NOTE: All the names in this article have been changed to protect their identities.
Rick Barnett had been getting social security disability benefits since 2004. The Social Security Administration (SSA) initially determined that Rick’s disability stemmed from stomach issues, back injuries and mental limitations. At the end of 2013, SSA determined that Rick was no longer disabled, and his benefits were to be terminated. Rick did not know how to explain this. He did not feel any improvement in his health. His only explanation was that he refused to have surgery on his back. He was 52 years old with a limited education and continued to be unable to work. Rick appealed the termination of his benefits.
During the next three years, as the appeal process was ongoing, Rick made countless doctor visits, suffered several emergency hospitalizations, and was prescribed more medication than he could recount. In 2017, Rick was referred to South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) by an administrative law judge (ALJ) who was presiding over his social security disability hearing.
Once again, the decision was that Rick had medical improvement, was no longer disabled and not eligible for social security benefits. Because we disagreed with the decision, we appealed to the Appeals Council. Unfortunately, this process can take up to 25 months and Rick’s benefits would now stop. At this point, the only thing Rick could do was wait for a decision. Fortunately for him, a decision came quickly. The Appeals Council reversed the judge’s decision and found that Rick remained totally disabled.
Rick’s troubles were not over yet, however. After his social security benefits were reinstated, SSA determined that he was “living in a household of another” and reduced his benefits by one-third. This was despite the fact that there was no change in Rick’s living arrangements since he was originally determined to be disabled. Rick had continued to live with his girlfriend, and to pay for his own living expenses. He had also accrued debt from the years when he was not receiving any income.
Thanks to zealous representation of Rick’s SCLS attorney, Rick’s unfavorable decision was subsequently overturned, and his full benefit amount was reinstated. Furthermore, Rick received over fifteen thousand dollars in back pay for the years when his benefits had been terminated.