48 year old man who had been receiving Social Security Disability Benefits because of low IQ score and mental impairments that prevented him from working. His benefits were stopped after a few years because he managed to return to work with a kind and understanding employer. Eventually, he could not continue working because of an inability to go outside and work with others because he would become suspicious and paranoid around other people. There was strong evidence of his low IQ and a little evidence from mental health about his psychiatric symptoms. The weak aspect of the case was that he stubbornly refused to take medications or go to mental health clinics for treatment because he did not like being labeled “crazy,” and did not like the side effects of medications he would have to take for his schizophrenia. He also tended to drink beer excessively from time to time.
I argued in my brief that my client met Listing 12.05C, the listing for mental retardation with another severe impairment that prevented him from working. I also argued that, even if my client were a model patient and abstained from alcohol, he would not be able to perform any work on a regular and continuing basis because of the severity of his disorders.
At the hearing, I questioned my client at length about how he had been able to work in the past and why he could not work now. My client admitted that some days he just cannot get out and be among other people in a work environment. In his testimony, my client presented as someone with severe mental limitations in intelligence and emotion. At the hearing, the ALJ asked hypothetical questions from the vocational expert which elicited responses that there would be no jobs someone like my client could perform in the national or regional economy. Even so, there was too much evidence of my client not taking his medications, and a little evidence about excessive use of alcohol (beer), so that I was not sure how the ALJ was leaning.
About a month after the hearing, we received a fully-favorable decision. The ALJ found that my client was a credible witness, and found him disabled as of the alleged onset date in October 2008. The ALJ also found that my client’s alcohol use was not a factor in his disability.
What you can learn from this case: this hearing illustrates how a client’s demeanor at the hearing can provide good evidence of disability even in a case where there is ongoing alcohol abuse and failures to follow the instructions of the treating sources.