July, 2017: Kenneth’s Favorable Social Security Decision prior to Hearing out of Cambridge, MA and the Boston, MA ODAR (now OHO)
Kenneth’s case is another example of how, with the assistance of a knowledgeable and diligent Social Security lawyer, it may be possible to avoid the need for a Social Security disability hearing (whether that hearing might be taking place in Maine, Massachusetts or New Hampshire). Kenneth is in his mid-40’s and had been working a series of jobs involving Information Technology until such time as difficulties with his mental health (including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and agoraphobia) caused him to go out of work.
Kenneth had decided to apply on his own for benefits and undertook his initial Social Security disability application with the Cambridge, MA Social Security district office. Upon being denied his claim, he chose to file his reconsideration decision on his own, and only upon receiving a second denial (and the passing of several more months) did he decide to contact our office seeking a lawyer to assist him with his claim. Unfortunately, Kenneth’s severe anxiety (notwithstanding his psychiatrist’s diligent efforts at address his moods and high anxiety levels by way of medication management) was causing him to seek out substances (alcohol and marijuana) in an effort to self-medicate. What Kenneth didn’t realize is that Social Security regulations were put in place in the mid 1990’s which served to deny claimants for whom drug addiction and/or alcoholism are deemed to contribute materially to their disabling condition(s). As the clarifications made in Social Security ruling 13-2P make clear, the Agency will look to see if one’s disabling conditions would remain severe and disabling if the substance abuse were to stop. Similarly, the Agency will look to see that a disability claimant is following the treatment recommendations of their medical providers (unless, or course, there happens to be some good reason not to undertake the recommended treatment): if refraining from alcohol or drugs is being recommended, SSA will look to see that one is. In Kenneth’s case, it was certainly the recommendation of his treatment providers that he refrain from alcohol and marijuana and this was posing a very difficult problem for Kenneth in light of his anxiety and a potential problem for his case.
Thus, on appeal to the hearing level, it became necessary to prove that Kenneth’s ongoing use of alcohol and marijuana was not in fact causing his mental health to be severe (and that the discontinuance of alcohol and marijuana would not cause his symptomatology to improve to the point where he would be capable of working). The fact that Kenneth worked hard to reduced, over time, his reliance on alcohol and marijuana such that it’s use became more occasional and less significant, along with the additional fact that his anxiety levels did not seem to dissipate nor his depression recede with his reduction in substance use, certainly helped to prove a point to both his treating psychiatrist and to the presiding Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) assigned to hear his case.
Our having knowledge of the newly revised Social Security mental health listings that went into effect in early 2017 allowed us to seek a Mental Impairment Questionnaire from his long-term treating psychiatrist that addressed these new mental health listings (and the extent to which Kenneth met any of the criteria required under the new listings), the extent to which Kenneth’s mental health was continuing to be compromised such that it was impacting his mental residual functional capacity, and an opinion from the doctor as to whether they felt that alcohol and/or drugs were substantially contributing to his disabling condition. Given the questionnaire proved to be supportive on all 3 of these issues (and an On the Record brief was provided to the ALJ in advance of the hearing), a fully favorable decision was in fact granted prior to the need for Kenneth to go to hearing.
Kenneth’s case is yet another example of how a Social Security lawyer’s hard work in advance of hearing can pay off for you. Thus, if you or someone you love is struggling to make ends meet as they simply cannot go to work as a result of their health, provide them the link to our website or suggest they call the Law Offices of Russell J. Goldsmith at (800) 773-8622.
It costs nothing to speak with us to see how we might be able to help turn things around.