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Turner v. Commissioner of Social Security

August 2, 2010

JAMES L. TURNER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Oregon Michael R. Hogan, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. 6:07-cv-06158-HO.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bybee, Circuit Judge

FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

Submitted February 1, 2010*fn1 --- Seattle, Washington

Before: Pamela Ann Rymer, Ronald M. Gould and Jay S. Bybee, Circuit Judges.

Opinion by Judge Bybee; Dissent by Judge Gould

OPINION

James Turner appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Commissioner of Social Security upholding a denial of Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. Turner contends that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") did not give sufficient weight to the opinion of one of his doctors, improperly discredited his own testimony, and failed to adequately address his Veteran Affairs ("VA") disability rating. Because substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision and the ALJ committed no legal error, we affirm.

I.

Turner suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. In 2002, he filed an application for Title II disability insurance benefits, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d), claiming that he was unable to work on July 3, 1990, due to gunshot wounds, chronic back pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Both parties agree that Turner must show that he was disabled on or before December 31, 1990, in order to qualify for benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act.

A.

In 1990, Turner was forty-four years old. During his service in the Army, he sustained gunshot and shrapnel wounds in Vietnam to his left arm, temple, foot, and leg. Between 1985 to 1992, Turner underwent several medical examinations through the VA. In 1985, Dr. Heide, a psychiatrist, examined Turner and diagnosed him with probable post-traumatic stress disorder. According to Dr. Heide, Turner avoided the subject of Vietnam, expressed that he felt paranoia in crowds, and stated that he was easily startled by loud noises, but denied feeling depressed, sad, or hopeless. Dr. Heide reported that Turner was pleasant and cooperative and opined that Turner's functional ability was fair. In 1986, Dr. Aflatooni, a psychiatrist, examined Turner and diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder and atypical depression. Turner reported that he experienced nightmares and flashbacks about Vietnam. He stated that he was depressed, angry, forgetful, and uncertain about the future. Dr. Aflatooni reported that Turner was cooperative and pleasant, showed no anxiety or irritability, made eye contact, and was fairly well oriented to time, place, and person.

In 1990, Dr. Koogler, also with the VA, administered a psychiatric examination to Turner. During the examination, Turner reported that he had daily thoughts about Vietnam and some flashbacks triggered by helicopters, but reported no nightmares. Turner explained that he had difficulty concentrating, did not read, avoided crowds, slept sporadically, and disliked unexpected noises. He expressed paranoia about the government and losing his compensation. Dr. Koogler observed that Turner was oriented, had a normal intellect, and displayed good judgment. At the end of the report, Dr. Koogler included a "summary," in which he stated that Turner was disabled from a back injury and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Dr. Koogler noted that Turner had maintained himself "without severe problems with his [post-traumatic stress disorder] by isolating himself from society and living out in the country."

In 1992, two years after the time relevant for Turner's disability determination, Dr. Koogler examined Turner again and noted that there had been no change in Turner's mental status since their last meeting. Dr. Koogler observed that Turner "continue[d] to have a severe back problem[ ] and hobbles in and out of his chair . . . ." Dr. Koogler noted that Turner had not received treatment, but that he was in "good spirits and fe[lt] like his anger [wa]s controlled because he [wa]s left alone." Later that year, John McFarland, a social worker, examined Turner. McFarland noted that Turner chose to live an isolated life, trading his labor on a ranch for lodging. McFarland noted:

The veteran was somewhat guarded during this interview. He states he feels that one result of this interview would be that his compensation would be cut off. . . . Regarding employability, the veteran is doing just about all that he can do presently. He would not be able to tolerate any employment ...


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