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Giacchetti v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

May 2, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.


          Sidney I. Schenkier United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Melissa Giacchetti[3] has filed a motion seeking reversal and remand of the decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her Social Security benefits (doc. # 9: Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J.). The Commissioner has filed a response asking the Court to affirm its decision (doc. # 20: Def.'s Resp.). For the reasons that follow, we grant Ms. Giacchetti's motion.


         Ms. Giacchetti applied for benefits on July 5, 2012, alleging she became disabled on March 1, 2010 (R. 9). After her claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration, she received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on July 8, 2014 (Id.). On September 2, 2014, the ALJ issued a written opinion finding Ms, Giacchetti was not disabled from March 1, 2010 through the date of the decision (Id.). The Appeals Council upheld the ALJ's determination, making it the final opinion of the Commissioner (R. 1-3). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981; Shauger v. Astrue, 675 F.3d 690, 695 (7th Cir. 2012).


         Ms. Giacchetti was born on November 9, 1983. She enlisted in the Army in June 2002, eventually working as an intelligence analyst, until she was discharged from the service on March 18, 2010 (R. 45-47, 284-86). She has not worked since leaving the military (R. 47).

         Ms. Giacchetti began receiving mental health treatment while with the military in 2006 (R. 412). In June 2006, she was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome secondary to anxiety attacks and a misconception that she smelled foul (R. 494). She began taking anti-anxiety medication and attending group counseling and individual psychotherapy (Id.). In July 2007, she was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder ("ADD") and prescribed Ritalin, and in August 2007, she was diagnosed with neurotic excoriation[4] secondary to trichotillomania[5] (Id.).

         In April 2009, Ms, Giacchetti experienced suicidal ideation, "which necessitated an inpatient psychiatric stay" (R. 493). Ms. Giacchetti received treatment from Lonny R. Natter, M.D., and on May 4, 2009, he performed a fitness for duty mental health evaluation of Ms. Giacchetti. Dr. Natter found that she had "moderate impairment for further military duty" and failed Army retention standards due to depressive disorder and anxiety disorder (R. 409-11). Dr. Natter further stated that Ms. Giacchetti's prognosis was poor because she had longstanding symptoms that had not responded to treatment (R. 411).

         On August 5, 2009, a Medical Evaluation Board ("MEB") found Ms. Giacchetti failed to meet Army retention standards due to her mental health issues (R. 493, 501). The MEB stated that "in spite of going through the IOP (intensive outpatient program), using various modalities of treatment to include group therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, using 1:1 counseling, neuro-bio feedback and acupuncture, " her mental impairments continued (R. 494). In addition, her anxiety spells had worsened; they were triggered by being in a classroom, smelling alcohol and feces, and hearing loud noises (R. 500).

         On December 23, 2009, Ms. Giacchetti underwent a post-deployment screening, during which she reported experiencing nightmares and feeling watchful, numb, detached, depressed and hopeless (R. 477-78). She also reported having diarrhea, headaches, fatigue, forgetfulness, and joint pain that interfered with her daily activities (R. 478).

         After she was medically discharged from the Army in March 2010, Ms. Giacchetti filed a claim for disability benefits with the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs ("VA") (R. 284).[6] On August 19, 2010, the VA found that Ms. Giacchetti's impairments were zero percent disabling, but Ms. Giacchetti contested that finding, and on August 16, 2011, the VA issued a new decision finding Ms. Giacchetti's mental impairments -- listed as post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") with anxiety and depression - were 70 percent disabling, effective March 19, 2010 (Id.)[7]

         On October 27, 2011, Ms. Giacchetti was evaluated by psychiatrist, Jack Yen, M.D. (R. 744), Ms. Giacchetti reported that her panic attacks and anxiety had worsened, but she was not taking medications or engaging in psychotherapy at that time because she felt she was in a "good place" (R. 745-48). After a mental status examination, Dr. Yen diagnosed her with dysthymic disorder likely manifested as insomnia and anxiety, and he noted her previous diagnosis of PTSD (R. 748).[8]

         On January 4, 2012, clinical psychologist, Karla Rennhofer, Ph.D., [9] a specialist in trauma and PTSD (R. 970), completed a psychological assessment of Ms. Giacchetti in connection with her claim for VA disability benefits (R. 730). Ms. Giacchetti reported a history of childhood sexual and physical abuse and absenteeism and fighting in school, and she stated that she had trouble leaving the house, sleeping, and being near people for fear that she smelled (R. 732-35). Dr. Rennhofer observed her mood was anxious and dysphoric, but otherwise normal (R. 736). She opined that Ms. Giacchetti had PTSD and depression before the military, which remitted but then recurred after she experienced trauma on deployment to Kuwait in 2003 (Id.). Dr. Rennhofer diagnosed Ms. Giacchetti with PTSD, anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, parasomnia, impulse control disorder, trichotillomania and body dysmoiphic disorder, and opined these conditions would "likely significantly affect[]" Ms. Giacchetti's ability to work or attend school (Id.).

         Dr. Rennhofer treated Ms. Giacchetti beginning on May 21, 2012, seeing her weekly until at least August 23, 2012 (R. 970). On June 5, 2012, based on a rating decision of May 17, 2012, the VA further increased Ms. Giacchetti's disability rating, finding that her overall combined rating was 80 percent, entitling her to be paid full disability benefits effective March 19, 2010, because she was unemployable (R. 293). The VA letter noted that individuals with total disability compensation should still apply for vocational rehabilitation benefits to help them try to obtain employment (R. 300).

         On August 23, 2012, Dr. Rennhofer filled out a mental residual functional capacity ("RFC") form in connection with Ms. Giacchetti's application for Social Security benefits, opining that most of her mental impairments had worsened since January 2012 (R. 970). Dr. Rennhofer explained that Ms. Giacchetti's PTSD and her belief that she smelled bad made it hard for her to be around people or in stressful situations, and Ms. Giacchetti was "exhausted continuously" and would likely decompensate if she were exposed even to the stress of a routine work setting (R. 971). Dr. Rennhofer stated that Ms. Giacchetti had "significant problems with memory" that interfered with her concentration and ability to retain information and added to her anxiety and depression (R. 974-75). Ms. Giacchetti did not take medication for her mental impairments because it made her feel worse, and Dr. Rennhofer wrote that Ms. Giacchetti was not exaggerating her symptoms and "if anything she [wa]s likely to under report" her impairments (R. 971). Dr. Rennhofer opined that Ms. Giacchetti was markedly limited in all areas of understanding and memory and sustained concentration and persistence, and markedly limited in three of five areas of social interaction since March 1, 2010 (R. 972-73). Dr. Rennhofer concluded that Ms. Giacchetti was not able to work because "[h]er mental health problems coupled with her medical conditions ma[d]e it too difficult for her to do so" (R. 975).

         On September 15, 2012, Matthew Galloucis, Ph.D., completed a psychological evaluation for DDS (R. 827). Ms. Giacchetti reported suffering from depression and anxiety for years, although she did fine in school and had no limitations in activities of daily living ("ADLs") (R. 828-29). Dr. Galloucis noted that Ms. Giacchetti's mood was anxious and her affect was variable in range and incongruent, as she spoke of traumatic events in her life in a "somewhat detached, matter of fact, and incongruent manner" ...

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