Recent Social Security Decisions

PROGRESSION OF GOUT AND MEDICATION SIDE EFFECTS LEADS TO FULLY FAVORABLE DECISION IN SOCIAL SECURITY CLAIM

Judge Foley approved benefits to a claimant on November 30, 2012 based on progressive gout. The claimant in this case was a banker and had a very sedentary job. By putting in over 6 years of longitudinal records from his rheumatologist, claimant was able to show the progression of his symptoms. What had started as simple gout in the feet had spread over the years to his knees, wrists, elbows and hands. The medications used to control these symptoms had severe side effects which left the claimant nauseated. Therefore, despite the claimant being a younger individual, the Judge was able to conclude the claimant could not perform even sedentary work due to the combination of pain and medication side effects. The case was handled by attorney Leslie Riviere, Esq.

SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFIT SUSPENSION RECINDED FOR VETERAN STILL FEELING THE EFFECTS OF POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER

A fully favorable decision dated November 15, 2012 from Judge Messina involved an Iraq war veteran. The claimant had been seriously injured when his Bradly armored vehicle hit an IED. Due to his massive lower leg injuries the claimant was originally awarded disability benefits, but the Social Security Administration determined the claimant had improved sufficiently by 2011 that the benefits could be suspended. Attorney Leslie Riviere was able to show that the claimant was still suffering the effects of a closed head injury and PTSD to an extent that prohibited gainful employment, and benefits were continued.

CARDIAC CONDITION LEADING TO MISSED TIME FROM WORK, SUFFICIENT TO PROVE ELIGIBILITY FOR SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY

An October 19, 2012 fully favorable decision was based upon the claimant's cardiac condition, and the progression of the condition over several years. Despite medication management, the claimant's heart condition left him weak and dizzy. This created a hazard for his employer's, as the claimant had passed out at work on several occasions. By introducing copies of the claimant's payroll records, we were able to demonstrate that even part-time work required too much physical effort and therefore the claimant was permanently disabled. The decision was from Judge Paul Johnston and the case was handled by attorney Leslie Riviere, Esq.

PARENT OF DECEASED CHILD SHOWN TO BE GREIVING MANY YEARS LATER, AWARDED SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY BENEFITS

A September 27, 2012 decision in favor of the claimant was based entirely on psychiatric illness, which resulted from the death of the claimant's child. What made the case unusual was that the child had passed away several years prior, so the claimant had to show the condition was ongoing and severe enough to prevent any kind of work, over a period of time. This was accomplished by getting the claimant's psychiatrist and counselor to answer written questions about the severity of the psychiatric condition and getting that evidence introduced at trial. The case was handled by attorney Leslie Riviere, Esq.

DESPITE NO WORK HISTORY, SUPPLEMENTAL SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS AWARDED TO MENTALLY DEPRESSED CLAIMANT

An August 24, 2012 decision from Judge Ayer was based on the psychiatric illness of the claimant alone. What made the case unusual was the claimant had not worked in over 15 years an had essentially had a nervous breakdown when her husband filed for divorce. There was only one major hospitalization and then psychiatric care which followed. The claimant herself was not aware of how her emotional state made her difficult to employ, so a family member was brought in to testify on the claimant's behalf. After learning just how dependent the claimant was on family for support, a fully favorable decision was issued. The case was handled by attorney Leslie Riviere, Esq.

VETERAN AWARDED SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY WHEN DRUG AND ALCOHOL ABUSE WERE PROVEN TO BE IMMATERIAL

An August 1, 2012 decision involved a veteran who had primarily back problems, but those problems standing alone were not disabling. The claimant also had a number of negative aspects to his file including young age, a sporadic work history, drug abuse, legal issues and alcohol abuse. The claimant followed the instructions of his lawyer, Leslie Riviere, and remained in steady treatment at the VA, seeking counseling and psychiatric care for his unstable mood. Ultimately the judge found the alcohol and drug abuse were not material to the claim, and ruled in favor of the veteran, finding the number of physical problems the veteran had were disabling.

SCHIZOPHRENIC CLAIMANT AWARDED DISABILITY BENEFITS BASED ON DELUSIONAL WRITINGS AND STATEMENTS

A July 2, 2012 decision from Administrative Law Judge F. H. Ayer, finding a client totally disabled as a result of psychiatric symptoms. In this instance the claimant was only 26 years old and had a lengthy drug, alcohol and prison record. Making matters more difficult, the claimant did not have a treating psychiatrist who was willing to comment about his/her current psychiatric state. Faced with a difficult set of factual circumstances, attorney Riviere detailed the claimant's short work attempts, read from the claimant's own application for benefits and had the claimant testify. It became apparent to the judge that the claimant was in fact schizophrenic, and that his drug, alcohol and difficulties with the law were all by-products of his schizophrenia. The claimant was awarded benefits, with a representative payee responsible for disbursement of the funds.

CLAIMANT WITH DATE L AST INSURED ISSUE AWARDED BENEFITS AFTER ATTORNEY PIECES TOGETHER 10 YEARS OF OLD RECORDS

A June 20, 2012 decision from Administrative Law Judge Steven Slahta found a client totally disabled based on psychiatric symptoms. The decision was interesting because the client's date last insured was June 30, 2006. The attorney had to prove the client's disability began 6 years ago in order to entitle her to benefits. This was done by gathering older medical records through her health insurance carrier, her long term disability carrier, and credit card waivers signed by doctors as far back as 2002.

STEADY WORK HISTORY PROVES DECIDING FACOR IN CLAIM FOR DISABILITY BENEFITS

Judge Tanya Garrian, via video conference, awarded the claimant benefits on August 23, 2013, reversing the denials at the administrative level. The claimant had an advanced case of type II diabetes, compete with peripheral neuropathy, unsteady A1C results and morbid obesity. In cases where pain is often the deciding factor, the judge must determine whether the claimant's complaints of pain are credible in light of the medical history. Careful scrutiny was given to all of the records provided by the claimant, but in the end Judge Garrian was persuaded by the claimant's near perfect work history over 30 years. The claimant had been sick much of the time, but had been steadfast in her attendance at work, never missing much time until her doctor's told her to stop working. When a claimant earns significantly more at work, than they could on disability, the benefit of the doubt goes to the claimant.

PREMATURE BABY WITH DEVELOPMENTAL DELAYS AWARDED SUPPLEMENTAL SECURITY INCOME BENEFITS

On September 25, 2013 Judge Tanya Garrian awarded SSI benefits to a three year old that exhibited continued developmental delays. It is no secret that premature babies are often born underweight and with developmental delays. Sometimes, children outgrow their developmental problems and sometimes they do not. When assessing disability before a child is able to speak, testing is key. There are many tests which can be performed on children this young, which do not require verbal answers. Pediatric neurologists and "Early Steps" programs will often perform these tests. In this case, the tests revealed the child had such severe speech and learning delays, he was determined to be markedly impaired in multiple domains. If a child is markedly impaired in two or more domains of development, they are considered disabled.

MINOR CHILD WITH LISTING LEVEL ECZEMA AWARDED SUPPLEMENTAL SECURITY INCOME BENEFITS

A toddler, with a severe case of eczema was awarded SSI benefits by ALJ John D. McNamee-Alemany in St. Petersburg on September 3, 2013. Attorney Leslie C. Riviere conferenced with the child's dermatologist who agreed the eczema has remained severe enough, long enough, that the child met listing level severity under Blue Book section 108.05. Once the dermatologist signed off on a statement indicating the child's condition met listing level severity, Judge McNamee agreed it was in the child's best interests that benefits be awarded. In addition, Judge's are always interested to know how the extra income afforded by Social Security will benefit the child. In this case the child needed specialized shampoo's, skin creams and extra clothing that was often not covered by insurance.

COMPLICATIONS FROM DIABETES SUFFICIENT TO PRIVE ELIGIBILITY FOR TITLE II DISABILITY BENEFITS

On October 11, 2013 Judge Kurt Ehrman awarded benefits to a younger woman who suffered from complications from diabetes to include peripheral neuropathy, fibromyalgia, headaches and chronic fatigue. As a matter of practice, claimant's with fibromyalgia often have co-morbid symptoms which can be elicited from a careful examination of the medical records. It is important to demonstrate a longitudinal record of muscle pain in fibromyalgia cases involving at least 14 of 18 potential trigger points over all 4 quadrants of the body. In this case, EMG/NCV testing also confirmed the presence of neuropathy of the legs and carpal tunnel. Morbid obesity in this claimant made her degenerative disc disease more painful. Side effects of her medications and depression made concentration difficult, leading the judge to conclude the claimant was disabled from work, based on a combination of symptoms.

FIVE YEAR OLD CHILD AWARDED SSI BENEFITS BASED ON DEVELOPMENTAL AND SPEECH DELAY

Administrative Law Judge Johnathan Baird found a child eligible for benefits based on developmental delays. The Order of November 20, 2013 found the test results generated by Batelle Developmental Inventory testing, commonly referred to as BDI-II, were sufficient to establish marked impairments. The BDI testing had been performed on this child over a period of several years as recommended by the test developers and state guidelines. While the test showed improvement, the results were still more than 1 and 1/2 standard deviations below normal for a normal child of similar age. In addition, the child's connected speech was only 20% intelligible, rendering the toddler frustrated and aggressive toward others. Such aggression in a child required increased supervision from adults, particularly teachers, as was evident from his school IEP records. Judge Baird found the child markedly impaired in multiple domains.

Cases involving delayed speech very often involve added aggression on the part of the child, both toward adults and other children. The result is increasing isolation and loss of social skills, either because other children avoid contact or through removal of the child from the classroom setting out of safety concerns for other students. The speech delay is often compounded as a result of the isolation. Attorney Leslie Riviere handled this case and notes there are many private facilities in the area that administer BDI testing if the child's case requires follow up testing.

LONG TIME CITY EMPLOYEE AWARDED DISABILITY BENEFITS AFTER EXTENSIVE PROOF OF RETURN TO WORK EFFORTS MADE CLEAR

On November 22, 2013 Judge Paul Johnston awarded disability benefits to a 26 year City of Tampa employee with chronic low back pain. The Judge was persuaded by the fact that the claimant not only held down a full time job working construction for the city, but a second job as a delivery driver. The claimant demonstrated he normally worked a 60 to 70 hour week, earning close to six figures. He had multiple work related injuries through the years and returned to work after every injury. The judge gave the claimant the benefit of the doubt when at last he testified his injuries caught up with him and he was no longer able to work. A long, steady work history is a plus in a disability claim.

VETERAN AWARDED DISABILITY BENEFITS WHEN JUDGE CONCLUDES EARNINGS UNDER WOUNDED WARRIOR PROGRAM DON'T COUNT

On December 6, 2013 ALJ Paul Johnston awarded benefits to a combat veteran who had worked for 2 years under the wounded warrior program. This program, set up by Congress, is designed to help military veterans with significant injuries reintegrate into the work force. There are employer incentives to hire veterans. In this particular case, attorney Leslie C. Riviere was able to show that the work was partially sheltered, thereby allowing the judge to ignore the income when determining eligibility for disability benefits. Every job held by a veteran under the wounded warrior program must be evaluated individually, to see if the work is substantial, or modified to accommodate a disability. If modified, you can argue the earnings were not entirely "earned" so the judge can ignore the income and move on to the issue of whether the veteran's disability impairs his/her ability to work.

DEPARTMENT STORE CLERK FOUND DISABLED FROM DEGENERATIVE DISC DISEASE

A 61 year old retail clerk was found disabled because of difficulty standing, caused by degenerative disc disease. The decision from Judge Christopher Messina on January 24, 2014, found the claimant had established severe radicular pain as a result of the disc disease. The pain, the result of years of standing, traveled down both legs and required the claimant use a cane for stability. The claimant also had a rotator cuff tear, which made lifting difficult. Attorney Leslie Riviere was able to show that the combination of the claimant's inability to stand for any length of time, the need for a cane and difficulty lifting, made continued work in the retail industry impossible. Once a claimant is over 55, the burden shifts to the Social Security Administration to show retraining the claimant to another job might result in re-employment. Given this claimant's advanced age and employment history, retraining was not considered feasible.

JUDGE AWARDS DISABILITY BENEFITS BASED IN PART ON FMLA PAPERWORK

On February 28, 2014 Judge Johnathan Baird concluded a claimant, suffering from atrial fibrillation, gastrointestinal distress and embolic strokes, was entitled to disability benefits based in part on the claimant's FMLA paperwork. Each year the claimant had taken a large number of hours off from work due to illness or treatment for her illness. The number of hours taken was so large and went on so long, we asked the claimant to provide a copy of her time off from work. Years of computerized data was submitted showing the claimant had not only missed more than a third of her work for the last 4 years, but that other employees had donated time to the claimant to help her make up for the lost income.

When co-employee donate their own, hard earned, hours to another employee, you can guess the employees know their co-worker is pretty sick. The rules of evidence in Social Security cases is very relaxed and evidence of disability can come from many unexpected sources.

CLAIMANT WITH LOW I.Q. AWARDED SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY BENEFITS WHEN SHELTERED EMPLOYMENT PROVEN.

A February 28, 2014 decision from Judge Ballieu awarded benefits to a mildly mentally impaired claimant, with a low I.Q. The biggest obstacle to winning this case was the fact that the claimant had worked and earned substantial income for over seven years. We were able to convince the judge the claimant was still entitled to benefits based on the fact the claimant's work had been sheltered. Attorney Leslie C. Riviere argued the claimant's mother and sister had worked along side the claimant, guiding his work. Without their help, the claimant would not have been able to remain on task and complete his work assignments. Evidence of this fact was also gathered from former and current employers. Psychiatric records, I.Q. testing, and school records, showing the claimant had been in special education since the 6th grade, rounded out the evidence submitted. The judge determined the claimant's work was in fact sheltered and that he was not capable of full-time, competitive employment. Social Security disability benefits were awarded and the claimant continues to work part-time.

CHILDHOOD HEAD INJURY PROGRESSES TO COGNITIVE PERSONALITY AND EMOTIONAL LIMITATIONS AS ADULT

Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity (full time work) since 12/31/08. The Judge found that he had a history of head trauma, bipolar disorder and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Claimant was found to have the capacity to perform heavy work with a few limitations. He could only perform simple repetitive tasks due to cognitive deficits. He would have difficulty with interaction with the public, coworkers or supervisors. Claimant was in his late 40s when his disability began.

Fully Favorable Decision on January 21, 2014 from Tampa, Florida.

REQUEST FOR LIMITED OR CLOSED PERIOD APPROVED

Due to the claimant's improved medical condition the claim was modified to be limited to the period of October 31, 2010 to August 12, 2012. Her medical conditions included degenerative disc disease, degenerative joint disease as well as depression and anxiety. It was found that claimant could not function effectively/productively on a sustained basis in a competitive work environment. Specifically, claimant had a frozen left shoulder (dominant arm) with past work as a metal machine operator, cashier, shipping and receiving and clerical. Claimant was in her mid 50s.

Partially Favorable Decision on December 16, 2013 from Tampa, Florida.

YOUNGER INDIVIDUAL (AGE 45-49) WITH LIMITED EDUCATION WAS NOT ABLE TO DO SEDENTARY WORK AWARDED BENEFITS

Claimant's acquired job skills did not transfer to other occupations within her physical limitations. Her impairments included multiple cervical disc herniation and bulges with chronic pain syndrome, positive HIV, a major depressive disorder and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Fully Favorable Decision of February 24, 2014 from Tampa, Florida.

YOUNGER INDIVIDUAL (AGE 45-49) WITH CAPACITY FOR SEDENTARY WORK AND A HIGH SCHOOL EDUCATION AWARDED BENEFITS

Claimant had a longstanding history of mental health issues with treatment and counseling. She also had a remote history of a motorcycle accident with a right femur fracture followed by three other surgeries. She was unable to perform any past relevant work. Her job skills did not transfer to other occupations within her functional capacity.

Fully Favorable Decision of February 25, 2014 from Tampa, Florida.