Vet Falsely Accused Of Faking PTSD
An atmosphere of suspicion and distrust was created even before Bill arrived at the meeting with Social Security's consulting psychiatrist, Dr. F. Bill called him from the road to tell him he was on Key Bridge and would be a few minutes late. Dr. F. questioned the direction from which Bill was coming in an accusatory tone,suggesting that he was not telling the truth. "I was questioned like I was a POW,"said Bill. This is an anatomy of how prejudice against veterans not-so-subtly denies them of their legitimate and well-deserved right to disability benefits.
In 2003, the Veterans Administration determined that Bill suffered form major depression and PTSD. This was established with standardized nationally-accepted testing. VA records on Bill explained, "The mental status exam reveals low self esteem, energy level, poor concentration, memory, poor sleep, affect was irritable. The claimant admitted to a past of alcohol and drug abuse. Last use of drugs in 1970’s : last use of alcohol May 2002. Dept. of Veteran Affairs report dated 7/23/02 states the claimant has been a at VA Trauma Recovery Program since 1995 and has of PTSD, chronic, severe; Bipolar with mixed manic and depressive episodes. He is 100% disabled by VA due to psychiatric problems. He is prescribed Depacote; Wellbutrin A 12/17/2001 progress note from Wm B., PhD. "The clinical opinion of Multi D team which has known the Veteran for many years, his PTSD has become so debilitating to render him unemployable."
Dr. F., Social Security's consulting psychiatrist, tipped his hand before the interview began, making it clear what his estimation is of those in the military who have been diagnosed with PTSD, saying, "I was a Lieutenant Colonel in the military and all I saw was people claiming PTSD." The statement was not made as a matter of information, but with the tone of derision, and implication that all--or at least most--of the claims of PTSD were bogus. Bill explained later, "He created such a hostile environment that all I wanted to do was get out of there."
As could be expected, Dr. F. concluded in his 5 page report, "There were no signs of major depressive illness. There was no indication of bipolar disease during the extended course of the examination." Afterwards, Bill related that this "extended examination” lasted between 20 to 30 minutes. Yet, in that amount of time, Dr. F. is able to determine that Bill's PTSD was "learned rather experienced."
Significantly, Dr. F. is able to draw his conclusions without attempting to discover any definitive characteristics of major depression and PTSD, such as troubled sleep patterns, appetite disturbance, feelings of worthlessness, guilt, decreased energy, difficulty thinking and concentrating, and poor memory. He notes flashbacks in his evaluation, but ignores or discounts them in his conclusions. Bill's VA medical records were at Dr. F.'s fingertips.
None of the VA's records contradicted any of these findings. Nevertheless, the Social Security Administrative Law Judge chose to rest his case on Dr. Freed's single report rather than the extensive reports by Bill's treating VA psychiatrists and therapists.
Exactly how does the ALJ accomplish this? Essentially with the following:
"The undersigned notes that although the claimant suffers from a mental impairment, the evidence shows that he is still able to take care for his own personal needs, he is able to think, communicate, and act in his own interest, and he is able to carry out his activities of daily living. Indeed at Exhibit 4F the claimant reported that he does his activities on his own initiative. He performs his activities routinely and consistently and he is able to comprehend his activities. He reported ding [sici occasion Isic] housework, laundry, and cooking. He reported taking care of his 7 year old son who stays with him sometimes and he home teaches. He reported driving three or four times a week and caring for his own personal needs. He goes to public place [sici once or twice a month. and he reported that he was able to understand and follow simple instructions independently."
But, the ALJ evaded the mountain of evidence in Bill's favor over years of treatment, as well as rules that disability under Social Security does not mean the absence of all human activity, and that work is defined as being able to work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year.
Since the Baltimore ALJ who rendered the negative decision is usually very fair and reasonable, there can be only one conclusion to draw: prejudice against veterans.
Bill's case was appealed on December 30, 2004. The Appeals Council sent his case back to the ALJ, who reversed his previous decision on July 10th, 2006. Unfortunately, Bill was never able to taste the victory. He died in September of 2005 from a physical condition unrelated to his depression. His benefits went to his son.
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