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March, 2017: Reginald’s Case: How Having a Maine Social Security Lawyer Up Front Can Make All of the Difference

Reginald’s case is a prime example of what a knowledgeable Maine Social Security disability lawyer can do for you to make a difference at the initial stages of a Social Security disability application. While Reggie didn’t receive a favorable decision on his initial application, the fact that we were involved from the very outset of his claim helped set the stage to ensure that he received a just and fair decision following hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) at the Portland Maine Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR).

Reggie is a military veteran in his late 50’s who worked for a number of years following his military service in the civilian sector as an engineer. Over the years, Reggie developed a number of orthopedic concerns including osteoarthritis of one of his ankles and of both of his knees. For a number of years, Reggie was able to get by with injection therapy for his knees. His ankle then required surgical repair, and, following a period of recovery, Reggie was able to return to work once again in the engineering field. This work required that Reggie get up and down as need be throughout the day, and required that he undertake considerable walking at the facility where employed. Ultimately, however, Reggie’s ankle broke down to the point where he required ankle fusion surgery and, fortunately for Reggie, his employer was able (for some period of time) to accommodate his ankle condition (allowing him to work at a lesser production rate than his counterparts and providing him easier duties that did not require as much walking and standing). However, there was a limit to how long his employer could accommodate Reggie, and ultimately he was pushed by his employer to apply for disability retirement.

Reggie’s doctors were certainly supportive of his applying for Social Security disability: both his orthopedic surgeon and his physical therapist were willing to assist by providing a Physical Residual Functional Capacity Questionnaire that addressed the nature and severity of his orthopedic conditions and how limited he would be in terms of standing and walking throughout an 8 hour workday. It is important to understand (and, certainly, Reggie would not have understood without our involvement) that Reggie had a past relevant work history that involved working on his feet throughout his career. In assisting Reggie with his paperwork, it was very important that we distinguish the work he ordinarily performed (requiring standing and walking for the vast majority of the day) versus the accommodative work he was provided for a period of less than 6 months before his employer determined that they simply could not accommodate him any longer. If Reggie had listed this work in his work history report without appropriate clarification, this would have provided the Social Security Administration (SSA) with an accurate sense of his past relevant work. As part of the 5 step sequential evaluation process, the Social Security Administration (SSA) looks to see if one remains capable of performing any of the jobs they have performed in the 15 years prior to their alleged onset date of disability. In Reggie’s case, it is important that this work is not considered as part of his past relevant work, given the light duty, accommodative and temporary nature of such employment. Otherwise, a determination that he remained capable of the full range of sedentary (or sit down) employment by SSA would have resulted in an inappropriate finding that he does not remain “disabled” under Social Security’s rules given his ability to perform past relevant work.

Because Reggie’s doctors made clear he remained capable of less than light exertional level employment (finding that he remained incapable of less than sedentary level employment) , it became clear to the presiding ALJ that even with a full sedentary capability, Reggie would meet what is called a medical vocational guideline (or GRID rule) that would direct a finding of “disabled.” The vocational expert at hearing, from reviewing the explanation of his past work as an engineer, was able to determine that his last period of employment was temporary and accommodative to the point where it should not be considered as part of his past relevant work. In turn, the ALJ found that given Reggie’s past relevant work, his education and skill level (and not to mention his age, which is categorized under the GRID rules as being of advanced age), a finding of “disabled” was warranted given one of the GRID rules.

While it was important we were able to obtain helpful documentation in the form of questionnaire forms that addressed how severely limited he remained from a functional standpoint as a result of his physical medical conditions, it was equally as important that we had worked with Reggie on the Work History Report form to ensure an appropriate evaluation of his past work history.

Thus, if you or someone you care about is about to consider an application for Social Security disability benefits given they have remained out of work long term as a result of a severe injury or illness, suggest they give a call to the Law Offices of Russell J. Goldsmith at (800) 773-8622 to ensure their claim gets off on the right foot. The initial evaluation remains free and confidential, and should representation be appropriate, understand that any fees are contingent on winning.