The firm recently represented a woman suffering from multiple sclerosis in winning her appeal for Social Security disability benefits. This is wonderful news for our client who, in addition to receiving disability benefits going forward, will also get a payment for nearly four years of back benefits.
The case illustrates two common features of Social Security disability benefits cases for persons suffering from multiple sclerosis. The first is the relapsing-remitting nature of the malady for some people: times when the disease and its symptoms flare up, followed by periods when the disease and symptoms quiet down. When a doctor hired by Social Security examines a claimant during a period of remission, it can be too easy for the consultant to wrongly conclude that the claimant is capable of working.
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The second is how easy it is, in assessing the condition of someone who suffers from multiple sclerosis, to miss the forest for the sake of the trees. Many victims of multiple sclerosis, particularly in the earlier stages of the disease, experience real but not-yet-major impairments in a wide range of physical and mental functioning: loss of balance, memory loss, numbness in the extremities, lack of motivation, trouble climbing stairs, and so forth. By focusing too narrowly on the degree of impairment of each specific symptom, rather than expansively considering the disease’s effects on the holistic functioning and quality of life of the claimant, Social Security decision-makers can too readily jump to the conclusion that the person is not disabled.
In our client’s case, these features may have led the Social Security administration and its medical consultants to wrongly conclude that she, while seriously impaired, was nevertheless able to perform substantial gainful activity (which is Social Security-speak for “paid work”) that was sedentary, such as a job in a call center.
As we demonstrated to the Social Security judge, that conclusion was mistaken.
To prove our client’s case, we had her physician complete a questionnaire—called a “medical source statement”—about the diagnosis, symptoms, and prognosis of her multiple sclerosis. Medical source statements carry a great deal of weight in Social Security Disability cases as Social Security judges are required to place more emphasis on the medical source statement of the claimant’s primary care physician than those of the Social Security Disability Medical Examiners.
These kinds of questionnaires exist for dozens of physical and mental disabilities. An important part of what we as attorneys do to represent people in Social Security hearings is to carefully put together this kind of evidence and present the case so that the judge sees the big picture.