Social Security Disability System Near Impossible to Navigate Without Legal Help, Applicants Say

Posted Date: October 29th, 2014 | Categories: Social Security Disability

Linda Bowen waited four years for a Mobile-area judge to approve her application for disability benefits. Her husband applied last November for benefits for himself. His hearing is still a year away, scheduled for December 2015.

The Bowens’ stories, along with others from across Alabama, show that the disability-benefits process can be frustrating and laborious. Often, it requires expensive legal help. invited readers last month to tell of their experiences with the process. The Bowens and dozens of others responded.

As of the end of last year, more than 6 percent of Alabama’s population was receiving some form of disability payment  from the Social Security Administration, according to data explored by

Linda Bowen worked for 13 years as a nurse at a hospital in Fargo, N.D. But gastrointestinal issues required bypass surgery, which may have contributed to her developing pancreatitis.

She is only 44.

Unable to continue in her nursing job, she and her husband, Matthew, left North Dakota and moved to the Poarch Creek reservation in the Atmore area to be closer to her family. “This is where I was born,” she said.

She has been receiving benefits since the end of 2012, after a law firm, hired by her former employers, intervened on her behalf.

The four-year wait was confounding and wearying, and now, Matthew Bowen, about the fate of his own application. 

He once relied on construction work for paychecks, but that’s all in his past. Diagnosed with cauda equina syndrome – a nerve disorder – he underwent back surgery that placed rods and pins in his spine.

Their combined struggles have put them in a difficult spot. “We can’t do this on our own,” Linda Bowen says.

Move to save 

Jim Todd, battling stage 3 colon cancer, recently moved with his wife to Alabama from Atlanta to save money.

He said he didn’t bother applying for disability benefits because he knew he’d be turned down. Todd was a self-employed legal mediator for the past dozen years. His business recorded no profit, so no Social Security insurance taxes were paid on his behalf.

“I fell into a unique situation,” Todd, 44, said of his tax scenario. “My life is turned upside down.”

Todd could make certain retroactive payments to become eligible for benefits, but the cost of hiring an accountant and an attorney would probably erase the potential gain. He said he’s spoken to three attorneys, each of whom recommended that he forgo that process.

His wife’s salary is covering the bills for now, he said, and he’s trying to stay on top of trends in legal mediation and real estate. The time at home is getting to him, though.

“The four walls have started to close in,” he said.

Navigating complexity

Compared to some others who spoke to, Glenn Green’s disability-benefits case was processed in a snap.

The 52-year-old Hoover man had help, however: His son – an attorney – studied the benefit requirements, and knew exactly what decision-makers would be looking for in terms of documentation. 

Preparedness helped get Green’s application approved in three months. The severity of his medical condition also played a role: Green has idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis – a chronic lung disease — and is on the waiting list for a lung transplant.

Green’s illness is included in what the Social Security Administration calls its “Compassionate Allowances Conditions” list. Applicants diagnosed with such conditions can have their cases decided in “a matter of weeks,” according to the agency’s website.

Green is glad for the benefits, but finds little to celebrate. 

He’s active on social media, and a member of several Facebook groups populated by other IPF suffers. Many, he said, are struggling to obtain disability payments, and have no idea that Social Security would speed their cases if they could only document their condition.

His son, he said, was the one who spotted the opportunity and pulled him through.

“They really need to do something with the process,” he said.

Link to original article.

The Jones Law Group, LLC can help you navigate the federal Social Security Disability system here in Ohio! Please call us today for a free consultation at (614) 545-9998.

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