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Ash v. Colvin: Social Security Disability Appeals

In Ash v. Colvin, an appeal heard in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, claimant filed for disability benefits, including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, with a date of disability onset in late June 2010. Her disabilities claimed on the application for benefits included back injuries, foot problems, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), depression, headaches, and mild mental retardation.

736458_headed_homeIn case you were wondering about the term mental retardation, it is no longer used in the DSM-5 and ICD-11, but that was around the time this case occurred, and the United States Social Security Administration (SSA) was not up to date in many areas, including the 1970s Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) used during hearings before administrative law judges (ALJs). The new term used in the DSM is intellectual disability.

In order to claim SSDI, a claimant must have a significant work history and must have earned enough quarterly credits to qualify for benefits in addition to being disabled. This is what is known as having paid into the system through the payment of taxes. Paying into the system is essentially equivalent to paying a premium for a private long-term disability insurance policy. Though, it should be noted, private policy may be better than what is offered by the SSA, but you must already have the policy in place before becoming disabled. In this case, claimant had worked at a dollar store for about 10 years prior to filing for disability benefits.

As part of her application, she was asked to fill out a questionnaire about her daily activities. She said she lived alone and made her own meals. She also did her own laundry without a need for assistance. However, sometimes doing her laundry would take her the entire day. She said she could drive her mother’s car and pay her bills, use a checkbook, go shopping, and other typical tasks. She could use a computer, including Facebook, but had trouble sitting, squatting, and bending down.

A doctor was hired to perform a full mental diagnostic examination of claimant, as well as an intellectual assessment. Claimant said she had difficulty reading, but also that she could read the newspaper and understand what she was reading. She also testified that she graduated from high school; however, she was in remedial reading classes prior to graduation. As part of his evaluation, the doctor used a test known as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, Fourth edition (WAIS-IV). Her average score was lower than a 70 and, according to the doctor, was well below normal for an adult. He agreed that she should be classified as in the mild retardation range.

Another doctor agreed with the mild retardation diagnosis, but her work history and ability to drive and take care of herself indicated to the ALJ that her IQ issues did not interfere with her ability to work or function, and ALJ declared her not to be disabled. She appealed her denial of Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. However, on appeal, the court agreed with the lower courts and ALJ that claimant was not disabled under the SSA definition, since she was able to work.

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

Additional Resources:

Ash v. Colvin, February 4, 2016, United States Court of Appels for the Eighth Circuit

More Blog Entries:

Social Security Disability Claims Process, Jan. 23, 2015, Boston Social Security Disability Insurance Lawyer Blog