In a perfect world, a person seeking Social Security Disability benefits will support his or her claim with a detailed record of regular medical treatment, explaining the claimant's impairments and how they affect his or her functioning. For a number of reasons, however, this is not always possible. In Torres v. Astrue, the District Court for the District of South Carolina concluded that a person's inability to get appropriate medical treatment is not, in itself, sufficient basis to find the person ineligible for disability benefits.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied Plaintiff Carlos Torres' disability benefits claim, in which he asserted that he remained unable to work due to a variety of impairments, including a spine injury. Following an administrative hearing before an SSA Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), the Judge found that Plaintiff was disabled from July 15,2005 through July 23,2007. The ALJ further determined that Plaintiff experienced medical improvement and was no longer disabled as of July 23, 2007.
The ALJ's decision was based largely on the opinion of Dr. Charles Thomas, who examined Plaintiff on July 23, 2007, the last day in which the ALJ found Plaintiff was disabled, and found "a reduced range of motion in the cervical spine."
The record revealed that the ALJ found that Plaintiff experienced an improvement in his condition beginning the very day after the examination by Dr. Thomas. The judge supported his conclusion by finding that there was "little evidence" that Plaintiff received treatment for his injury following the examination. Based on this lack of treatment, the ALJ further found that Plaintiff's testimony regarding the nature and extent of his impairment was "less than credible."
On appeal, the District Court ruled that the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence. "It is notable that Dr. Thomas never again examined Plaintiff, and the record is wholly absent of evidence of any substantial medical change in condition that occurred on July 24, 2007 that would support such a dramatic alteration in the Plaintiff's disability status."