The Social Security Administration revised its criteria—or Listings—for mental impairments in 2016, effective in January 2017. https://empirejustice.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/October2016DAPnews-FINAL.pdf. Among the changes, SSA added Listing 12.15 – Trauma-and–stressor-related disorders. This category includes posttraumatic stress disorder and other specified related disorders such as adjustment-like disorders with prolonged duration. The disorders are characterized by “experiencing or witnessing a traumatic or stressful event, or learning of a traumatic event occurring to a close family member or friend, and the psychological aftermath of clinically significant effects on functioning.” Section 12.00 B11a lists examples of relevant symptoms and signs. These disorders were previously considered—if at all—under Listing 12.06 for anxiety disorders. The new listing reflects the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-5), which created a new category for trauma and stress related disorders. See related article on SSA’s recently released PTSD Fact Sheet on page 10 of this newsletter.
Keana Williams, an attorney with the Empire Justice Center in Rochester, used this new listing to her client’s advantage. She represented a young woman who had received an unfavorable reconsideration decision in a Continuing Disability Review (CDR). The client had been found disabled at the Comparison Point Date (CPD) based on an organic mental disorder and an affective disorder. Keana gathered evidence of the client’s history in the intervening eight years, including the traumatic events she had suffered. She helped the client paint a compelling story of her impulsive and self-injurious behaviors, her periods of homelessness, and the trauma related to a gunshot wound. She also convinced the client’s current therapist to complete an extensive mental impairment questionnaire detailing the client’s symptoms and limitations, including flashbacks and nightmares. The ALJ accorded great weight to the therapist’s opinion.
The ALJ found the client disabled at Step 1 of the Sequential Evaluation for CDRs, concluding she met Listings 12.08 for personality and impulse control disorders, as well as Listing 12.15 for trauma and stressor related disorders. Keana also convinced the ALJ that the client’s brief foray into drug use for self-medication was not material to her claim.
Congratulations to Keana for her creative work in helping this client retain her benefits.