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SSA Disability Program Ordered to Assist Two Disabled S.F. Men

Posted on Jul 15, 2012

For what is thought to be the first time ever, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has been ordered to assist two mentally disabled men in San Francisco who allegedly lost their disability benefits because they couldn’t understand the requirements.

A federal judge ruled on June 19, 2012, that the SSA must provide a staff expert to hold regular meetings with each man. The federal agency will be required to explain the forms and requirements involved in applying for SSA disability benefits, thus protecting their rights.

The case, which began five years ago, racked up $900,000 in attorney fees, which the SSA is also required to pay.

The People with Disabilities Foundation represented the plaintiffs. Steve Bruce, legal director, said that his agency has been successful in the past. In 2009 a class action San Francisco lawsuit ended in an order for the SSA to provide Braille or audio disc notices to the blind. A second lawsuit required the SSA to provide accommodations for the deaf as well.

This current ruling will bring into question the SSA assistance provided to over two million SSA disability beneficiaries and applicants who have mental or learning disabilities.

The first man, identified as John Doe, suffered reduced benefits and even a full benefit cutoff at one point. Both of these events were caused by the man’s inability to understand the system requirements. The second plaintiff in the suit, Terrence Davis, lost his benefits for seven years due to a mistake in the way the SSA reviewed his income.

Bruce says that the findings in this case should make a difference, “ideally paving the way for millions of other mentally and developmentally disabled Americans to actually receive the equal, meaningful access” that is their legal right.

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John L. Keefe
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