Disability appeals have, unfortunately, become standard practice for many claimants. Judges frequently make errors in hearing decisions. OBL partners with many firms who are fierce advocates for their clients, yet come to us with unfavorable decisions due to legal error. Disability Specialists of Minnesota is one company we work with on a regular basis. They recently delivered incredible news related to an appeal Karl Osterhout handled, all because they refused to give up on their client’s case! “This case really demonstrates the value of working with a group like mine, who offers all services related to appeals. In fact, the reality is that we never made a dime on this case, since we offer free of cost Appeals Council briefing to our regular referral sources, among many other services” explains Karl. Our partnerships with groups like Disability Specialists are special to us and we always try to help when I can, but this case really stands out!
Amy Pearson, President of Disability Specialists, describes the history of the case:
We filed her application for benefits in 2014, with an alleged onset date in 1/13, when she stopped working due to her conditions. A hearing was held in April of 2016, with the judge awarding her a partially favorable decision with an onset date of October of 2015- the date her neurologist completed a supportive medical source statement. I sought out the advice of an appeals attorney who reviewed her decision and strongly recommended appealing. After a discussion of the risks/benefit of appeal, the claimant decided to move forward with an appeal. There were several inconsistencies in the judge’s decision and little rationale for why he chose the date of a supportive opinion vs. her longitudinal treatment records supporting the opinion. It was appealed to the Appeals Council.
The AC remanded her case. Instead of being scheduled with the same judge from her prior decision, it was scheduled with a new judge (the prior judge was on military leave). The new judge denied her claim altogether and this resulted in the loss of her monthly benefits as well as an overpayment. We were crushed. I had never had this happen before, and we never imagined that this would happen. I can’t count how many hours of sleep I lost agonizing about the outcome of her case. My disappointment was nothing compared to the effect it had on her life. She could no longer afford her apartment, so she and her daughter had to move into subsidized housing. She went from receiving a substantial check every month to relying on county assistance.
Clearly, this claimant went through a lot over the course of several years. Disability Specialists reached out to the original attorney who assisted with her federal court appeal but they declined to provide any additional help or guidance in this case. Disability Specialist then turned to Karl who accepted the case after hearing the case and the emotional turmoil it had caused the client. Amy adds, “I didn’t want to give up on this for her. I strongly felt that the judge made the wrong decision and that we could prove it. She was relieved that Karl agreed to appeal the decision to the Appeals Council. The denial was extremely upsetting for her, and she was glad to know that we were not going to give up on the claim- and that we would have Karl on our side.” After reviewing Karl’s appeal, the Appeals Council made a favorable decision and sent the case to an Administrative Law Judge who had never reviewed her case before.
Amy explains the procedural and emotional aspect of the new hearing:
I have been doing hearings for over 8 years, and I don’t think I have ever been as nervous about the outcome of a hearing as I was for hers. There was so much riding on this! Another denial would be catastrophic for her well-being. We just HAD to win. Her testimony was very compelling and she was extremely credible. The judge posed a hypothetical to the vocational expert for absenteeism at a rate of one day per week, including the need to leave work early or arrive late, and the expert said she would not be employable with this limitation. She further clarified that employer tolerance for absenteeism was 8-9 days per year. The judge stated that he felt this hypothetical was a true reflection of her limitations, and he would be awarding benefits! My client was relieved beyond measure. This will improve her quality of life, allowing her to move into better housing and provide financial stability for herself and her child.
“I was really happy to hear from Amy; I ask all my referral sources to let me know how things turned out, and most probably get busy and forget, but it’s really awesome to hear that a case like this ultimately came out right. This is especially true when the claimant’s representative is someone I respect as much as Amy and her group at Disability Specialist. They are so committed to the best outcome for their clients, and consistently develop incredibly good records on their behalf. This makes the job of someone like me, coming along later and trying to demonstrate error in the judge’s decision, so much easier,” explains Karl. Amy adds, “I am extremely grateful for Karl’s assistance in this claim. I don’t know if we would have secured a second AC remand without his help. He knew exactly what issues to present to the AC to strengthen our appeal. I have helped thousands of clients in my 17 years working for Disability Specialists. This case is definitely one that I will carry with me for the rest of my career. I am glad she didn’t give up faith and trusted us to keep fighting for her.”
We commend Disability Specialists and representative Amy Pearson for truly advocating for their clients and we are happy to be a part of this success story!