In a recent case, a claimant asked a Massachusetts District Court to review a denial of her petition for Social Security disability benefits. The claimant had filed an application for Social Security disability benefits based on her osteoarthritis, asthma, sleep apnea, depression, acid reflux and other issues that she believed made her unable to work.
The claimant was born in 1962. She had gone to school through ninth grade and gotten a GED. She had a mixed work history including work as a nursing assistant, factory laborer, and cashier. In 2010, the claimant saw a pulmonary specialist. She acknowledged that she smoked a pack a day, but also reported exercising. The doctor told her she should stop smoking and mentioned that she should start with CPAP therapy for sleep apnea.
She also saw a neurologist who noted she could answer all questions; she lived with the neurologist and his partner and took care of their kids. The claimant also saw a doctor for a physical and was told she was markedly obese, which was a risk factor for osteoarthritis. She was diagnosed with asthma.
She later started smoking again because of stress, but she continued to use the CPAP. Her doctor encouraged her to see a psychiatrist for her depression. She saw a rheumatologist and a counselor.
At an appointment with a psychologist, she acknowledged a history of crack abuse that ended in 2004 and a history of childhood abuse. She reported panic. She scored mostly in the low average range for various memory tasks. She was diagnosed with depressive disorder, PTSD and crack abuse in remission. She saw several other psychiatrists and was prescribed medication.
Medical experts found she could carry out basic tasks. She testified at a hearing that she had flashbacks and poor memory. A vocational expert opined that an individual with her characteristics would be terminated from any job.
Her claim was denied by the ALJ who determined she hadn’t been under a disability within the meaning of the Act from 2008-2011. The ALJ also found she had not engaged in gainful activity. He found that her obesity was severe, but that her asthma, GERD, and sleep apnea were not because they didn’t significantly limit her ability to perform basic work.
The ALJ found that her mental impairments didn’t result in marked restriction of daily activities, nor marked difficulties in social function, nor concentration problems, nor episodes of decompensation. Moreover it found she had residual functional capacity for light work, since she could stand and walk for 4 hours in an 8 hour day. She could not have lengthy exposure to temperature extremes and hazards. The ALJ found a lack of objective evidence to support some of the physicians’ conclusions and questioned the claimant’s credibility due to several inconsistencies or exaggerations.
The ALJ also noted that the claimant claimed she only slept 3 hours a night with her CPAP but this didn’t jive with medical records that described her sleep apnea as stable.
The claimant sought a reversal of the ALJ’s denial of her social security disability claim on the grounds that the administrative law judge’s (ALJ) findings failed to assess her mental limitations with regard to her residual functional capacity and improperly failed to categorize her sleep apnea as a severe impairment.
The district court explained that to qualify for Social Security disability, you must demonstrate you are disabled within the meaning of the Act — that is, you are unable to engage in gainful activity because of a medically recognized impairment that can be expected to last for not less than 12 months. The impairment must not only stop a claimant from performing her past work, but also any gainful work existing in the national economy.
The ALJ must use a five step analysis: (1) deny the applicant if she is engaged in substantial gainful work; (2) deny the applicant if she does not have a severe impairment or a combined impairment, (3) grant the application if a claimant meets the conditions for an impairment listed in the regulations, (4) deny the application if a claimant can perform past relevant work and (5) grant the application if the claimant is unable o do any other work. An applicant must show a significant limitation and if she does, the Commissioner must bring evidence of specific jobs in the national economy she can do.
In this case, the overwhelming evidence supported the ALJ’s finding. The court noted that the ALJ was correct in noting a substantial inconsistency regarding the record of the claimant’s stability as a sleep apnea patient and her claims about how impaired she was.
If you are seriously disabled and unable to work, you should consult with an attorney to determine if you are eligible for SSDI. Contact Boston SSDI attorney Michael O. Smith at 617-263-0060 or via our website for a consultation.