HeLP Clinic Co-Director Lisa R. Bliss, center, supervised work done by law students Sara Adams, left, and Paetria Hampton, right, that helped secure disability benefits for a young boy who had been denied in 2006.
June 9, 2011
ATLANTA - Persistence and advocacy pay off. In 2006 the Social Security Administration (SSA) denied a young boy’s application for disability benefits despite his struggles with epilepsy, asthma, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, failure to thrive, and bipolar disorder.
This spring, HeLP Clinic students working on the case secured for him both benefits dating back to his original application, which could be worth almost $38,000, as well as ongoing monthly benefits.The mother had sought disability benefits in 2006 for her son under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, which is a federal needs-based assistance program for the aged, blind, and permanently disabled. The challenge in this case was proving that the boy met the SSI definition of disability. When her initial application was denied, the mother enlisted the HeLP Legal Services Clinic for assistance.
The case suffered many set-backs as it wound its way through the SSA administrative process. The agency denied the Clinic’s request for reconsideration in 2007. While the HeLP Clinic students’ subsequent request for an appeal was granted later that year, an Administrative Law Judge in Virginia ruled against their client in 2008.
"Previous HeLP Clinic students had dedicated countless hours to developing the case and preparing for the 2008 hearing, which was held via video conferencing," said Paetria Hampton, 2L. Hampton picked up the case in the 2010-2011 academic year and worked on it with Sara Adams, 2L. "The unfavorable decision in 2008 was very disappointing, but the HeLP Clinic didn’t give up," said Hampton.
The earlier HeLP Clinic students had submitted a letter brief to the SSA Appeals Council, arguing that relevant evidence was not addressed in the judge’s 2008 decision. The Appeals Council agreed, and remanded the case with specific instructions for certain evidence to be considered in a new hearing.That hearing was scheduled for spring 2011.
"We had the difficult task of constructing a cohesive story concerning the client’s medical and behavioral improvements and challenges that took place over the five-year appeals process," said Adams. "Though the boy dealt with a number of diagnoses, none quite fit into the legal definitions of disability established by SSA." Moreover, during the five-year period, some aspects of the boy’s well-being improved, while other ailments continued to trouble him.
Despite the complicated fact pattern, Adams and Hampton argued that the boy’s combined conditions functionally equaled the legal definition for disability. "Although he didn’t fall neatly into an SSA categorization, if you viewed our client as a whole child, his limitations caused him to be disabled," said Hampton of their advocacy strategy.
The students submitted a letter brief and additional school and medical records. After reviewing these supplemental materials, the SSA recently rendered a fully favorable decision based on the record alone without the need for another hearing. "After nearly five years of effort, the boy was granted the social security benefits which his mother and the former Clinic students felt he was entitled to all along," said Adams. "We benefited from the earlier students’ hard work and careful preparation."
"Sometimes administrative appeals take a long time," reflected Lisa R. Bliss, Co-Director of the HeLP Clinic and the students’ supervising clinical faculty. "Student teamwork across successive Clinic classes is crucial to ensuring successful outcomes. All who worked on this case deserve kudos for hanging in there and never losing focus or faith in the case."
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