducted a 25 minute direct examination that covered her past work, her symptoms, her attempt to obtain relief and the changes that fibromyalgia have made in her life. I felt that my client testified credibly and that we made a solid record.
The judge had no followup questions – he closed the hearing by stating that he would try to get a decision out quickly.
Conclusions: I do not have any sense about what the judge intends to do as he gave no indication of his thinking. I felt that the medical record in this case was compelling and that my client testified credibly but with no feedback from the judge we will just have to wait and see.