Summary: 53 year old male with long and consistent work history alleges disability based on rheumatoid arthritis pain flare-ups
Client profile: 53 year old male
Education: 10th grade education + GED
Past work: 25+ years with the postal service
Claim background: my client filed for benefits in April, 2013. A hearing was held in a north Georgia hearing office in February, 2015.
Factors in our favor:
- my client has a long, consistent work history at a very good job
- my client comes across as sincere and credible
- the judge in our case is very reasonable and thoughtful
- the medical record clearly documents the inflammatory arthritis diagnosis and the inability of treating doctors to control the symptoms
Factors not in our favor:
- we did not have a functional capacity form in the file
My strategy: I felt that this was a strong case and that the medical record documented rheumatoid arthritis that was not under control. I believed that if my client was able to explain to the judge about the frequency and severity of his flareups this hearing would be short.
Hearing Report: my client and I entered the hearing room and were greeted by the judge. After introducing the vocational witness and hearing reporter the judge made his opening statement and accepted the exhibit file into evidence.
The judge then asked me for a brief opening. I began by amending our onset date. When my client applied for benefits he used a 2011 date, which was when his symptoms became significant. Because he continued to work full time until April, 2013, we needed to change our onset to that date and I did so with my client’s permission.
I noted that my client had a 25 year work history for the postal service, and then I traced the onset of his symptoms in 2010, resulting in a medical disability at the postal service in 2013. I explained that my client experienced flare-ups at least twice weekly, sometimes lasting 2 days or longer. I concluded by stating that despite his desire to return to work, the frequency and unpredictability of his symptoms made that impossible.
The judge began his questioning by noting that the medical record clearly showed that my client had a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis and that it did not seem that the medicines were completely controlling his symptoms. The judge then turned to my client and asked him to describe his symptoms.
My client responded that he experienced swelling, redness and pain in most of his joints and that at least twice a week he would experience flare-ups to the point where his affected body part was very sensitive to the touch, and that during a flare-up he could not do anything except sit in his recliner and try to get comfortable.
The judge then noted that redness and swelling were certainly indicative of rheumatoid arthritis but he was most concerned about pain and loss of function of the joint. My client then responded that his pain flareup usually reached 9 or 10 on a 10 point scale and that when the RA impacted a joint he could not use that joint for up to 2 days.
The judge asked a few more follow up questions then turned to the vocational expert.
Q: Please identify the claimant’s past work.
A: He was a mail carrier – D.O.T. #230.367-010 – this is medium and semi-skilled (SVP 4).
Q: Are there any transferable skills to sedentary work?
The judge then stated that he was prepared to find that the claimant’s functional capacity was no more than sedentary, and thus he met the grid rule at 201.14.
The judge then asked me if I had any questions and I did not.
Conclusions: the judge could have decided this case under a functional capacity theory but he decided that the grid rule argument was faster and cleaner. This will be a fully favorable decision.