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January, 2017: Jolene’s Social Security Disability Claim out of Portland, Maine ODAR

Jolene’s story is the heartbreaking story of mental health illness and how it can strike anybody and at any stage of life. At the time Jolene began experiencing severe mental health problems, she was living in New Hampshire. She was struggling to continue her work in customer service only to find that her mental health problems were causing her to leave one position after another. She was placed on short term disability benefits initially, and then long term disability benefits, and then attempted a series of returns to work that only lasted very short periods of time before they ended as a result of her disabling mental health conditions that included bipolar disorder, along with co-occurring conditions that included generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks, ADHD, irritable bowel syndrome and migraines.

Jolene filed for Social Security disability benefits out of the Portsmouth, NH Social Security District Office and was denied on her initial claim. She did not have the benefit of a Social Security disability lawyer at the time she applied. Ultimately, Jolene’s inability to work and the severity of her mental health conditions did contribute to the break up of her family. She became homeless for a period of time and found it increasingly difficult to obtain the medical treatment she required for her conditions. All the while, Jolene continued to try to return to work. These jobs would continue to end shortly after she would begin the job, however, the point was clearly being made by Jolene that she wanted to work, and clearly did not wish to be on Social Security disability benefits.

Because Jolene’s claim was initially filed out of New Hampshire, the appeal of her claim constituted a Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (as there is no Request for Reconsideration process when the claim is initiated out of New Hampshire). Ultimately, Jolene did contact our office midway through her wait for a hearing, while she was still waiting for hearing. Her case at that time continued to reside at the Manchester, NH Office of Disability Adjudication and Review. Shortly after our involvement, however, she moved across the border to Maine, and her case was consequently transferred to the Portland, Maine Office of Disability Adjudication and Review.

One of the biggest problems we found with Jolene’s circumstances, in terms of establishing the severity of her condition and the extent to which it was impacting her ability to function, was the fact that she continued to transfer care as a result of lack of insurance issues and with her moving from one location to another. This made it difficult for any medical provider to get to know her long enough to be willing and able (and still around) to address a report or questionnaire that would speak to how severe her medical conditions remained. Fortunately, Jolene was very motivated to remain in treatment. Likewise, we were able to make evident the severity of her illness by ensuring that the Portland, Maine hearing office was provided with the treatment records from her repeat hospitalizations (which would occur periodically given her providers’ inability to stabilize her). Moreover, we were able to work with Jolene (along with Maine Behavioral Health) to ensure that she did get into more stable, ongoing treatment. As a result, the treatment providers (both her counselor and her treating psychiatrist) did get to know her well enough so as to understand the severe nature of her condition: the more they got to know Jolene, the more they wanted to assist her by addressing medical documentation that would help clarify for the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) just how severe her condition remained.

At the time of the hearing, the ALJ called a medical expert to testify as to the nature and severity of her medical condition and the extent to which her conditions did meet or equal in severity a medical listing of impairment. I am happy to report that the presiding ALJ was willing to announce her favorable decision from the bench so as to assure Jolene that help was on the way. While this is not a very common practice, we were both happy to hear this reassurance coming from the bench.

Jolene is now resting much more easily knowing that she can focus on treatment for her health conditions rather than stressing about whether there would be some way she would be capable of supporting herself (and keeping herself from the street).

If you are someone you care for is experiencing severe mental health problems or other disabling conditions and simply do not know where to turn, feel free to give a call on their behalf to the Law Offices of Russell J. Goldsmith at (800) 773-8622 so we can provide the guidance you require, and if necessary, assistance you require.