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January 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 41, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Judges Thumb Their Noses at Disability-Seeking Divers

from the January, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

If you have a dive buddy who is considering applying for disability insurance and he's going diving with you, it's OK to raise an eyebrow. You see, we've recently come across two cases in which the plaintiffs were too busy diving to be severely disabled.

Mark Randolph's application for disability insurance was rejected by the Social Security Administration, so he sought legal recourse. He contended that his major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder with agoraphobia and anxiety disorder were severe impairments and merited payout. The Administrative Law judge found Randolph's disabling symptoms were not fully credible and that he retained the capacity to perform light work with some limitations.

Randolph, who had never sought psychiatric treatment, pressed on, appealing to the U.S. District Court in Missouri, claiming symptoms such as the inability to remember his own daughter's name and being unable to read. He claimed that panic disorder with agoraphobia and his anxiety disorder were so severe he could not leave his home. But when the judge discovered Randolph had, among other activities, traveled to the Philippines to go diving, he sent him home empty-handed. Good for the judge. Yes indeed, it's a little difficult to imagine an agoraphobic with panic and anxiety disorder sitting on a dive boat, let alone having him assigned as anyone's buddy.

In another case, in Seattle, the Social Security Commission had disallowed James Polonski's supplemental disability benefits. While Polonski had been treated for back and shoulder pain, medical experts believed his conditions were controllable with treatment. Polonski disagreed and appealed the claim, citing severe impairment. An examining physician concluded Polonski would not be able to maintain attendance or focus in the workplace. The judge concluded Polonski's testimony was not credible, stating that his "actual daily activities readily refute" his alleged limitations; noting, for example, that Polonski "testified to scuba diving 20 to 30 times since obtaining certification in 2003." A friend of Polonski testified about the severity of his pain, but she was discounted because her testimony was inconsistent with "Polonski's recent travel and scuba diving activities."

A lot of people with serious injuries do scuba dive. The point is, however, diving requires some physical capacity and strength, and certainly mental stability and clarity. The words of active divers who want to claim otherwise and collect disability payments may convince no one.

P.S.: We changed the names of the plaintiffs so as not to embarrass them.

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