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MARTINEZ v. BARNHART

May 21, 2003

GARY MARTINEZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOANNE B. BARNHART, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer, United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

The plaintiff, Gary Martinez, seeks review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for Social Security Disability benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act. Currently pending before the Court are plaintiff's motion pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) for judgment on the pleadings to reverse the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") and to remand the case solely for the calculation of benefits, and the Commissioner's cross-motion to remand the case for further administrative proceedings.

For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's motion is granted, the Commissioner's cross-motion is denied, and the case is remanded solely for the calculation and payment of benefits.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on April 22, 1951. T. 40.*fn1 He has a high school education and completed three years of college. He is also a veteran of the Vietnam War. T. 161. His past relevant work experience includes that as a truck driver, paramedic, and emergency room technician. T. 126. Plaintiff stopped working in December 1996 at the age of 45 and has not worked since. Plaintiff's period of insured status expired one year later on December 31, 1997.

On April 22, 1999, plaintiff applied for Social Security Disability ("SSD") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. He alleged total disability due to post traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") related to his combat experience in Vietnam.*fn2 His applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ, which took place on June 13, 2000. Plaintiff was represented at the hearing by a paralegal.

A. The Administrative Hearing and Evidence of Plaintiff's Disability

At the hearing, plaintiff testified that he became disabled after he stopped working as a truck driver in December 1996. At that time, he began experiencing more severe symptoms of PTSD, including flashbacks, increased anxiety, and suicidal ideation. He testified that being unemployed only exacerbated the symptoms. T. 58. He could not remember precisely when he first received treatment for his psychiatric problems, but believed that it was sometime late in 1997. T. 57.

B. Plaintiff's Medical Records

Plaintiff's medical records indicate that he first received treatment for his psychological problems in August 1998 at the VA Hospital in Bath, New York. T. 245. At that time, plaintiff's primary care physician diagnosed him with an anxiety disorder and ordered a psychiatric consultation. T. 245. Since then, plaintiff has been in continuous treatment and has been diagnosed with PTSD, chronic depressive disorder and mixed personality disorder with passive aggressive, avoidant and schizoid features. T. 188, 189, 216, 217. In addition, he has undergone psychological testing, hypnotic and group therapy, and is on prescription medication to treat his psychological disorders. From 1998 through the date of the hearing in 2000, he had regular appointments with his primary care physician, Dr. Veeraswamy Harinarrayanan, his treating psychiatrist, Rodolfo Ongjoco, his treating psychologist, Norm Quirion, a treating VA staff psychologist Craig Christensen, and his treating social worker and counselor, Lauren C. May-Jones. T. 175-202, 245-267.

Treatment records from these various sources indicate that plaintiff suffers from flashbacks related to his combat service in Vietnam, depression, insomnia, anxiety, nervousness, suspiciousness of others, loss of concentration, irritability, and suicidal ideation. Plaintiff also has isolated himself for days at a time by living in the woods in camouflaged clothing and arming himself with a bow and arrow and a shotgun. He lives alone, is uncomfortable around others, and suffers from intrusive thoughts that prevent him from concentrating on what he is doing at any particular time. Id.

In a November 18, 1999 residual functional capacity assessment, plaintiff's treating psychologist Dr. Quirion found that plaintiff was markedly limited in seven areas of work activity and extremely limited in three areas, including the ability to remember detailed instruction, to work a normal eight-hour workday without psychologically based distractions, and to tolerate customary work pressures. Dr. Quirion found that plaintiff did not retain a residual functional capacity to perform any work at all because of the severity of the PTSD symptoms. T. 220-226. In June 2000, plaintiff's treating psychiatrist, Dr. Ongjoco, found that plaintiff remained withdrawn, reclusive, depressed, and "not capable of being gainfully employed." T. 304. Between January 1999 and January 2000, his score on the Global Assessment of Functioning scale was between 41 and 55, indicating moderate to severe symptoms. T. 249, 254.

Both Dr. Quirion and Dr. Ongjoco completed mental evaluations of plaintiff in support of his SSD application. T. 218, 313. In a November 18, 1999 evaluation, Dr. Quirion stated that, based on his examination of plaintiff and evaluation of plaintiff's history, his onset date of disability was December 1996. T. 218. In a July 10, 2000 evaluation, ...


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