During the spring 2021 semester, three Health Law Partnership (HeLP) Legal Services Clinic students, Travis Williams (J.D. ’22), Oyedoyin Oyebamiji (J.D./M.B.A./M.H.A. ’22)and Matthew Catoe (J.D./M.S.H.A. ’22) represented a Spanish-speaking client in an appeal of the denial of Social Security Income benefits.
According to assistant clinical professor Brooke Silverthorn (J.D. ’03), this was an especially challenging case. To be found eligible to receive SSI, the child must have a serious medical condition that is disabling and meet financial eligibility requirements. “The child was deemed medically disabled, but financially ineligible, so the child was denied benefits,” said Silverthorn. “Additionally, before HeLP became involved, all paperwork sent to the family had been in English, which the mother was unable to read and understand.”
After reading through the file, the students immediately realized that this case presented serious due process and fundamental fairness concerns. They poured through the records and recognized that the family’s financial resources had been misallocated and, at times, over-valued. Therefore, in addition to the claim that the child was currently disabled and eligible for SSI going forward, they also presented a second argument to the administrative law judge that the previous application which was denied needed to be reopened and reviewed in light of the correct financial information.
The students presented the case to the judge via phone hearing in April, 2021. In June 2021, the judge issued a fully favorable decision on the current application and reopened the previous application. The client is entitled to benefits going forward and may also be eligible for a significant back payment from the time of the initial filing.
“I’m so proud of the students. They really remind me why I got into this work in the first place, because they’re just so excited about helping people,” said Silverthorn. “At the end of the day, we want to use our knowledge to help people get the benefits they’re entitled to.”