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JARMON v. BARNHART

March 31, 2004.

ROBERT JARMON, Plaintiff,
v.
JO ANN B. BARNHART, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ARLANDER KEYS, Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Robert Jarmon applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) on June 25, 1999, claiming that he suffers from both physical and mental impairments that prevent him from working. The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied Mr. Jarmon's application, and, after exhausting his appeal rights before the SSA, Mr. Jarmon filed an action in the United States District Court seeking review of the agency's decision. The case is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment.

Facts and Procedural History

  Robert Jarmon, now forty-one years old, is an Army veteran with the equivalent of a high school education and two associate's degrees, one for cosmetology and the other for network security. Record at 17, 450. In the past, Mr. Jarmon Page 2 has worked as a beautician, a cook, and a painter. Record at 57. He last worked as a park maintenance worker; he was on the job for approximately two months when he had to quit because of his impairments. Record at 452.

  Mr. Jarmon applied for SSI and DIB on June 25, 1999, claiming on his application that, as of March 1, 1999, he was unable to work because of varicose veins in his lower extremities, blood clots, substance abuse and mental problems. Record at 56-60. The SSA denied his claim initially and on reconsideration. Mr. Jarmon requested a hearing before an administrative law judge, and the case was assigned to Judge Alfred Burton, who held a hearing on August 14, 2000.

  At the hearing, the ALJ heard from Mr. Jarmon, who testified first, and from Dr. Richard Zaloudek, a medical expert. Mr. Jarmon, who was represented by counsel, testified that he was currently living in a shelter, that he was single, had never been married and had no children. Record at 448. He testified that he received a GED in 1982, and that he had associates degrees in both cosmetology and security. Id. at 449. Mr. Jarmon testified that he served in the United States Army from January 7, 1980 to January 7, 1983, when he was honorably discharged. Id. at 450. He testified that he had been receiving disability payments in connection with his service in the Army since 1983; as of Page 3 December 1999, he received $794 per month for service-connected disability. Id. at 451-52. He also testified that he was not working, that he last worked in March of 1999, when he developed blood clots in his legs and had to quit his job. Id. at 452. He alleges that his disability onset date was March 1, 1999. Id. at 460. Mr. Jarmon testified that, prior to his park maintenance job with the North Chicago Park District, he worked as a cook and as a painter. Id. at 453-58.

  With respect to his impairments, Mr. Jarmon testified that he suffered frostbite to his legs in 1982, and then developed varicose veins in both legs, but more predominantly in his right leg, and ulcers in his right ankle. Id. at 460. He testified that, in addition to his leg problems, he also suffers from depression; he testified that he had been receiving treatment for his depression since about March of 1999, and that he was currently taking anti-depressants. Id. at 461-62.

  With respect to his daily activities, he testified that he doesn't really do much during the day, he just pretty much sits around at the shelter, and spends his time alone; he participates in weekly counseling sessions, he watches television and reads the paper, sometimes he takes a walk or goes to the park. Id. at 463, 466-68. He testified that he had abused drugs and alcohol in the past, but that he was not using either at the time of the Page 4 "hearing; he testified that he last drank in May of 2000. Id. at 464-65. In response to questioning from his attorney, Mr. Jarmon testified that he can walk a block or two before he runs out of breath, and, even then, he has to walk slowly because of his ulcers and varicose veins. Id. at 468-69. He testified that he uses a cane, on the advice of his doctor. Id. at 471. He testified that his depression make it difficult for him to concentrate, sit or read for any significant period of time. Id. at 471-72. He testified that he feels kind of confused, he hears noises (babies crying, cats purring and meowing) that aren't really there, sometimes he thinks people are trying to harm him. Id. at 474. He testified that he is forgetful, and that he has difficulty sleeping. Id. at 475. In response to questions from the medical expert, Mr. Jarmon testified that he had been hospitalized several times for mental problems, and that one time, at Hines, he was told that "the alcohol and drugs was part of me being depressed so they took me to the alcohol and drug unit." Id. at 482.

  After Mr. Jarmon, Dr. Zaloudek testified. He testified that, in his opinion, Mr. Jarmon has a severe impairment that includes drug and alcohol abuse and dependence, which is in early remission, and that he also has a schizoaffective disorder, which Dr. Zaloudek characterized as follows: Page 5

 
a depression that can show up with a person being a loner or a social isolated. And can have symptoms of hallucinations or paranoia. It falls between the condition of schizophrenia and major depression. Sometimes the person has problems collecting their thoughts and difficulties with concentration. And they're put on usually a combination of medications such as anti-depressants and anti-psychotic medications.
Record at 483. Dr. Zaloudek testified that Mr. Jarmon's mental impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment. Id. He testified that, functionally, Mr. Jarmon's depression would make him agitated and cause him to suffer deficits of concentration; he testified that Mr. Jarmon would have "marked difficulties" completing a normal workday or a normal workweek because "he wouldn't be able to maintain contration without the interference of psychological problems." Id. at 484. Dr. Zaloudek testified that, in his view, Mr. Jarmon would have "moderate restrictions of daily activities and social functioning, but frequent deficiencies of concentration, persistence of pace." Id. at 485. He testified that Mr. Jarmon experienced sleep difficulties, psychomotor agitation and difficulties with concentration, which "would be enough to satisfy the criteria of a major affective disorder." Id.

  In addition to the testimony of Mr. Jarmon and Dr. Zaloudek, the ALJ considered Mr. Jarmon's extensive record of medical treatments and assessments. According to that record, Mr. Jarmon Page 6 was admitted to the North Chicago VA Hospital (NCVA) on October 5, 1998 for alcohol and substance abuse. He was referred to NCVA by his probation officer, who was monitoring Mr. Jarmon in the wake of a domestic violence incident, after he showed up to an appointment under the influence of alcohol. Record at 246. The records from NCVA show that, at the time he was admitted, Mr. Jarmon reported that he had started drinking at age 14, that he drank 1 to 2 pints of gin per day, plus a six-pack of beer; he stated that he had had his last drink about two weeks prior to his admission. Record at 252. He further reported that he had started using cocaine in 1994, and that his habit was up to about $300 per day; he reported that he had last used cocaine three weeks before his admission. Id. As part of the admission process, NCVA also conducted a psychiatric evaluation; the evaluator concluded that Mr. Jarmon had no major depressive or psychotic symptoms, and no suicidal or homicidal ideations. Record at 251. The record shows that, by October 22, 1998, the NCVA staff had diagnosed Mr. Jarmon with alcohol and cocaine dependence, in early partial remission in a controlled environment, and major depressive disorder, recurrent, with psychotic features. Record at 235. According to the notes from that date, Mr. Jarmon's "major diagnosis is Borderline Personality Disorder with sequelae of substance abuse and Page 7 depression. He reports history of chaotic, violent relationships and self harming behavior." Id. The notes conclude that, given this diagnosis, "Mr. Jarmon's prognosis for recovery is very poor." Id. While at NCVA, Mr. Jarmon started taking anti-depressants, and, over time, some of the negative symptoms he had experienced lessened or stopped altogether; the record shows that Mr. Jarmon started sleeping better, he stopped engaging in self harming behaviors, stopped biting his nails, stopped pulling out his lashes and hair; he became calmer and less anxious. See, e.g., Record at 194, 196, 213.

  The record shows that, in the middle of his stay at NCVA, Mr. Jarmon was admitted to the West Side VA Hospital for treatment of his "veinous thrombosis" and blood clots. Record at 102-125. For the latter, Mr. Jarmon underwent two venograms with urikinase treatment, but when the clots persisted, the doctors prescribed a long-term course of anticoagulants (coumadin) and discharged him on March 31, 1999; he was instructed to report directly to the halfway house at NCVA. Id. at 115.

  The record shows that, upon returning to NCVA, Mr. Jarmon reported feeling more anxious and his sleep problems appeared to re-emerge. See, e.g., record at 190, 191. The notes from April 12, 1999 show that Mr. Jarmon reported experiencing "psychological or emotional problems on 30 days during the past Page 8 30 days"; that he experienced "serious depression, serious anxiety or tension, trouble understanding, concentrating or remembering and trouble controlling violent behavior"; and that he had "serious thoughts of suicide in the past 30 days." Record at 182. According to the evaluator, Mr. Jarmon's representations on April 12 were "not significantly distorted by misrepresentation." Id. Just a week later, however, the attending psychiatrist's notes show that Mr. Jarmon was "stable," with no symptoms of depression or anxiety, and that he denied having any suicidal or homicidal ideations. Record at 181. A note from May 13, 1999 confirms that Mr. Jarmon was "doing well, his sleeping pattern has stabilized; his depressive [symptoms] lifted." Record at 170. On June 7, 1999, NCVA discharged Mr. Jarmon from its program, when he failed to return to the facility after being granted a weekend pass. Record at 164.

  The record shows that Mr. Jarmon returned to the NCVA on June 17, 1999, stayed for a few days, and was then discharged on June 22, 1999 when he, once again, failed to return to the facility. Record at 162. On June 30, 1999, Mr. Jarmon turned up at the West Side VA Hospital, seeking a psychiatric clearance so that he could obtain a room in the YMCA. He was evaluated in the psychiatry assessment clinic, he reported that he had been sober for the past nine months, he denied any drug or alcohol ...


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