WXIA TV in Atlanta recently ran a story about a 53 year old U.S. Navy veteran who was approved for VA benefits but denied for Social Security. Retired Navy vet Daniel Norfleat from Covington, Georgia was deemed 90% disabled and unemployable by the VA for PTSD, a heart attack, a stroke and knee surgeries. Mr. Norfleat applied for Social Security disability and was approved, but SSA changed his onset date.
Norfleat appealed and his case went before a Social Security administrative law judge. The ALJ not only refused to change the onset date but she reversed the finding of disability entirely and ruled that Mr. Norfleat has the capacity to work at a full time job. This despite opinions to the contrary from 15 different doctors and prescriptions for 24 pills a day for pain, depression and insomnia.
Under new rules released by Social Security, their judge no longer has to explain why she disagrees with the VA’s decision. These new rules also provide that Social Security no longer has to give controlling weight to opinions about employability issued by treating physicians. See my video here about these new evidentiary rules.
This was not my case and I did not observe this hearing nor have I seen the judge’s unfavorable decision. I can say that if a 53 year old Navy vet with the medical history described in this report called my office, I would take that case for representation.
I have noted that PTSD claims are becoming very, very difficult to win because there is no objective test that doctors can use to grade the severity of the PTSD. In this case, Mr. Norfleat’s allegations of PTSD reportedly arose from his presence at a 1989 incident when a pilot crashed attempting to land, resulting in the deaths of 5 soldiers. Perhaps the judge discounted Norfleat’s complaints of PTSD since Norfleat himself was not physically injured in the crash and because he continued to work for many years after the traumatic incident.
Further I have never been a fan of VA medical records, which are voluminous and contain copy after copy of the same record, and formalistic, non-descriptive language. I have started advising my clients who treat at the VA to seek outside care or evaluation since VA records are so unhelpful.
Still, it would be interesting to learn how the judge discounted the opinions of multiple treating doctors, including, presumably doctors who treated Norfleat for his non-PTSD complaints.
This case also serves a reminder about the risk of appealing an approval from the state agency (initial and reconsideration appeal). Is it worth risking what you have to seek a lump sum payment for past due benefits?
Hopefully Mr. Norfleat will obtain justice through his appeal to the Appeals Council.