The Social Security Administration has agreed to a settlement that some say is the first of its kind and that requires the agency to provide staff training and assistance to two mentally disabled men who lost benefits.
The two San Francisco men - whose ailments include schizophrenia, autism, severe anxiety and functional illiteracy - said they lost their benefits because they were unable to understand the rules.
One man saw a reduction in benefits because he did not deduct qualified expenses from his income, then lost his benefits altogether after signing an inaccurate income statement. The other man was disqualified from receiving benefits after an inaccurate review of his past income.
The settlement requires the Social Security Administration to assign a staff expert to meet with the men to go over forms and requirements for applying for benefits and to help them provide the information needed to protect their rights. The agency also agreed to pay $900,000 for the men's legal fees.
Signaling Change for Other Mentally Disabled Claimants?
Steven Bruce, the legal director of the People with Disabilities Foundation, which represented the two men, said that this appears to be the first court case in the nation that has required a federal agency to accommodate the needs of a mentally ill or disabled person.
Though the Social Security Administration started making accommodations for some disabled recipients after a judge ordered it to do so - sending notices to blind recipients in Braille or on audio discs and making similar arrangements for the deaf and hard-of-hearing - it has not provided such accommodations for those with mental or learning disabilities.
Bruce said the settlement could help to raise awareness of the issue and "ideally pave the way for millions of other mentally and developmentally disabled Americans to actually receive the equal, meaningful access" that is their right.
North Carolina Social Security Disability Lawyers
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