Monday, June 25, 2012

Hearing Avoided

Sometimes the apparent need for a hearing to determine if a person qualifies for Social Security Disability (“SSD”) benefits has nothing to do with the medical evidence. A 61 year old former attorney, who had received a partially favorable decision, retained me after she was scheduled for a hearing to see if she was entitled to SSD benefits starting from an earlier date than had been approved. After reviewing the claimant’s efolder, it became clear that the issue of the claimant’s correct onset date concerned non-medical evidence only.

The Notice of Disapproved Claim found that the claimant became disabled as of November 1, 2010, the established onset date (“EOD”). The issue on appeal was whether the claimant should have been found disabled prior to the EOD. There were no medical records that corresponded with November 1, 2010; no medical evidence that indicated the claimant’s condition deteriorated as of November 1, 2010. The sole reason for the partially favorable decision was not medically related.

Three different earnings reports prepared by the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) demonstrated that the claimant earned no money after 2008, which was consistent with the claimant’s September 5, 2008 alleged onset date (“AOD”). I notified the hearing office that the State agency analyst had issued a partially favorable decision based upon mistaken information. While implicitly admitting that the medical evidence showed the claimant was disabled, the State agency said that the work history report that the claimant submitted showed that she worked as a lawyer through November 1, 2010. However, the work history report did not support the State agency’s issuing a partially favorable decision.

The State agency interviewer who discussed the work history with the claimant clarified that the claimant stopped working for a law firm in September 2008, and then worked on her own. However, the claimant was never actually able to work regularly after September 2008, which was evidenced by the three SSA earnings reports. Additionally, even if the SSA earnings reports were wrong, and the claimant had worked, the SSA interviewer made clear that any post 2008 work would have constituted an unsuccessful work attempt.

The hearing office stated that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), who turned out to be Brian Crawley, believed that additional evidence was needed to confirm the claimant’s lack of work activity after the AOD. The ALJ gave Schedule C tax returns as an example. Two weeks after I submitted those records, the hearing office confirmed the AOD would be accepted, and therefore, the hearing would be canceled as a fully favorable decision would be issued. That decision was issued today.

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