New Jersey residents who receive disability payments from the Social Security Administration might see an improvement in their interactions with the agency thanks to a recent federal court ruling. In what may be the first case of its kind, the SSA agreed to a settlement that will provide two men with mental illness trained staff and assistance in keeping their Social Security disability insurance benefits.
The SSA will also pay $900,000 in attorney’s fees accrued over the five years that the men fought their case.
The court agreed that the two men had lost out on SSDI benefits to which they were entitled because the SSA’s rules and procedures were too difficult to understand. According to their lawyers, the two San Francisco men are seriously impaired, suffering from autism, functional illiteracy, severe anxiety and schizophrenia.
One of the men didn’t understand that he could deduct the expenses he incurred for training from the part-time work income he reported. As a result, he lost a portion of his benefits for many years. Also, at the request of a federal employee, the man signed an income statement that was not accurate, which resulted in the termination of his benefits.
The other man lost seven years of benefits because the SSA conducted an inaccurate review of his past income.
Although the settlement reached in this case only applies to these two men, experts anticipate that the case will have a wider effect in encouraging the SSA to make its procedures and rules more accessible to all individuals with disabilities.
The experts say that the SSA effectively requires at least 2 million recipients of benefits and an unknown number of applicants who have learning or mental disabilities to figure out convoluted procedures and eligibility requirements on their own, unless they hire an attorney or receive assistance from another professional.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, “Social Security ordered to help two S.F. men,” Bob Egelko, June 21, 2012