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Johnson v. Colvin: Social Security Disability Benefits

Johnson v. Colvin, a case from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, involves claimant who suffered from a variety of serious medical conditions including, morbid obesity, chronic asthma, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and intellectual functioning impairment.

952313_gavelClaimant has never been employed and only completed school through ninth grade. She never obtained a GED and never learned to drive a car nor obtained a license to drive. When she applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, the United States Social Security Administration (SSA) required her to undergo a series of cognitive and behavioral tests performed by a Ph.D. of their choosing.

As a result of this examination, SSA’s doctor determined claimant had mental functioning well above the “mentally retarded range” and that claimant was able to sustain a significant level of concentration and persistence with respect to completing tasks assigned during her cognitive function evaluation. This doctor also opined claimant’s mental impairments did not prevent her from functioning normally in her daily environment.

As part of the testing to determine claimant’s residual functioning capacity (RFC) to find and maintain employment, this doctor administered a standard IQ diagnostic instrument, which determined claimant had an IQ of 67. This level of IQ placed claimant in the category of “mild mental retardation.” In her current state of mental health and functioning, doctor opined claimant should be encouraged to seek employment that involves mechanical tasks. SSA’s doctor also opined she had a considerable ability to handle tasks involving analyzing and synthesizing abstract stimulus.

In addition to the doctor hired by SSA, claimant also participated in various other counseling sessions, and there it was determined she was of slightly less than average intelligence and lacked a formal education.   Despite these findings, or perhaps in light of these findings, an administrative law judge (ALJ) determined she was not disabled. He opined claimant was able to engage in light work, if minimal restrictions were in place at her employment to assist with her mental disabilities.

As our Boston disability attorneys can explain, United States Social Security Administration routinely denies disability findings to claimants who should qualify based upon a single disability condition, or a combination of medical conditions, which make it virtually impossible to secure and maintain employment. The so-called independent medical professionals, counselors, and vocational experts (VEs) are all paid by SSA and generally make findings consistent with finding a residual functioning capacity that allows claimant to work instead of being awarded Social Security disability benefits.

In a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or SSI denial, appellate courts will generally trust the decision of an ALJ, so long as his or her findings were supported by adequate evidence, and the support was logically noted in the record of the case.

This does not mean you cannot win a challenging hearing or an appeal, but it does mean you should speak with an attorney who has significant experience dealing with these issues. It should be noted, it is extremely difficult for an unrepresented claimant to achieve success during an ALJ hearing, because the system is designed in such a way to take advantage of claimant’s lack of knowledge on the disability claims process.

If you are seeking Social Security Disability Insurance in Boston, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:

Johnson v. Colvin, June 12, 2015, United States Court of Appeals for Eighth Circuit

More Blog Entries:
Hanson v. Colvin: A Critical Look by a Court of Appeals on a Denial of Benefits, August 14, 2014, Boston Disability Lawyers Blog