Depressed Iraqi Refugee Deserved Disability
(CN) - An Iraqi refugee diagnosed with severe depression and PTSD after the death of his brother in the second Iraq war qualified for disability benefits, the 9th Circuit ruled Monday.
Jasim Abo Ghanim had been tortured in an Iraqi prison for two years before he came to the United States in 1994 as a refugee.
Ghanim's brother remained in Iraq, however, and was working with the U.S. military when he was killed in 2009.
Deeply affected by that loss, Ghanim claimed that he was unable to sleep, suffered from constant nightmares, became very forgetful and ultimately stopped working.
Ghanim received a diagnosis of severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety disorder in 2009 but he was denied disability benefits the next year.
At the hearing he testified, "I ... confine myself to my home, just sitting there because I don't want to go outside and interact with people."
Ghanim's friend and caretaker testified that Ghanim could neither cook for himself nor do his own laundry.
But the administrative law judge (ALJ) ruled that Ghanim could perform simple jobs, such as a kitchen helper or commercial cleaner, even with his diagnoses, and so did not qualify as disabled.
Ghanim proffered updated medical records in a 2012 bid for reconsideration and this time was found disabled.
A divided three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit ruled Monday that Ghanim should have been granted disability benefits in 2009.
"The ALJ found Ghanim not credible based on his daily activities. Engaging in daily activities that are incompatible with the severity of symptoms alleged can support an adverse credibility determination," Judge Richard Paez wrote for the majority. "But here, as described, the daily activities, which included completing basic chores, sometimes with the help of a friend, and attending occasional social events, do not contradict Ghanim's testimony."
It had also been improper for the ALJ to discount evidence presented by medical doctors, and instead heavily rely on a vocational expert's opinion that an individual with Ghanim's difficulties could perform simple jobs, the court found.
"These errors infected the ALJ's residual functional capacity assessment and his determination that Ghanim was able to perform past relevant work as a kitchen helper and a commercial cleaner," Paez wrote.
A brief dissent by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski highlights the ease with which Ghanim could have faked his symptoms, and notes that his story was "riddled with inconsistencies."
"Ghanim doesn't allege a physical disability - he claims to suffer from sleeplessness, recurring nightmares and depression," Kozinski wrote. "These aren't the kind of symptoms that are subject to clinical observations. We'd expect a treatment provider to rely heavily on self-reporting in evaluating such claims, and that's exactly what happened here."
Kozinski concluded: "If my colleagues want to give Ghanim an undeserved victory, they have the votes to do it. But it's unfair of them to claim the ALJ's decision is not supported by the record when it clearly is."