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GOLDEN v. SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

July 5, 1990

WILLIAM GOLDEN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Curtin, District Judge.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff William Golden brought this action under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) ("Act"), challenging the final determination of the Secretary of Health and Human Services that he was disabled under the Act as of November, 1985. The plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Act on March 31, 1982. Currently pending before the court are the Secretary's motion for judgment on the pleadings and the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment.

Plaintiff claims that he became disabled as of November, 1980, due to the combination of back problems and severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ("PTSD") resulting from his service in Vietnam. He filed two previous applications for disability and supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits on December 3, 1982, and February 16, 1984. Both applications were rejected without appeal to this court. The current application was filed on April 23, 1987. Its initial rejection was reviewed at a hearing held on September 19, 1988. The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") reopened the application of February 16, 1984, and found that plaintiff was under a disability commencing in November, 1985, due to the combination of exertional limits related to his back problems and nonexertional limits related to his PTSD. Accordingly, the ALJ declared plaintiff eligible for SSI benefits as of April 23, 1987, the date of his last application. He also found plaintiff ineligible for disability benefits because his disability began after March 31, 1982, the date of his last insured status (T. at 21-32).

II. FACTS

Plaintiff is a 46-year-old Vietnam veteran suffering from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. His treating psychiatrist, Dr. Herman Szymanski, has been treating the plaintiff since approximately November, 1985. In a report dated May 12, 1987, he diagnosed the plaintiff's condition as severe PTSD (T. at 329).

  Mr. Golden has intrusive recollections of combat
  whenever he is faced with a stressful situation. . .
  . [F]or a few seconds at a time (but repeatedly
  during the same episode of stress) he does think he
  is in Viet Nam. . . . He has nightmares of Viet Nam
  twice a week. . . . He feels he doesn't belong here,
  he should be back with his unit, which was wiped out
  a few weeks after he left Viet Nam. . . . Without
  medication he sleeps 2-3 hours. . . . His prognosis
  is for no or little improvement. He is not
  employable.

In a Social Security Administration medical report dated June 20, 1988, Dr. Szymanski stated that plaintiff suffered from PTSD since leaving Vietnam. His symptoms included hypervigilance, social withdrawal, irritability, and an inability to carry out goal-directed activities (T. at 318). He "has no friends, no activities except gardening." (T. at 322.) "He is subject to intense depression, lack of energy, inability to sleep. Social situations cause irritability, so he avoids them." (T. at 323.)

Dr. Szymanski reviewed the plaintiff's medical history and treated him over a sustained period of time. In a letter dated September 12, 1988, he gave his opinion that the plaintiff had been totally disabled since November, 1980, due to his PTSD (T. at 324). He wrote in a progress report dated August 12, 1988, that plaintiff's experiences in Vietnam were

  almost the maximally stressfull [sic] imaginable. . .
  . Mr. Golden is a classic case of severe PTSD with
  severe job impairment. He is irritable, he is
  continually driven by memories of Viet Nam; it is
  difficult at times to keep this severely ill
  individual from killing himself in some indirect way
  (e.g. last year, by making a bomb in his home,
  resulting in severe burns to his fingers). My
  treatment goal at this point with Mr. Golden is to
  keep him alive, keep him from hurting someone, and
  keep him growing his house plants. At this point, and
  for the entire future (unless a miracle drug is
  invented), that's all that can be accomplished.

T. at 325, 328.

Dr. Szymanski's opinion is supported by Barbara Wolfrum, a social worker who has known the plaintiff since 1981. She was his case coordinator when he was an impatient in 1981 at the Veterans Administration Alcohol Rehabilitation Unit. She was his social worker on psychiatric units in 1986 and 1987, and has spoken with him occasionally between 1981 and 1986. She states that he has exhibited severe symptoms of PTSD since 1981. In 1981 he was "hyperalert, sensitive, suspicious of authority and he only felt comfortable in the Viet Nam Veterans' Psychotherapy Group. . . ." (T. at 345.) In her judgment, he could not have held a job at that time due to his difficulty relating to people, general emotional distress, physical discomfort, and the requirement of outpatient treatment (T. at 345, 346). Ms. Wolfrum stated that the indication in the file during plaintiff's hospitalization in 1981 (T. at 347, 424) that plaintiff was employable could not be corrected because plaintiff was not medically stabilized and did not complete the program (T. at 345, 346).

Sharon McGrath, R.N., director of C.O.P.I.N. House, a halfway home for veterans, reported that she has known the plaintiff since 1983. He was a resident at C.O.P.I.N. House for three months in 1985 and 1986 (T. at 315). Ms. McGrath states that the plaintiff has experienced "numerous periods of decompensation and suicidal ideation and major depression." (T. at 312.) In a report dated May 5, 1987, she states that since she has known him, the plaintiff has not been able to function in a work setting due to fits of anger and inability to complete tasks (T. at 243).

Plaintiff has not worked since November of 1980. Before that he worked for approximately five years as an electrician, moving from job to job before quitting due to back pain. Previously, he has worked as a counselor, laborer, and mechanic in Buffalo and Johnstown, Pennsylvania (T. at 75-81).

Upon his initial return from Vietnam, plaintiff began a course of study in sociology and psychology at Buffalo State College. He continued in school for about three years without finishing a degree (T. at 72-73). While in school, he worked as a counselor at Erie Community College. That job ended when he and his wife were shot by his supervisor (T. at 73). In the period prior to the shooting, he had become "more and more aware of his violent tendencies and begun to stockpile weapons at home and was armed most of the time." (Narrative report prepared by a Veterans Administration social worker during plaintiff's psychiatric hospitalization in 1985, T. at 220.) After the shooting, his troubles increased. His wife and son left him, and he began to have troubles with the police. He had difficulty sleeping and eating and felt threatened by everyone (T. at 220). Plaintiff testified that he has been arrested over twelve times since 1968 and that he served a three-day jail sentence for menacing in 1987 (T. at 81, 94).

The medical record is extensive. Plaintiff was treated at the Veterans Administration Hospital ("VAMC") at Buffalo in October and November of 1972. He was observed for passive-aggressive personality. He was described as tense, anxious, and angry but was given no medication for his psychiatric complaints. The staff felt that he was no danger to himself or others and referred him to Monsignor Carr Institute for follow-up psychological treatment. (Monsignor Carr Institute records have been lost.) The plaintiff's prognosis was guarded, but he was considered employable (T. at 194).

A termination summary from Buffalo General Hospital Community Mental Health Center indicates that plaintiff was seen on July 13, 1974, with complaints of head pain. He was diagnosed as having an adjustment reaction to adult life, but ...


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