Jennifer Karr of the Rochester office of the Empire Justice Center recently received a favorable decision from an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) following an Appeals Council remand. The Appeals Council had found that the ALJ had not fully considered opinion evidence, and had not offered “a complete rationale.” The Remand Order detailed multiple failures by the ALJ, including her failure to consider a medical source statement and a listing letter by the client’s nurse practitioner. The ALJ also failed to consider the claimant’s vision limitations though he had only “very minimal light perception” in one eye. Finally, the Appeals Council determined the ALJ failed to consider restrictions caused by chronic prostatitis with anti-biotic resistance, including urinary frequency and incontinence.
At the remand hearing, the ALJ acknowledged the prior decision was in error, took minimal testimony from the claimant, and posed a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to the vocational expert that resulted in “no jobs.” But the ALJ’s fully favorable decision cannot undo the damaging effects of the earlier erroneous decision. During the five years the claimant waited to be found disabled, he emptied his retirement savings, incurring tax liability and a loss of interest income. His health continued to deteriorate: his vision worsened and his eye was removed. His apartment became infested with bedbugs. He lost most of his belongings.
On the bright side, the claimant received over $50,000 in retroactive benefits, which he reinvested in a retirement fund with the help of a financial adviser. And the ALJ’s decision unambiguously determined the claimant is legally blind. He should now be eligible to earn at the higher SGA rate for individuals with visual impairments. Just prior to the second hearing, the claimant connected with an organization for the visually impaired and is being trained to work there.
Kudos to Jenna for helping this client through his long ordeal.