The Slam-Dunk Case
The Slam-Dunk Case
I speak with many potential clients every week. It is one of the best parts of my job. I am often inspired by how some people, despite terrible physical and mental illness, push themselves through their conditions, show up for work, and put in a full day to support their families. These people often don’t come to me until they reach the breaking point. They cannot get through a day, and their families or employers make them stop. I spoke to a woman last week that suffered through advanced cancer. She worked for over a year, through the diagnosis, through surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. It was only after her employer let her go that she came to me. She lost her job because she was missing too much time from work for her treatment and was also having understandable lapses in performance because of the side effects from her medications and from the chronic fatigue she suffered from the illness. Hearing about her heroic struggle to keep working and understanding the nature of her condition and the associated symptoms, my first reaction was “this is a slam-dunk case” and it probably is “a slam-dunk case”.
Despite that, when we talked, we discussed getting supportive opinions about her ability to work from her treating doctors. Even though her records should be enough, we talked about the importance of not leaving the interpretation of those records to Social Security. She completely understood, and we got a very supportive opinion from her oncologist regarding how her condition prevents her from doing any work. I’m very confident that with that opinion, we will be able to get her the disability benefits she deserves.
The importance of such an opinion cannot be overstated. To illustrate this point, I want to compare her case to that of another disability claimant, I spoke with yesterday. The second claimant retained another disability representative and did not get support from her doctors for her “slam dunk case”. She came to us after an Administrative Law Judge denied her benefits after a hearing. She came to me with the denial, and I reviewed it. From my completely unbiased and neutral perspective, this claimant had so many physical issues it should have been clear to anyone that she would be unable to work successfully in any job in this country. She was blind in one eye and had significantly reduced vision in the other. She had had multiple strokes; she dragged one of her feet and had limited use of one of her arms from the stroke. She was morbidly obese and suffered from heart failure. One would think that any of these conditions would significantly limit her ability to work it all. Yet, despite that, she was denied.
It is mind-boggling to me that with this constellation of conditions, anyone could conclude that she could work in a full-time competitive environment. The one thing this woman lacked in terms of her case was an opinion from any of her multiple treating doctors regarding her ability to function in a work environment. Because she had no opinion from a treating doctor, the evaluation of her functional ability was left to an Administrative Law Judge with no medical training. With no opinion from her treating doctors, a vacuum existed regarding her function, and the vacuum was filled by people who did not know her best. Despite the claimant’s medical issues, the ALJ determined she could do a sit-down job. Some jobs that were identified that the claimant could do were equally astonishing, like the job of tube operator and addresser. You might be thinking, a tube operator, what is a tube operator? That is a great question. I actually know the job because I did it working in the mailroom of the brokerage house 40 years ago when I was in high school. The tube operator routes messages to different employees in a business using a pneumatic tube system. Basically, what happens is someone writes a handwritten message on carbon paper, keeps a copy for themselves, and addresses it to someone in another department in the business. A mail clerk takes the message, puts it into a pneumatic tube, and places it in a pneumatic piping system on that floor. The tube with the message is sucked through the pipe and goes to a mail clerk on the floor of the designated recipient. The clerk on the destination floor then takes the message from the tube and delivers it to the designated recipient. This system was state-of-the-art technology in the 1930s and was being phased out of existence when I was doing it as a high school student in the late 1970s.
This is one of the jobs that Social Security identified as something the claimant could do in 2023. They listed other jobs she could do that are almost as ridiculous. Another example provided was a job as an addresser. That is a person who addresses envelopes for advertising material by hand or using a typewriter. Does any rational person under 90 really believe that there are a lot of jobs like this in the United States in 2023. Social Security apparently does. Eventually, hopefully, Social Security judges and job experts will learn about computers, the internet, and email, but it seems they are not there yet. I do not know what happened at this hearing, but if we represented you, we would not have allowed testimony about these supposed “jobs” to go unchallenged.
My point is that your slam dunk case can be lost without treating doctor support and good representation.
What happened to the second woman above is an injustice. But it can be difficult to remedy an injustice like this after the hearing. I discussed the problems at length with her and she will try and get something from her doctors explaining how her symptoms interfere with her function. But even with those opinions, it will be difficult to win now because she has already had a hearing. Her case is no longer a slam-dunk, and we will be unable to help her at all if her doctors refuse to provide an opinion on her ability to function in a work environment. I suspect that they will be supportive and would have been willing to provide that support before the hearing if they were asked.
So if I talk with you and suggest that we make sure we get an opinion from your doctors, it is not because I don’t understand what you are going through. I do understand. I probably agree that your case should be a slam dunk. I am not trying to be dense when I tell you that the records are not enough. I get it that your doctors told you that you don’t need an opinion because you have the records. I want you to get an opinion from your doctors because I want to put you in the best position to win your case and get the benefits you worked for and deserve. I don’t want to leave the evaluation of your records to a Social Security doctor that has never met you and has looked at only part of your medical record or leave it to a judge with no medical training. I don’t want your slam dunk case lost because it was not properly developed.
1) Treating Doctor Support Matters – Even in a slam dunk case, the opinions of your treating doctors about how your condition effects your function are crucial. Don’t leave it up for interpretation.
2) Get Good Representation Early. The earlier you get good representation, the stronger your “slam-dunk” case will be if it goes to a hearing. It is much harder, sometimes impossible, to fix a botched case after hearing.
3) Representation Matters: Binder and Binder is experienced in handling both routine and complex cases. We will zealously represent you, even when you have a slam dunk case. Social Security rules can be complicated and confusing, but we have represented thousands of claimants over the years and know what is needed to win. Experience matters. Contact us for a free consultation.Free SSD Evaluation