As some of you know, I’ve been trying to get on SSI (supplemental security income–disability for people who don’t have enough work credits to qualify for disability) since the summer of 2017. In my first case, I was denied, so I ended up at a hearing with an ALJ (administrative law judge). I did this without an attorney because the two I knew of didn’t think I had a strong enough case without an actual psychiatrist instead of a psychiatric nurse practitioner. After you’re denied at the hearing level, you can put in a request for an appeal. This goes to the Appeals Council and they decide if you have fit reasons for them to review the ALJ’s decision. In my first case, they approved the request and reviewed the decision with some additional evidence from me, but ultimately they denied it. After that, the last level is filing a civil action. In my mental state, I missed the deadline, so I put in the required request to put it in late. However, I never heard back from Social Security on that. So I filed a new case, which has led us to here. That was in 2020.
The latest development of this case is that I had my hearing in early June of 2022. During this hearing, the ALJ asked me what my average day looked like, what I did all day. At that point, for a few years the answer had always been: wake up; maybe get dressed; move from bed to the couch; nap until it’s a socially acceptable time to go back to bed; go sleep. That was every day. She then asked me what things I would like to do. So I told her I’d like to game, write, work on puzzles, go on walks, read, color. I don’t know if she misunderstood me somehow, but in her denial explanation, she said that I had used that second answer for the first question. A blatant lie, I’m sure she didn’t misunderstand what she herself asked me.
She didn’t really have solid reasons for denying me except that she–she, not a medical professional–didn’t agree with my treating psychiatrist’s claims about my disabilities. Before the hearing, my attorney had an exchange with my psychiatrist as a way of getting official evidence from my psychiatrist to argue to the judge. To boil it down: to qualify for SSI, your disability must cause either one extreme limitation or at least two marked limitations in a group of four categories: understanding, remembering, or applying information; interacting with others; concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace; and adapting or managing oneself. My limitation in each of these was determined by my psychiatrist. He said I had the following limitations: marked; extreme; marked; and marked.
He wrote a lengthy letter advocating for me as an objective medical professional. After reading his letter, I’m outraged that this ALJ made the claims she made leading to a denial. So this led to my attorney putting in a request for an appeal. After waiting for 10 months–which was actually made shorter than the 15-18 months it would have been because I got in touch with Senator Tester’s office and they advocated for me–our request to an appeal was denied. They didn’t deny the appeal, they denied our request to an appeal.
Their denial listed some reasons they would have considered an appeal and reviewed the hearing decision. One was if the ALJ has abused their own discretion when making the decision. Another was if there has been an error of law. Yet another is if the decision hasn’t been supported by substantial evidence. All three of these were essentially spelled out on the request for an appeal that my attorney wrote.
To put it shortly, he said that the ALJ substituted her own unqualified medical opinion for my treating medical professional’s opinion–which is unlawful, showing an error of law, and shows she abused her own discretion. Not to mention that her decision isn’t supported by substantial evidence–that evidence is my psychiatrist’s words and my testimony, which she also “missquoted” in her decision, again showing that she abused her own discretion. Yet the Appeals Council denied our request for an appeal.
Now I’m in the process of trying to find a new attorney to file a civil action. My current attorney doesn’t operate on the federal level, as there is a very low success rate. He referred me to one attorney who will hopefully at least point me in the right direction if he doesn’t take on my case. I’ll probably have to file a new case, which sucks because it takes so long, and I’ve been fighting for this for so long that they would have given me a hefty retro check–which I actually deserve more than they would give, all the way back to my first case. I don’t really know what to do at this point. They even treat the senator’s office with condescension, as they have forwarded Social Security’s responses to me, so I can see exactly how they talk to them too.
Here’s to hoping that attorney will take me on and help me file a civil action on the federal level and maybe I’ll finally get the government support I deserve–and need.