When Mr. M’s illness worsened and he lost his job, he was a single father to a five-month-old son. Yesterday, we went to the Social Security office and arranged the details of how Mr. M will get his disability benefits–after he dropped his son off at prekindergarten.
It’s been a long journey.
Mr. M applied for Social Security benefits in June 2009. When he was denied at the first two stages of the application process, his doctor suggested he visit Bread for the City’s legal clinic in search of representation. We took on the case and in July 2011 Polly Clare-Rothe (our legal clinic coordinator at the time) and legal clinic director Vytas Vergeer represented him at a hearing.
But Mr. M lost, and we felt the judge’s decision was incorrect and unfair. There were lots of problems with the ruling, but it was particularly frustrating that Mr. M’s devotion to his son was used as one reason to deny him disability benefits. The judge reasoned that if Mr. M could care for his son, it showed he could work–not considering the differences between those or the parenting help Mr. M got from his family and community organizations.
So we appealed. Mr. M lost at Social Security’s Appeals Council, so we took the case to federal court. Mr. M won there, and even when Social Security submitted a motion asking the judge to change her mind, she was firm in her decision that Mr. M should be awarded disability benefits. We thought Social Security might take the case to the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit (AKA “the second-highest court in the land”), but we were thrilled when they just decided to provide Mr. M with disability benefits.
Mr. M qualified for SSDI, which comes with Medicare and monthly funds for himself and derivative benefits for his son. He and his son also qualify for retroactive benefits for all the time they’ve been waiting–the total is over $80,000. Mr. M is planning to use some of the money to repay his mother, who raided her retirement account to help support him and his son over the past four years, and he wants to replace the cell phone that often cuts out mid-call. But he’s especially excited about the greater opportunities the income will provide to his son, who has lived almost his whole life waiting for his father’s quest for Social Security benefits to end.