Summary: 38 year old male alleging disability based on complications from a stroke
Client profile: 38 year old male
Education: 11th grade + GED
Past work: assistant section manager at large chain grocery store for 20+ years
Claim background: my client filed for benefits in September, 2010 alleging disability beginning in September, 2010 – the date of his stroke. A hearing was held in the North Atlanta hearing office in May, 2012. The judge assigned to this case is always well prepared and he is more likely than average to approve cases.
Medical background: in early September, 2010, my client was at home working on a piece of furniture when he began experiencing a severe headache. After trying to sleep off the pain for several hours, he drove himself to a nearby emergency room where a CT revealed the presence of blood in his brain and evidence of a leaking aneurysm. He was then transferred by helicopter to Emory University hospital where he underwent surgery to repair bleed. Additional CT scans reveal the presence of two more aneurysms that will need treatment in the future.
After being released from the hospital, my client has not been able to return to work. He experiences severe headaches on a daily basis and periodic left sided weakness. He also describes deficits in his short term memory, ability to concentrate and a depressed mood. Finally my client states that he thinks about the two remaining aneurysms and the need for invasive brain surgery as well as the risk of sudden death.
Factors in our favor:
- very strong work history
- objective evidence of a medical trauma and medical complications consistent with that trauma
Factors not in our favor:
- the consultative psychological evaluations in the file described limitations but not to the degree that my client alleges
- my client is very young for a Social Security disability claim
My strategy: I felt that the issue in this case was very clear – would the judge accept my client’s testimony about the degree of impairment he continues to experience following his stroke. I felt that he came across as serious and credible in our pre-hearing conference and I believed that his testimony would help his chances. I also wrote and submitted a pre-hearing brief in this case to set out the issue for the judge.
Hearing Report: my client and I entered the hearing room and were greeted by the judge. The judge introduced the vocational witness and accepted the medical record into evidence. The judge then asked my client some preliminary questions about his education and work background then he turned the questioning over to me.
I then took over the questioning by asking more questions about my client’s work history. I did this to establish his long (20+ years) work history and that he was an established employee with a solid career.
Next I turned to the day of the stroke and established that it came out of the blue. We discussed his two week hospitalization and that future surgery would be necessary. The judge briefly interrupted to ask my client if he would undergo additional surgery – he would if he had insurance.
I then turned to the physical complications he continues to suffer – mainly left sided weakness that occurs with exertion or stress two to three times per week.
We then turned to the headaches. My client stated that he experiences severe, level 9 out of 10, headaches daily. He testified that he uses 30 BC powders every two to three days to try to control the pain and that the only relief he gets is from sleep. He testified that he sleeps most of the day, that he rarely leaves his house, that he is afraid to drive and that he lives with his sister and relies on her for cooking and to remind him to take his medications.
I concluded by asking him if he was worried or stressed about the two remaining aneurysms and the likelihood of future surgery and he responded that he thinks about this all day long.
I then told the judge that I had no more questions. The judge asked me if I had any witnesses and I responded that my client’s sister was there and prepared to talk about my client’s excessive sleep. The judge noted that this testimony would be duplicative and that he was prepared to accept my client’s testimony as truthful on this topic.
The judge then turned to the vocational witness and asked him to describe my client’s past work of an assistant grocery store manager – it is medium exertional level and skilled.
The judge then asked the VE to consider my client’s “employability” given the conclusions of a neuropsychological consultative examination in the record. The VE testified that based on the neuropsych evaluation, my client could not perform the demands of his past work.
The judge then asked the VE to consider the impact of daily headaches which would cause an employee to either miss work or need to lie down during the day. The VE testified that daily periods away from the worksite would preclude any type of job.
The judge asked me if I had any questions. I asked one question to firm up the VE’s testimony – if an individual would likely miss an hour per day of work due to severe headaches or fatigue, would that permit the performance of a simple, entry-level, one or two step job? The VE testified that the limitations I described would preclude all work.
The judge then told my client that he would get a decision out shortly. He thanked me for being “well prepared as usual” (which I appreciated) and closed the hearing.
Conclusions: the judge will approve this case. The medical evidence was solid and my client testified credibly. The judge accepted my client’s testimony as truthful.