December, 2012 and January, 2013: Doing Our Homework
The months of December and January have seen a great deal of relief for a number of our clients, many of whom have avoided the need to go to hearing with their cases based on the argument briefs I was able to provide the hearing offices. An experienced and zealous Social Security disability lawyer will gather supportive documentation well ahead of hearing and, many times, will be able to avoid the need to proceed to hearing (even when one is already scheduled for hearing) by presenting an argument brief to the presiding judge. I am providing here the stories of 4 such clients we have been representing for whom we've been able to accomplish this over the last couple of months.
Michael is a thirty-seven (37) year old gentleman who had been working managerial positions for both retail stories and a drug store for many years prior to becoming disabled as a result of a genetic bone disorder that has caused him to undergo multiple surgeries for his knees and elbow. Michael's case was not so clear at the time of his initial filing: he we continuing to undergo treatment at that time and the Social Security Administration (SSA) was not able to determine that his condition would remain severe and totally disabling (that is to say, disable him from gainful employment) for a year or longer. Unfortunately, due to a loss of insurance, Michael was unable to move forward with his treatment such that the SSA could see whether he “remained disabled despite prescribed treatment for a year or longer” as the Social Security regulations require him to show. We were able to work with Michael to ensure that he had access to the treatment he required by guiding him through the available insurance options that were available to him through the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We were likewise able to obtain additional documentation of his functional limitations that was not previously available for review at the time of the prior agency determinations. By the time of the argument brief we had provided additional medical documentation from a multitude of providers (11 to be exact) as well as residual functional capacity assessments from his orthopedic specialists for his knees (that is to say, 2 different surgeons that had operated on his right knee) as well as one from his orthopedic specialist for his right elbow which evidenced the fact that he remained so limited by his conditions that he could not be expected to perform any form of gainful employment (not even a sit down or sit/stand option position). Consequently, I am happy to report that the presiding Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) was willing to provide a fully favorable on the record decision for Michael such that he did not need to proceed to hearing.
Monica is a fifty-one (51) year old woman who contacted our office after being denied benefits on her initial application out of New Hampshire. Monica had an extensive work history as a registered nurse, having last worked as a nursing home administrator for the last 10 years of this employment. The loss of this employment caused her a great deal of depression and stress which ultimately caused her to seek treatment for her condition from first her primary care physician and then a psychiatric nurse practitioner. Upon our involvement, we were able to work with Monica and her psychiatric nurse practitioner to provide a detailed assessment of the objective signs, symptoms and functional limitations resulting from her impairment that had made it impossible for Monica to consider looking for work. Moreover, Monica's primary care physician was willing to provide additional support such that we were able to provide compelling additional evidence that she would have significant barriers to performing even simple work (which is not to mention the very skilled work she had been used to performing). Well prior to the actual hearing date, we were able to provide an argument brief to the presiding judge and convince them that a fully favorable decision was warranted without the need to require Monica's testimony. Needless to say, the call to Monica to inform her that she need not attend the scheduled hearing caused to her a great deal of relief in a number of different respects.
Howard is a fifty-four (54) year old gentleman who lives in New Hampshire and has an extensive and consistent work record of 36 years. Howard suffered a transient ischemic attack (not quite deemed to be a stroke) that caused him to lose sensation on the left side of his body and consequently brought about an exacerbation of mental health problems associated with a longstanding diagnosis of bipolar disorder. One condition was noted to impact and worsen the effects of the other, yet the extent to which this was the case did not become clear until such time as his treatment providers were asked to address this (that is to say, not until after our involvement in his case). At the time of the prior agency determination in New Hampshire, no treatment provider had been asked to address whether Howard met a medical listing of impairment (which would automatically qualify him for disability benefits, without the need to ask the question as to the extent of his functional limitations and whether he could return to a job) nor had any doctor addressed the extent of either his physical or mental health residual functional capacity. Upon our involvement, we were able to prevail upon Howard's primary care physician, his psychiatric nurse practitioner and his counselor to address these very issues. Howard's indigent circumstances created an even more compelling need to submit an argument brief on his behalf (even ahead of any scheduled hearing) to see if in fact we could prevail upon the hearing office to provide a favorable decision for him. I am happy to say that we were able to provide this relief to Howard well in advance of when he would have needed to go to hearing given the support his doctors were willing to lend.
Finally, Janine's case is another example of how much difference an attorney can make on behalf of their client. Janine is a forty-eight (48) year old woman who had worked many different types of positions over the years: as a transcriptionist, as well as in numerous administrative and cashier type positions. She had been suffering for quite some period of time from Fibromyalgia, migraines, anxiety, depression and Lupus (among other conditions), which only got worse for her over time. When Janine could no longer work in an office setting given the severity of her condition, she managed to find employment working from home (so that she could provide herself the necessary breaks, so she hoped, such that she could continue to maintain employment). Unfortunately, she was unable to maintain the position from home to the satisfaction of her employer and it became necessary for her to apply for Social Security disability benefits. Janine was initially denied her claim and then contacted our office to assist. To Janine's credit, she was in substantial medical treatment with long-term providers who were well aware of (and therefore could address) the extent of her disabling conditions: she was seeing not only a primary care physician, but also a rheumatologist for her Fibromyalgia and Lupus, a neurologist for her migraines, a psychologist for counseling and a psychiatrist for medication management of her mental health conditions. Each of these providers was willing to come to Janine's aid when it became necessary to apply for Social Security benefits. By the time we had reached the hearing level, we had provided medical questionnaires from her primary care physician, her psychologist, her psychiatrist, her neurologist and her rheumatologist. It was pretty clear to me that we had provided a very compelling case by way of our argument brief and the medical documentation, and I was surprised to learn that the judge did not grant the request we made for a fully favorable decision 2 months prior to the scheduled hearing date. Consequently, Janine and I spent over 3 hours preparing her for the hearing given the concerns Janine had in attending the hearing (and we prepared her the week before the hearing so she would not be stressing over the preparation the day before her hearing). Surprisingly, we got a call from the judge's assistant the day before the hearing that the judge had decided to grant the request for a fully favorable decision based on the brief provided (and it appears that the brief had simply not been read until the day before the hearing). Needless to say, there were some very happy tears coming through the phone line when I spoke with Janine personally to spread the good news.