Monday, May 5, 2014


I've been quite conflicted lately. I've spent years promoting the image of people with disabilities as regular, capable individuals. I've started the Florida Disability Access and Awareness Foundation on a conviction, that given the right type of information about the world around them (accessibility) coupled with the right type of response from the community (awareness) they can lead more fulfilling lives. But I'm also an attorney. Although I don't maintain a regular practice from time to time I agree to take on cases that will help me learn and develop my skill-set or because someone really needs my help. Over the last few months a few people with disability approached me to have me fight for their social security disability benefits. They felt that having a disability myself I will be a determined advocate of their cause while being mindful of their limitation. And while I'm eager and executed to do something that affects people's lives, Social Security Administration's definition of what "disability" is and what a "disabled" person does is in stark contrast to what I've been advocating before. Since I moved to America I believed that over time society will adapt to be more inclusive, approachable and accessible for people with physical and more understanding for people with mental conditions. That's what they call the social model of disability. It evolved in response to the so-called "medical model". That is the approach that the SSA takes. People who have turned to me mistakenly thought that all they need is to be diagnosed with some disability to qualify for disability benefits, not realizing that it's a process and very often a convoluted one. The Administration has its own definition of "disability". A person over 18 is disabled if  if he/she is unable to engage in any substantial gainful work activity because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that is expected to last for 12 continuous months or result in death. If it sounds gloomy it gets worse. Without boring everyone with the procedure and an explanation of what an attorney does in the process and how every of the findings of every element is made- what this process comes down to among other things  is a determination that a person can't do the job they did before, can't adjust for any other work and they do so by either matching a medical listing that SSA uses or by showing the devastating effects the condition has on key aspects of his on her life. In a nutshell, it has to be bad. With my condition I would need to have an IQ under 70 or be disruptive with emotional outbursts. It's very specific.It's not enough to simply have something that limits physically and mentally.   Claimants consult attorneys usually after being initially denied. After the initial decision, there's reconsideration, then a hearing, then they can have their case reviewed by the Council in Virginia. They higher they go, the longer the waiting time and statistics show the lower the chance of success. And then you can have your day in Federal Court. What I found is, that it's a very paperwork intensive process- the right type of medical documents the right wording are necessary to convince the court. If there was a problem with evidence initially how can there be a different  result if you don't present anything new? Sometimes it's not the applicant doesn't qualify- he just can't prove it. The money can do the world of difference for many of the claimants, after all if they can't work how can make a living. And yet I feel a bit strange, focusing on the negative. What a person can't do. Showing how they are un-able. It's a pretty harsh determination and I'm in odd position having to show bad it really is. A win is not really a "win" as claimants end up putting up with their disabilities for the rest of their lives. You just pop in and out. And yet all I want to do is a good job with what I'm given.

No comments:

Post a Comment