For low-income families with disabled children, receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits is critically important to the safety and security of their households. Navigating the difficult claims process without legal counsel, however, too often leads to the wrong result. This was exactly the case for one immigrant mother who—after a painful and complicated divorce—was unable to afford medical treatments for her 14-year-old son suffering from ADHD. After an unsuccessful first attempt to apply for SSI benefits, she sought help from Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS), which paired her with a team of Proskauer lawyers who secured the benefits that she and her son desperately needed and deserved.
The Proskauer team, led by corporate associate Ben Sacks, was tasked with meeting the stringent criteria for SSI benefits. In order to qualify, an applicant must establish both medical documentation for the disability and evidence of limitations. In the case of applicants with ADHD, judges typically look to academic records when considering limitations. This created a challenge for our client who had good grades—particularly in math—but was struggling in other ways at school. Ben and the Proskauer team understood that they had to make clear that academic records were the wrong measure of how ADHD impacted this boy’s life. The argument was thus re-centered around the other struggles he had in school, such as ploys for attention, lack of focus in class despite his good grades, and issues outside of the classroom.
With the basis for measurement shifted, and the arguments well supported with evidence, Proskauer and GBLS secured a much-needed victory, which included a lump sum back payment from the onset of the disability, as well as continuing payments to cover medical expenses.
The point here is twofold. First, the SSI program is impactful and important. Indeed, according to one report, SSI cuts poverty for children with disabilities nearly in half, and is especially beneficial in reducing extreme poverty. Second, this family’s experience demonstrates that there is a great need for legal services among the poor. Given the challenges associated with securing disability benefits and the profound effect these benefits have on the entire family, pro bono lawyers willing to take on these matters can make an incredible difference.