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October, 2016: Amelia’s 8 Year Odyssey for Social Security Disability Benefits out of the Portland, Maine Hearing Office

Amelia’s story is not your prototypical example as to how a Social Security disability claim proceeds. As a Maine Social Security lawyer handling disability claims for 27 years, it’s rare to see a case take 8 years to succeed. However, It does not ordinarily take 8 years and multiple rounds of appeals and hearings to win the case. Her story is an example as to how one’s ability to persevere in the face of adversity, both on the part of a claimant and one’s disability attorney can make all of the difference.

Amelia’s disability story begins in her mid twenties (20’s) at which time she began having increasing difficulty with depression, anxiety and panic attacks that was impacting Amelia’s ability to function outside of her safe environment (that is, her home). As her work history made clear, she was a hard worker early in life. However, as time went by, she found it more and more difficult to make it out of her house to go to work, and then when she was managing to go to work, she was then finding herself overcome with anxiety. She would find herself leaving early, calling in sick and, ultimately, one by one, she managed to lose each of her jobs as a result of her disabling condition.

Amelia did all of the right things when it came to treatment. She saw her primary care physician regularly, and over time, was being placed on medication for issues involving her anxiety and panic attacks. When this didn’t prove sufficient, she was referred for counseling with a psychologist who determined that her condition, in his eyes, was rather severe. Ultimately, she sought treatment at a counseling service locally and was then referred for medication management with a psychiatrist that got to know her (and her condition) quite well. Likewise, during this period of time, she began experiencing problems with panic attacks that were being accompanied by heart skips that would cause her grave concerns for her health and cause her to end up in the hospital quite frequently. She was referred to a cardiologist that determined that she was suffering from what was a benign condition to most, but which condition served to be quite anxiety riddling to Amelia. Likewise, her mental health problems correlated with an Irritable Bowel Syndrome that caused her to have issues with her bathroom habits that would make any position difficult.

Amelia initially attempted to apply on her on her own through the Portsmouth, NH Social Security district office (which was her local Social Security office as she lives in Southern Maine). Upon being denied on her initial application, she became rather frustrated with the process and, given her levels of anxiety, simply did not feel as though she could follow through with an appeal. Ultimately, a couple of years later, Amelia contacted our office to assist her with the filing of a new claim with her local Social Security office.

At this point in time, while there were a number of medical providers who were supportive of Amelia’s condition and who were willing to assist with opinions, it is certainly difficult to expect that one will win their initial application for mental health issues on their initial application. And, thus, it was not a surprise when a denial letter was issued. As is likewise expected, the rate of approval for the request for reconsideration appeal process is very low as well, and so it was entirely expected that we would have to proceed to the hearing level.

One of the more unusual aspects of Amelia’s case is that upon requesting a Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) we were informed by Amelia’s treating psychiatrist that she felt quite strongly about the severity of Amelia’s condition and wanted to appear and testify in person on her behalf. Given the manner by which the past and present treatment records made clear that Amelia’s condition had remained severe and was severely impacting her ability to function, it appeared to her counsel that there was little chance that the presiding judge would find a way around both the psychiatrist’s report and what was expected to be compelling testimony that indeed Amelia met a number of the mental health listings of impairments or, in the alternative, that she remained “disabled” under Social Security’s rules given her inability to perform any jobs for which she’s reasonably suited by age, education and experience. Unfortunately, we were wrong on this front, and will continue Amelia’s story in our next month’s entry.

In the meantime, if you feel as though you are being unreasonably denied your Social Security disability benefits by the Social Security Administration, give a call to the Law Offices of Russell J. Goldsmith at (800) 773-8622. We have been fighting for the rights of the long-term injured and disabled throughout Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire for 27 years.