Summary: 56 year old male alleging disability based on PTSD, glaucoma and sarcoidosis
Client profile: my client is a 56 year old male with a 25+ year work history as a human resources manager both as an active duty member of the U.S. military and as a civilian contractor. He has a high school education and 3 years of college.
Claim background: my client filed for benefits in October, 2015. The hearing in this case was held in November, 2016. Because my client has also been awarded 100% disability by the VA, his SSD claim was fast tracked – this is why this hearing was held much faster than other claims begun in 2015. See https://youtu.be/NGuZymLr-w8 for more detail about this fast tracking of an SSDI claim.
Factors in our favor:
- my client has a 100% service connected VA disability award
- my client’s VA psychiatrist wrote a letter stating that he is “disabled and unable to be gainfully employed as a result of PTSD, Panic Disorder and Dysthymic Disorder” and that his symptoms are getting worse
- my client was a terrific witness and he came across as very credible and believable
- the judge in our case has a higher than average approval rate
- my client is over 50 years of age
- my client has a long, consistent work history
Factors not in our favor:
- the PTSD in this case arose from an automobile accident that occurred 30+ years ago, not combat
- the psychological consultative evaluation in this case was not supportive and indicated that my client has the capacity to work
Although I was concerned that the traumatic event which triggered PTSD was a long ago car accident, my client does have a long, successful work history at a relative high paying job. Judges often recognize that people like this do not just quit work so that they might recover 25% of their salary from Social Security.
We had consistent and supportive records from the VA, and my client has other health issues that chip away at his work capacity. He has also been prescribed 10 different medications, many of which have significant side effects such as fatigue, drowsiness, mental confusion and excessive urination. I felt that we would be successful if we could let the judge see how all of my client’s medical issues impacted his capacity for gainful activity.
Hearing Report: my client and I entered the hearing room and were greeted by the judge. After going through preliminary matters and swearing in my client and the vocational witness, the judge asked me for an opening statement, which I used to suggest that this is a case where the combination of medical issues, symptoms, and medication side effects, when considered in total, have left him without the capacity for reliable employment.
The judge asked a few preliminary questions – mostly about his past work – and then turned the questioning over to me.
I made the PTSD the main focus of my direct examination, with some discussion of the glaucoma. My client came across as very credible – his testimony was as compelling as any I have ever heard. He explained to the judge that as a younger man, he was able to suppress his PTSD symptoms of anxiety and depression and ignore the flashbacks. He testified that these symptoms became more and more intrusive as he got older and by the last year or so of his employment, his performance had begun to suffer.
He testified that “I was in denial” about the severity of his symptoms and that he held off reaching out for help at the VA for as long as he could. He reported that the VA treatment of medications and therapy has helped but he feels that he may be overmedicated.
From my perspective, my client came across as someone who was fighting the idea of not working – exactly what judges want to hear. He was unusually aware about the deterioration of his mental and physical health and he discussed in detail how panic attacks and flashbacks drew his attention away from everything.
The judge had no follow up questions and then turned to the vocational witness. The VE identified my client’s past work as being that of a personnel manager, which is a skilled occupation, normally performed at the sedentary exertional level.
The judge asked only one hypothetical question:
Assume we have a hypothetical individual who is the same age as our claimant, with the same education and work background. Assume further that:
- he can lift 20 lbs. occasionally and 10 lbs. frequently
- he can sit for 6 hours out of an 8 hour workday
- he can stand and walk 6 hours out of an 8 hour workday
- he can frequently use his upper extremities to push and pull
- he can only occasionally climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds
- he can occasionally balance, kneel, stoop, crouch and crawl
- he should avoid extremes of heat and cold, humid environments and environments with respiratory irritants
- he is limited to casual contact with co-workers, supervisors or the general public
- he is limited to simple, entry-level work
- he should not be in a stressful work environment
- he should not be in a production based work environment
- he would be off task 10% of the workday due to psychologically based symptoms
The VE testified that such a person would not be able to perform past work (because it is a skilled occupation) and that there are no transferrable skills. The VE also testified that because of the 10% off task limitation there are no other jobs in the national economy that would allow someone with these limitations to work.
The judge then thanked the VE, and thanked my client for his service to the country, and closed the hearing.
Conclusions: because the judge asked only one hypothetical question and because he did not give me the option of asking my own question I know that we will get a favorable decision in this case. I think that the judge was persuaded by the VA records, my client’s long work history and by his very effective testimony.