Panic Disorders and Social Security Disability Benefits
Individuals with mental disorders often face additional challenges when pursuing Social Security disability benefits. Social Security officials are often skeptical of the true impact such disorders have on a person’s ability to work. And even when confronted with sound medical evidence, the agency may still try and defend a decision to deny benefits.
A recent disability case from Florida, Meade v. Commissioner of Social Security, illustrates just how far Social Security may go in such cases. This particular disability claim involved a Florida woman (the plaintiff) who suffers from a panic disorder. Following a hearing, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) denied the plaintiff’s application for disability benefits, stating there were “inconsistencies” in the medical opinions of the doctors who either treated her or reviewed her medical records. Basically, the ALJ did not find the plaintiff’s claim she was unable to work due to her panic disorder credible, because there was insufficient “corroborating evidence” from her prior employers or co-workers.
The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has appellate jurisdiction over disability cases in Florida, determined it was the ALJ’s conclusions that were not supported by the evidence. With respect to corroboration, the appeals court pointed to the testimony of the plaintiff’s ex-husband, who said she “began experiencing difficulty at work due to her excessive worrying and fears about leaving the house, for which she began taking excessive amounts of medication.” That would certainly support the plaintiff’s claim she suffered from a crippling panic disorder, the Court noted. Indeed, the plaintiff herself told the ALJ that prior to filing for disability, she “was taking Xanax in quantities far exceeding her prescribed dose in an unsuccessful attempt to manage her panic disorder so she could continue to work.”
The 11th Circuit also found the ALJ improperly discredited the medical testimony presented at the plaintiff’s hearing. For example, one doctor found the plaintiff “would be unable to maintain employment due to her panic disorder.” The ALJ assigned this expert opinion “little weight,” because it was supposedly inconsistent with the doctor’s own treatment notes. Not so, the appeals court said. The notes in question simply stated the plaintiff was “less anxious” following her divorce; that was not inconsistent with the doctor’s conclusion that the plaintiff could not maintain a job. The ALJ also pointed to the lack of any long-term prognosis–i.e., how long the plaintiff “would be unable to maintain employment.” But again, the 11th Circuit said the lack of such a prognosis did not undermine the doctor’s medical conclusions.
To be clear, the 11th Circuit did not award the plaintiff disability benefits; the Court simply returned the matter to Social Security for a new hearing.
Speak with a National Disability Attorney Today
Independent review by the courts helps to ensure that individuals are not victimized by the unfair–and often legally incorrect–decisions made by Social Security administrative law judges. If you are having difficulty making your own case for benefits, National SSD eligibility lawyer Stephen Barszcz can provide you with skilled legal representation. Contact his office today at 877-655-2667 to schedule a consultation.