Summary: 54 year old metal fabricator with high school education, and degenerative disc disease and COPD was approved for SSDI under Grid Rule 201.14.
Client profile: my client is a 54 year old man with a high school education, some vocational schooling and 2 years in the military. He worked for over 13 years for a company that manufactured aluminum frames for the screen printing industry. My client was required to lift and handle 50 lb. + sheets of aluminum and he was fired from his job because of problems lifting and handling the aluminum and because of his need to use powerful prescription painkillers to get through the day.
Claim background: my client filed for disability in the summer of 2015. A hearing was held in an Atlanta area hearing office in October, 2017.
Factors in our favor:
- my client was over age 50 with a high school education
- my client had a long, productive work history
- the medical record documents severe degenerative disc disease
- my client uses a cane to walk and he has a great deal of difficulty standing up straight
- the judge in our case is very reasonable
Factors not in our favor:
- although my client has been prescribed and is taking powerful pain medications, he testified that he experiences no side effects from these medications – no fatigue, dizziness, cognitive impairment, constipation or other bothersome side effects
- the medical evidence does show severe degenerative disc disease but it does not document any herniated discs or significant spinal cord compression
My strategy: I felt that Grid Rule 201.14 would apply here given that my client walks with a cane and has documented evidence of spinal damage that is mostly consistent with his complaints of pain. I was also prepared to argue for disability based on my client’s reduced functional capacity. I felt that my client would be a solid witness as he has good insight as to his physical condition and he comes across as a hardworking person who would rather not be pursuing disability.
I had met with my client at my office a few days before the hearing and he listened to my suggestions about testifying, and he understands the arguments that I was preparing for his case.
Hearing report: my client and I entered the hearing room and were greeted by the judge. I have been before this judge in the past and when I sat down he said “Mr. Ginsberg, I think I can guess what argument you will be using today.” This is usually a good sign.
After swearing in my client and the vocational witness and accepting the claims file into evidence, the judge asked me for my opening statement. I gave a brief overview of my argument and specifically noted my belief that Grid Rule 201.14 would apply here.
The judge then asked me to question my client. I began by asking him when he first noticed back problems. I established that his back has been hurting for over 10 years and that he worked through the pain until the late spring of 2015 when his supervisor asked for his resignation because my client could not perform the duties of his job (lifting, extended walking).
My client testified that he used a scooter to more around the plant and that his co-workers frequently helped him with lifting.
We spoke about my client’s medical care – epidurals and facet injections that did not help, and his doctor’s recommendation for surgery – which he cannot afford.
We also discussed the powerful pain management drugs prescribed to my client – oxycontin, neurotin, and soma, and the limited impact these medications had on his pain level.
My client testified that he could sit for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, and stand for 10 to 15 minutes, and that he needed to lie down in a recliner for 30 to 120 minutes in a day.
Finally, we discussed my client’s COPD and difficulties he has with climbing stairs, walking for more than 2 or 3 blocks and problems in dusty environments and cold weather.
After I finished my direct examination the judge said he had no questions and he turned to the vocational witness.
The VE described my client’s past work as a machinist, which is at the medium exertional level and semi-skilled. There are no transferrable skills to sedentary work.
The judge then asked a hypothetical question: assume we have an individual who is the same age as our claimant, with the same level of education and the same work experience. Assume further that this individual would be limited to sedentary work with the following additional limitations:
- occasional climbing ladders, ropes and stairs
- occasional balancing, stooping and kneeling
- avoid all pulmonary irritants
Could such a person return to the claimant’s past relevant work?
The judge then turned to me and said, “counselor, as you pointed out earlier, grid rule 201.14 applies here and directs a finding of “disabled.” Thank you for coming and this hearing is now closed.
Conclusion: the judge will approve this case based the grid rules.