Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Disabled by Schizophrenia

Many people are under the misperception that schizophrenia is a disease where the person has a split or multiple personality. According to the Mayo Clinic, schizophrenia is a group of severe brain disorders in which people interpret reality abnormally, and may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions and disordered thinking and behavior. Importantly, the Mayo Clinic points out that the ability of schizophrenics to function normally and to care for themselves usually deteriorates over time.

When applying for disability benefits, the question is has the schizophrenia deteriorated the claimant’s ability to function in a work setting. A 41 year old college graduate, who had been a shoe salesman for nearly a quarter century, retained me after his application for Social Security Disability (“SSD”) benefits had been denied on the ground that he could “perform simple low level jobs.” Social Security agreed that the claimant could no longer work as a shoe salesman, but identified three other jobs from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles that he purportedly could perform.

Before preparing to attack Social Security’s conclusion that the claimant could perform the three identified occupations, I decided to investigate if the evidence would demonstrate that the claimant met the “listing” for schizophrenia. If a claimant meets a listing, then Social Security must find that the claimant is disabled without needing to determine if the claimant has the functional ability to work.

The records in the claimant’s Social Security file appeared to show the claimant met the criteria of the listing for schizophrenia. Rather than making a legal argument explaining why the claimant met the listing, I provided the listing criteria to the treating psychiatrist, and asked for his medical opinion as to whether or not the claimant met the listing. Since the psychiatrist did opine that the claimant met the listing, I requested a fully favorable decision on the record (“OTR”), which was approved.

The OTR was particularly advantageous to the claimant. Besides reducing his attorney fee, the OTR also enabled the claimant to avoid the stress of a hearing. Moreover, knowing that he would be approved for SSD benefits mitigated the likelihood of the claimant’s condition deteriorating even further.

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