8th Circuit Affirms Denial of SSDI Benefits for Injured Vet

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on July 21, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Eighth Circuit affirmed an administrative court's ruling of denial of SSI benefits for injuries a soldier sustained while in combat in Iraq. The issue at hand involved whether or not the petitioning soldier was injured enough to be eligible.

The outcome of this review should be used as a means to warn injured plaintiffs to follow a medical regimen with painstaking care.

In Service of Country

Petitioner Marcus Hensley suffered a serious knee injury while deployed in a combat situation in Iraq in 2005. After surgery to his knee, the Office of Veterans Affairs awarded Hensley service related benefits associated with his injury. Soon after, he applied for additional disability benefits under the SSDI provision, claiming PTSD, back pain, knee pain, and facial twitching.

Residual Functioning Capacity

Since Hensley was applying for social security disability benefits, he was subjected to the Residual Functioning Capacity review within the ALJ. The circuit court made the determination that upon review of the entire record, the ALJ did not err in finding that the petitioner had failed to prove the requisite level of disability for his injury.

A particularly damaging fact against the petitioner was the fact that he'd failed to follow a regularly prescribed treatment program as outlined by his doctors, which was taken by the federal agencies and reviewing courts as evidence that impairments were less severe and disabling than Hensley had initially characterized in hearings.

Moral of the Story

The moral to be gleaned from this case's outcome is applicable to many areas in the law, especially personal injury and contract: if you fail to mitigate your damages, it may come back to bite you in the end.

When a doctor advises the client to follow a particular medical regimen to treat his injuries, the patient-client should do exactly that. Failure to do so gives the defense an opening to argue before a court or arbitrator that damages should be reduced. Erroneous fears of cost should only factor into the client's decision not to follow through if the client has no intention of suing the responsible party for damages. Otherwise, it does no good not to follow doctors' orders.

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