Long-time secretary makes judge tell why she was denied benefits

In the complex world of federal benefits, Social Security Disability has potentially the biggest impact on the life of a person who is now unable to work. Despite a claimant's desire to continue working, physical or mental impairments may take away that hope. Analysis of a case by an administrative law judge may miss crucial facts, or misapply the law.

In the recent case of Mrskos v. Colvin, a woman's disability case was denied when an ALJ decided to pick and choose the evidence which supported her view, instead of considering all the circumstances. The claimant's complaints and statements about her symptoms did not get the attention required by the law.

Multiple diagnoses add up over the years

The claimant, a former clerical worker, was first treated for cardiac problems in 2000, and underwent several heart operations over the next decade. She continued to have random episodes of atrial fibrillation, during which she felt dizzy, her heart raced, and she was unsteady and weak. She was also diagnosed with problems from obesity, and had a history of carpal tunnel syndrome in her wrist from her previous job where she worked with her hands all day.

In her late 50s, she applied for Social Security Disability benefits, since she found it difficult to work even part time with her illness. Her last employer allowed her to take frequent breaks when she had a cardiac incident to recover from the episodes.

Basic daily activities are not equal full-time employment

According to the five steps in determining disability under the Social Security law, an administrative law judge is supposed to consider in detail a list of factors including medications and other treatments, subjective complaints and the individual's daily activities.

The ALJ, in considering the claimant's daily activities and her own statements about her symptoms including pain, failed to figure in her ability to do things at her own pace at home, compared to the rigors and expectations of a full-time job. The court mentioned several cases in which ALJs failed to recognize these differences and found the situation deplorable.

Both the doctor and the AJL were inconsistent

The language used in the ALJ's adoption of the reviewing physician's credibility determination was standardized and perfunctory; there was no discussion any of the claimant's statements of her numerous limitations and symptoms. The ALJ picked out certain parts of the treatment record to show a lack of credibility, and omitted several of the doctor's notes that would support a disability finding.

Although the ALJ relied on the doctor's opinion, including his finding that the claimant was fully credible regarding her physical limitations, she nevertheless found that she was not credible and could return to work at a medium level. She failed to discuss symptoms that would have precluded work, though the medical evidence supported a disability determination.

The claimant had a lengthy work history at secretarial and clerical jobs, but described not being able to continue that and other work due to her symptoms of weakness and dizziness. She is able to do household chores for short periods of time, which the court found was not inconstant with being disabled for employment. The court sent the case back to the ALJ so that all the non-medical symptoms could be evaluated.

To get through the many requirements in establishing a disability under the Social Security laws, you need an attorney experienced in federal court and familiar with administrative procedures. Many sources of information must be submitted, and good representation can help reach a good outcome.