This past February, two hearings on the same day showed me how national policy changes can cause problems for people already struggling with the hardship of their disability.
Up until recently, Social Security judges would travel to Mankato, Rochester, Hibbing, and other places throughout Minnesota. Unfortunately, Social Security set a national policy restricting judges from traveling to hearings. Frequently our clients have to find drivers willing to get up at 5 a.m. and drive them – sometimes hundreds of miles – to their hearings in Minneapolis.
We work hard to help clients figure out transportation to their Social Security Disability appeal hearings. Many of our clients can’t drive, don’t have a car, can’t handle the anxiety of driving within the Metro area, or are just too mentally or physically fragile to travel on their own.
My first client that day, “Susie,”# struggles with many problems including fragile bones from osteoporosis, anxiety, and paranoia. About a month before the hearing, she had broken her shoulder. Thankfully, her social worker was able to drive her from Rochester to her Social Security hearing in Minneapolis.
When Susie arrived at the hearing office, she tripped and fell right outside the building; breaking her hip and re-breaking her shoulder. She was immediately taken by ambulance to nearby Hennepin County Medical Center.
I didn’t want this client’s case to be delayed any longer. At my request, Susie’s Social Security Disability judge agreed to hear her appeal as scheduled and we won her case.
Shortly after Susie’s hearing, I drove to the airport to pick up another client “Tim,”* who has severe memory problems and, coincidentally, also has severe osteoporosis with fragile bones! We had arranged for a shuttle to take Tim from Rochester to the Minneapolis airport. We had communicated with the shuttle staff in advance about our client’s memory problems. I called Tim nearly every day for a week to remind him about his hearing and the shuttle pick up time.
Fortunately everything went according to plan and Tim arrived at the airport just fine. Not wanting a replay of the morning accident, I insisted he walk slowly and hold onto my arm when walking. I’m sure Tim felt a little odd crossing the street arm-in-arm with me, but I was determined to get him to the hearing in one piece! We won his case also.
I felt terrible for Susie having an accident. I also felt for Tim and his anxiety about coming to Minneapolis. I hope that Social Security will realize the hardship this policy causes Social Security claimants and will change this policy soon. Until then, the entire Disability Partners team will do everything we can to help the people we represent get to, and through, their hearings safe and sound.