May 2018: Douglas's Fully Favorable Decision out of South Shore, MA and the Boston, MA OHO
Douglas’s case is a story of redemption, both from a personal standpoint and that of his case. We were happy that Douglas, when looking for a Massachusetts Social Security disability lawyer to assist with his case, called our office so that we could assist him with his story of redemption.
Douglas was a hardworking gentleman in his late 30’s who had worked a number of laborer type jobs in positions of authority in the construction industry before having to discontinue his employment given chemicals in the workplace were making him ill. Within the year following his leaving work, he required hospitalization and detox assistance for significant issues involving alcohol abuse. Following his recovery, he was left with ongoing severe issues that included liver disease, peripheral neuropathy, post traumatic stress disorder and fibromyalgia.
At the time I began my disability practice in 1990, one was able to obtain disability benefits solely for drug addiction and substance abuse. In 1996, however, Congress enacted legislation called the Contract with America Advancement Act which both terminated benefits for, and denied disability claims generally for both SSI (Supplemental Security Income) and SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) for those potential beneficiaries whose primary impairment was found to be drug addiction, alcoholism and/or both. That being said, what is made very clear from the statute enacted, the federal regulations promulgated (20 C.F.R. Sections 404.1535 and 416.935) and the corresponding Social Security Ruling 13-2P issued by SSA in 2013, each of which explains how the provisions are to be analyzed and applied, is that it remains the ongoing use of alcohol and/or drugs and whether they are substantially contributing to one’s medical condition(s) and ability to work that is the issue. And to Douglas’s credit, he was no longer drinking and, as such, was no longer adversely impacting his condition as of the date he went into detox successfully.
Unfortunately, however, there appears to be in this attorney’s opinion an inherent bias against those who have previously suffered from substance abuse issues regardless of ongoing abstinence. Douglas was faced with the additional hurdle insofar as his last job had not come to an end as a result of his disabling condition, which ultimately became disabling during the year following his last work
Upon our involvement, we impressed the importance to Douglas of not only remaining sober but also of the various treatment options available for his condition, many of which he was not aware of prior to our involvement. With Douglas remaining in consistent treatment with his treating neurologist (and agreeable to attempting a number of neurolytic combinations in an attempt to address the severe neuropathy), his treating neurologist was more than willing to address the severity of his condition by way of a medical questionnaire. In addition, his treating counselor and psychiatric nurse practitioner were more than willing to speak to the extent to which his chronic pain condition was impacting both his PTSD and anxiety issues (for which he had previously been self-medicating with alcohol, but was now properly addressing through counseling and medication management). Finally, his treating physiatrist who was addressing his chronic neuropathic pain and fibromyalgia was willing to address a questionnaire that spelled out both their findings on examination and the manner in which his severe medical conditions were impacting his ability to function.
While the state agency at the initial and reconsideration levels seemed to have held Douglas’s past substance abuse against him, to his credit, the presiding Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) did not. Upon presentation of a brief in support of a fully favorable decision, I am happy to report that Douglas was provided a fully favorable decision by the ALJ from the point in time of amended alleged onset date we asserted (which was the date he was no longer using alcohol and it had become apparent that his condition remained severe and disabling). Likewise, towards the end of our involvement, we were able to advise Douglas to withdraw his claim for SSI prior to its processing as it was not going to provide him with any additional money (given the amount of his SSDI aware) and thereby ensure in this manner that he did not have to repay the welfare lien that was pending from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for the EAEDC (Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children) he was continuing to receive as interim assistance during the pendency of his claim. This, alone, served to provide Douglas with an additional $7,500.00 in his pocket.
Needless to say, Douglas was quite relieved that he would not have to proceed to hearing, and that financial help was on its way. He was even more shocked to hear how we could save him $7,500.00 by withdrawing his SSI claim and thereby avoiding the need for a repayment of the Commonwealth’s lien. If you or a loved one is faced with a severe disability that is keeping you/them from working and SSA is simply not listening, give a call to the Law Offices of Russell J. Goldsmith at 1-800-773-8622 and allow us to intercede on your behalf. You will be glad that you did.