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January, 2016: Jerry’s Social Security Disability Case, Showing the Will to Work

January’s success story involves that of Jerry, a gentleman in his late 50’s whose case provides a good example of how the Social Security rules reward those who show they are doing everything possible to improve their health and return to work. Jerry’s story is one about perseverance.

Jerry’s story begins many years earlier when he was struck with bouts of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma that caused him to receive very debilitating treatment protocols that kept him out of work for a lengthy period of time. Because he was out of work for longer than a year at that time, and given the very obvious debilitating effects from the treatment efforts being made to save his life, he was granted a period of Social Security disability benefits. Following a couple of years of receiving benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) sought to discontinue his benefits given their feeling that Jerry could return to work. Jerry did not fight the cessation of his benefits as he too wished to return to work and did not wish to continue with his receipt of disability benefits. As Jerry informed us, he wanted to attempt a return to work and figured if SSA believed he was ready to return to work, he was more than willing to try.

It took Jerry some time finding a job that he was able to do. While his Hodgkin’s Lymphoma remained in remission, the treatment he had received had severe ongoing consequences. Treatment to eradicate the cancer in his neck had served to damage the tissue and had caused him to suffer from what’s referred to as cervical dystonia, which involves involuntary muscle contractions that result in cramps and what can be an abnormal posture. The additional consequence of such symptoms include that of fatigue. These continuing symptoms caused Jerry concern over how he might sustain a job, as he would become fatigued midway through the day, requiring that he lie down. Ultimately, he was able to find a job at a non-profit organization that was wiling to provide him with part-time hours, and remained flexible on the days and hours that he worked: if he needed to leave early or call out because of pain or fatigue issues. Jerry continued to work on a part-time basis, even increasing his hours periodically as his condition allowed. Jerry’s condition did not improve, however, and he ultimately had to discontinue work. What Jerry didn’t realize was that his earnings did not constitute substantial gainful activity, and so, in actuality, he was entitled to receive Social Security disability benefits beginning at the point in time that his earnings dipped once again below gainful levels.

While Jerry did receive an initial denial of his claim, and a denial on reconsideration, we did appeal his claim, which was assigned to the Portland, Maine Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR). Jerry’s treatment for his neck remained consistent for many years, including both before his attempt to return to work and after. He received repeated courses of physical therapy both during and after his work attempt which provided evidence of both his continuing physical limitations and his inability to manage a full day. Likewise, his repeated visits to various medical providers made evident that Jerry was going everything he could to get better, and that there were objective physical findings associated with his condition which made clear that Jerry’s remained significantly impacted by a severe medical impairment.

Ultimately, Jerry and I went to hearing before an Administrative Law Judge at the Portland, Maine ODAR, who had clearly read my pre-hearing brief, had reviewed the substantial medical record we had provided and was clearly convinced even before he testified that Jerry had been struggling to return to work for many years and simply did not have the physical ability to do so. His claim was approved and I’m happy to note that Jerry and his family received the disability benefits he so clearly deserved.