Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Using Vocational Evidence To Expedite Benefits

I represent a 56 year claimant whose application for Social Security Disability (“SSD”) benefits was denied even though her internist of 20 years, physiatrist, psychologist and chiropractor, all provided a very restricted residual physical and mental functional capacity. Therefore, I submitted a on-the-record (“OTR”) request for a fully favorable decision.

The hearing office said that a report from the claimant’s cardiologist indicated the claimant was able to exercise, which was deemed to be inconsistent with the claimant’s orthopedic injuries. Therefore, the hearing office said that a hearing was needed so the Administrative Law Judge could evaluate the claimant’s credibility. As a result, the OTR had not been approved, and the claimant would have to await a hearing. The current hearing back log is 18-24 months.

I asked to speak with the staff attorney reviewing the case. I pointed out that the claimant was over 55 years of age, and had a 30 year work history. I explained that the case law provides that a claimant with a long work history is entitled to an inference that when she stopped working she did so for the reasons testified to. I added that for the last 15 years of her career, the claimant was employed at a variety of occupations that were all of light work, and those jobs averaged well over $100,000 a year. By 2003, when the claimant’s medical conditions made her stop working, she was earning close to $300,000 annually. Therefore, the vocational evidence was objective proof that the claimant was credible, and thus, no hearing was needed.

The OTR was approved today. The result is that the claimant will receive her SSD benefits close to 2 years earlier than would have otherwise been the case. This is one of the many reasons why it is important to establish a rapport with the hearing office staff attorneys.

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