December 10, 2018

Case Study 1

Background

The claimant was a 62 year old male whose highest level of education was high school. He was married 4 times and had 9 children, all of whom he was estranged from. His previous job was as a warehouse worker with a large telecommunications company. He was in this position for 26 years before he was laid off. He then worked as a tow truck driver, school bus driver, and a bus driver at an airport. The claimant was terminated from his tow truck job due to altercations with customers. He quit his school bus driving position because of the stress related with dealing with children on a daily basis. Finally, he was terminated from the airport bus position because of verbal altercations with airline employees.

The claimant had a long history of battling PTSD. He was treated for his disorder through counseling and other medical intervention. His PTSD symptoms stemmed from his Vietnam War service. Some of the symptoms he experienced included violent combat flashbacks, insomnia, disturbing nightmares, crying outbursts, lasting depression, difficulty in social settings, and anger management issues. Additionally, the claimant had should pain that limited his capacity to raise his arms above his shoulders. He also had lower back pain which he attributed to driving the school bus.

Most importantly, the Veteran’s Administration gave the claimant a 100% disability rating due to his PTSD. Administrative law judges often rely heavily on these findings, which strengthen a claimant’s case.

The Hearing

The hearing was held via video in July 2009 at the Marietta video hearing office before a judge in Falls Church, Virginia. My client filed for disability in March, 2007, alleging an onset date in February, 2007. Due to the claimant’s age at the time of the hearing, 62, the claim became a closed period case. Upon turning 62, the claimant became eligible for early retirement benefits. As such, the case revolved around his disability benefits from February, 2007 through February, 2009.

I had previously represented this claimant and knew him well. Additionally, we met on a couple of occasions during the preparation of the case. At the time of this hearing, however, the claimant’s behavior was unlike it had been during previous meetings. At the hearing office, he was crying and shaking violently, reminiscent of a seizure. He said that he had an argument with a VA clerk the day before regarding a travel voucher. This episode caused him to be unable to sleep and prevent his uncontrollable shaking. The more we talked and practiced his testimony, the worse his shaking became. It was uncertain as to whether he could proceed with the hearing and although I offered to postpone the hearing, he was adamant to persevere after waiting for 2.5 years for his case to be heard.

The Hearing Strategy

When the hearing commenced, the judge via video was unable to see the claimant’s condition. The vocational expert witness and hearing reporter who were present with us, however, immediately recognized that there was a problem. The video set-up prevented the judge from understanding the full extent of the problem, which was a distinct disadvantage to my client.

The judge began by discussing preliminary matters, such as evidence and testimony. During these discussions, I pointed out to the judge that the client was having some medical difficulties. When the judge proceeded with the hearing, he began asking the claimant questions. This appeared to exacerbate his problems as his seizing became more pronounced and he was unable to speak as a result.

When I asked the claimant questions about his family and consequent estrangement, he began to cry uncontrollably. It was quite evident during his testimony that he was very disturbed and endured a lot of suffering. Fortunately, the judge recognized the problems, concluded the hearing, and granted benefits. Although the claimant’s condition at the hearing hastened this decision, it is likely that the judge would have arrived at the same conclusion despite these issues.

The extensive VA medical records, as well as the expert testimony would have been more than enough for an award of benefits. Additionally, a thorough review of the record would have showed that he could not maintain a job of any kind.

Immediately after the hearing, I contacted the VA and 911 for assistance for the claimant. He was taken to the ER where the doctors administered IV medicine to stop the shaking. Although clients often end up in tears at hearings, it is rare that a claimant will exhibit such severe symptoms. In this particular case, however, the judge took this into consideration for his decision.