Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Proving Medication Side Effects in Social Security Disability Cases Dealing with HIV/AIDS

HomeThis week, I was honored to receive in my office an unexpected visit from Yvette Bello, the Executive Director of Latino Community Services (LCS).  LCS is a great organization that works to prevent the further spread of HIV/AIDS among the Latino Community and other communities in the Greater Hartford region.  Yvette reminded me that this Sunday, June 10, 2012 at 1:00 PM is their annual AIDS walk at the West Hartford Reservoir.  I plan to attend and I hope to see a lot of good friends there, including Mayor Pedro Segarra and his husband Charlie Ortiz.  For this reason, I figured that this was a good opportunity to blog about Social Security Disability Claims and HIV/AIDS, particularly with respect to the issue of the importance of proving the side effects of medications such as Atripla and Sustiva.

Powerful antiretroviral  drugs have markedly prolonged the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS.  Many opportunistic diseases that once afflicted persons with AIDS, are now uncommon.  While the impact of HIV/AIDS on those infected appear to be less severe now, recent studies show that patients continue to suffer from significant physical and mental impairments.  The new medications seem to work well in containing most of the symptoms traditionally associated with the virus.   However, these potent drugs have imposed new limitations on HIV/AIDS patients.  Scientific studies have demonstrated that these medications can cause very serious side effects.  For this reason, in Social Security Disability cases dealing with HIV/AIDS, it is extremely important to document all the symptoms caused by these medications. 

In most SSI or SSDI cases, medication side effects are not the most important factor in proving a disability, however, details of the adverse reactions that a person has been suffering could make a significant difference.  Even though its usually not a smoking gun, this type of evidence sometimes can become the single grain of rice that tips the scale in the claimant's favor.  Nonetheless, bear in mind that, there are also many instances --particularly in cancer cases-- where treatments with powerful drugs, such as chemotherapy, have been found to be sufficient evidence to establish that the claimant is disabled.   

During the past few months, I have been reading about some of the terrible side effects of drugs such as Atripla and Sustiva. (There are also some very compelling testimonies in YouTube from persons who take these medications.) Atripla and Sustiva have been found to cause symptoms of major depression. This is particularly troubling, since recent studies have established that HIV positive patients suffer from major depression at a much higher rate than the rest of the population. It is believed that, in many instances, the HIV virus itself might be the cause of the depression. I suspect that most Social Security Lawyers, who handle large caseloads, probably represent one or two claimants who suffer from both: HIV and major depression. In addition, these two drugs have been found to cause chronic migraines, severe fatigue, feelings of paranoia and anxiety. Some persons who take Atripla say that the side of effects of taking this drug are similar to "waking up with a hangover every morning".  Moreover, this drug can seriously disturb a person's sleep.  It is well documented that Atripla causes bizarre nightmares.  This is why patients with a dark sense of humor call it: "A--Trip--la", suggesting that the drug causes them to trip every night as if they had taken a hallucinogenic.    
Most good Social Security Disability Lawyers are aware of how important, evidence pertaining to medication side effects, can be in winning a Social Security Disability case.  Unfortunately, in many cases where the disability applicants are not represented by a lawyer, this information is not properly documented.  In order to properly document adverse effects from medication, I like to provide my clients with a series of forms that they can use to keep track of their symptoms.  These forms can later be presented as evidence to the Social Security Administration.  Also, these forms can serve as an important source of information that doctors and other treatment sources can refer to when issuing opinions to the Social Security Administration about their patients disabling conditions. 

Most of these forms that I give to my clients are in the form of daily charts or diaries.  There are very easy to complete.  In certain cases, these forms can make a world of difference.  I find them particularly useful in situations where the doctor's notes are not detailed enough or when statements made in the medical record are ambiguous or unclear.  I have copied some of these blank forms and included them at the bottom of this blog.  Enclosed are three forms pertaining to those symptoms that are most relevant to the side effects caused by Atripla and Sustiva:
Pain Chart
Sleep Journal
Monthly Headache Diary