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PTSD and Social Security Disability

With the number of individuals applying for Social Security Disability Income benefits for injury or illness, there will always be pressure to not cover certain injuries or ailments. Unfortunately, some such injuries or ailments are very real and are too often summarily dismissed.

A recent case heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit Court weighed in on whether Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was such a malady that would warrant coverage. The plaintiff in that case was a Vietnam veteran who, like so many of our soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, has had significant problems adjusting to civilian life. His wife testified that her husband thrashes in his sleep, sits in the garage with a gun during rainstorms, and has PTSD attacks triggered by lights blinking, particular smells, loud noises and the feeling of damp clothing. The plaintiff claims he has been unable to hold a job since December 31, 2000.

An administrative law judge (ALJ) felt that, despite such symptoms, the plaintiff was capable of working a number of positions and therefore should not be deemed disabled. Part of the problem in establishing disability in his case was that the plaintiff did not actually seek medical treatment until 2003. Though a medical expert wrote a letter to the ALJ stating the plaintiff was unemployable, the ALJ never asked this particular expert any questions concerning PTSD.

Cases such as these are complex and require documentation, constant medical follow-up and an establishing of medical facts supporting the claim. The findings of the ALJ were upheld at the federal appellate level in part because the plaintiff failed to substantiate PTSD under these circumstances. Attorneys must guide the process and provide a chronology that indicates a particular medical syndrome to establish a successful claim.

It should not be assumed by this case that the courts are throwing out any claims concerning PTSD. The above case merely indicates that the standard for establishing such a claim is high.

Source: Ron Guranovich v. Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, No. 11-1855 (7th Cir. 2012)

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