The opinion of the court was delivered by: NAN NOLAN, Magistrate Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Alfredo Salinas seeks review of the final decision of
the Commissioner ("Commissioner") of the Social Security
Administration ("Agency") denying his application for
Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the
Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 1603, 1614(a)(30). This
matter is before the court on the parties' cross-motions for
summary judgment. Salinas asks the court to reverse and remand
the Commissioner's decision, while the Commissioner seeks an
order affirming the decision denying Salinas's application.
Salinas filed an application for SSI on July 12, 2001, alleging
that he had been disabled since May 1, 1999, due to pain in his
back and legs, and blackouts. (Administrative Record ("R.") at
98-100, 112). The Agency denied his application at the initial
levels of administrative review (R. 60-63, 65-68), and he
requested an administrative hearing. (R. 39-40). On November 20, 2002, an
administrative law judge ("ALJ") conducted a hearing at which
Salinas, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. (R.
21-57). In addition, Linda Gels testified as a vocational expert.
(R. 52-56). In a decision dated November 29, 2002, the ALJ found
that Salinas was not disabled because he retained the ability to
perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy. (R.
13-20). This became the final decision of the Commissioner when
the Appeals Council denied Salinas's request for review of the
decision on January 17, 2003. (R. 7-8). See
20 C.F.R. § 416.1455; 416.1481. Salinas has appealed that decision to the
federal district court, where the parties have consented to the
jurisdiction of the Magistrate Judge pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 636(c).
Salinas was born on April 15, 1949, making him fifty-three
years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. (R. 98). He has a
high school equivalency degree. (R. 39). He served with the
Marines in Viet Nam, and was honorably discharged in 1969. (R.
39, 105-106). The bulk of Salinas's work experience has been as a
truck driver (R. 113, 121, 135), although he has little work
history over the last fifteen years. (R. 104, 113, 121). In the
1990s, he worked briefly as a day laborer stocking shelves, and
as decorator setting up trade show displays. (R. 121-24). He lost
the trade show job when he was incarcerated for stabbing his
brother in an altercation. (R. 28, 38-39). He has lived with
another brother since his release. (R. 38). A. Medical Evidence
The relevant medical evidence in this case dates from July 12,
2001, the day Salinas applied for SSI and shortly after his
release from prison. (R. 155). At that time, he sought treatment
at the West Side Veteran's Administration ("WSVA"), reporting
that he had experienced two syncopal episodes while incarcerated.
(Id.). When he returned the next day with his medical records
from the prison, the attending physician at WSVA noted that there
was no mention of any syncopal episodes. (Id.). The physician
also noted that Salinas had a history of chronic low back pain,
and hypertension. (R. 155-56). Because Salinas's blood pressure
was elevated at the time, the physician prescribed Lisinopril, in
addition to the Atenolol Salinas was already taking. (R. 156).
On July 27, 2001, Salinas returned to WSVA, complaining of
fatigue and occasional dizziness. (Id.). He reported that he
had a hard time walking a mile, but that he pushed himself to
walk six miles, which "wipe[d] him out." (Id.). The attending
physician noted that Salinas's blood pressure was under better
control, and scheduled several tests in the hope of confirming
Salinas's reports of seizures. (R. 157). Salinas underwent a CT
scan of the brain on July 31, 2001, which was interpreted as
normal. (R. 220).
On August 6, 2001, Dr. Kenneth Nave examined Salinas at the
request of the state disability agency. (R. 197-203). Salinas
reported that he had been suffering low back pain over the
preceding seventeen years, and that it had worsened recently. (R.
197). Salinas related that he had been told he had a herniated
disc. (Id.). He also complained of a sharp, intermittent, cramping and pulling sensation in his legs.
(Id.). Salinas claimed to have experienced blackouts twice a
month for the preceding two years. (Id.). Dr. Nave noted that
Salinas had a history of hypertension, and that his blood
pressure was under fair control with medication. (R. 198, 201).
Physical examination was essentially normal, with the exception
of Salinas's knees and lower back. (R.198-200). Dr. Nave found
moderate degenerative joint disease in Salinas's knees, but no
swelling, tenderness, or redness. (R. 199). Salinas's range of
motion in his lumbar spine was limited to 80 out of 90 degrees on
flexion; there were no other range of motion limitations. (R.
200). His grip strength was 5/5 bilaterally. (Id.). Mental
status was normal. (Id.). Dr. Nave diagnosed chronic low back
pain, and suggested radiological testing to confirm the origin.
(Id.). The doctor also indicated that the pulling and cramping
in Salinas's legs might be secondary to his back problem. (R.
201). He thought Salinas's blackouts might be consistent with
On August 15, 2001, Salinas underwent an EEG at WSVA. (R. 157).
There was no evidence of any abnormality, and no epileptic
discharges were seen. (Id.). The results of a thallium stress
test performed on September 17, 2001, were described as "probably
normal." (R. 222). There was no evidence of ischemia or
infarction. (Id.). When Salinas returned to WSVA on October 19,
2001, the attending physician acknowledged that all test results
had been negative for any evidence of syncope or seizures. (R.
221). At that time, Salinas said he had not had an episode since
his release from prison. (Id.). In connection with Salinas's application for SSI, a state
disability agency physician reviewed the preceding medical
records and, on December 4, 2001, found that Salinas could
occasionally lift or carry up to fifty pounds, frequently lift or
carry up to twenty-five pounds, stand or walk about six hours of
an eight-hour workday, sit about six hours of an eight-hour
workday, and push or pull hand or foot controls without
limitation. (R. 204-211). On February 7, 2002, a second state
disability agency physician conducted a similar review, and
concurred in that assessment. (R. 210).
On January 10, 2002, Salinas went to the WSVA, and reported
suffering low back and leg pain every second or third night, with
soreness lasting a few days. (R. 227). The "drawer test" was
negative for torn ligaments in the knees. (Id.). The attending
physician recommended aspirin and Tylenol for leg cramps at
night. (R. 228).
Salinas had a depression screening at the WSVA on January 17,
2002. (R. 228). He indicated that he had been experiencing
symptoms of depression, including sadness and loss of interest in
things he formerly cared about. (Id.). The attending physician
encouraged Salinas to become more physically active. (Id.).
That same day, the doctor noted that Salinas's leg cramping had
responded well to night time medication. (R. 229). X-rays of
Salinas's right knee, performed on February 4, 2002, were normal.
(R. 232). On April 17, 2002, Salinas returned to WSVA with
complaints of lower back pain. (R. 230). Neurological examination
assessing strength, reflexes, and sensation was normal. (Id.). An x-ray of Salinas's lumbosacral spine
demonstrated spurs at the L4-L5 level, and mild
osteopenia.*fn1 (R. 230-31).
During his April 17, 2002 visit to WSVA, Salinas reported that
his lower back and knee pain were stable (R. 233). By May 6,
2002, however, he said that his right knee was locking all the
time. (R. 234). Salinas underwent an MRI of his right knee on May
13, 2002, which was consistent with a tear of the posterior horn
of the medial and lateral meniscus.*fn2 (R. 235). On June 6,
2002, Salinas underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.
(R.243-46). Surgeons were unable to find any tears in the
meniscus, but noted chondromalacia*fn3 changes. (R. 245).
Salinas developed some swelling in both feet, and a rash on his
right ankle, and sought treatment at the WSVA on August 7, 2002.
(R. 253-54). On August 12, he reported that the rash was
recurring, and lasted for two to three days. (R. 255).
Thereafter, a social worker discussed Salinas's unemployment with
him, and noted that in the last year, Salinas had not checked
with his physician to determine what type of work he was capable
of performing. (R. 256). Salinas made various excuses about not
being able to work, despite having gone a year without any