/Disability denials can amount to a ‘death sentence,’ judge says in Mississippi case

Disability denials can amount to a ‘death sentence,’ judge says in Mississippi case

The appeal hearing for the denial of disability payments was heard by an administrative law judge who determined that those medical conditions could reasonably be expected “to cause” disabling symptoms. Boatner was denied his appeal. He found that the Carthage man’s severe conditions did not “meet” or medically equal the criteria to be considered for any listed impairment. This despite the fact that they had once placed him in hospice, which is a facility that provides supportive care to those in the last phase of a terminal illness. Boatner died before he received his benefits. However, Phillip E. Herring of Tupelo was not so fortunate. Vonda Peters, Tupelo, received her brother’s third refusal letter in the mail on the day following his July 2019 funeral. “I don’t usually cuss, however, I thought, what the F Peters said. In a ruling that ultimately awarded Boatner disability benefits, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves pointed out a widespread attitude among administrative law judges to treat applicants with skepticism. Boatner’s judge also issued denials at a rate 25% higher than the national average. Reeves stated that the injustices in the disability payment system were both deep and numerous. Research suggests that the majority of disability payment denials are incorrect. Applicants who struggle to manage their disabilities claim such denials can be a ‘death sentence’.” In a statement to MCIR Mississippi Disability Determination Services stated it “makes determinations strictly in accordance with (Social Security Administration’ Policies and Procedures”. SSA would need to address these policies and procedures. SSA has not responded to a request for comment. According to DDS, “Examiners must consider many things when determining eligibility, and not just the disability itself.” “Decisions are made based on both medical and vocational evidence. Vocational evidence can include past work experience, education, and age. To make a final determination, all of the evidence must be factored together using a process that SSA has established. “Our DDS office has maintained an average accuracy rate of 95%, or higher” Rick Clark, Boatner’s attorney, took his case to the Appeals Council in Falls Church (Virginia) as a final step before suing U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Clark stated that he believed in Carl’s case. Clark stated that it usually takes a year for an Appeals Council hearing to hear a case. This was the case with Boatner. Boatner, now 55, stated that he was tired of hearing appeals and told Clark, “You just tell us when I have to show up and where.” It was not a sure thing. Clark stated that only 10% of cases are referred back to an administrative law judge, and 1% are overturned. Boatner sued federal Social Security Administration after being rejected by the Appeals Council. Reeves asked the question, “Did the administrative law judge properly review the evidence?” Reeves’ response: No. He outlined the failures of each component in the disability process to Boatner, before he awarded the long-delayed benefits to the truck driver. Reeves shifted his attention to the state agency that acts on behalf of the Social Security Administration — Disability Determination Service. DDS is the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services and processes applications for Social Security Administration disability benefits. Reeves stated that Boatner spent almost a decade trying to get disability payments from Social Security Administration. His last application was filed in 2014. The Administration denied Boatner’s four applications despite acknowledging his grave medical condition and trips to the brink of death. These denials were painful. One of these denials caused Boatner to leave his home, take a gun to his head and threaten to kill him.” Boatner stated to the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, “I felt plumb stupid.” He said that he had paid Social Security taxes throughout his career as a truck driver. Boatner claimed that he felt stupid when his claims were denied repeatedly. Reeves addressed the administrative law judge and disability examiners who handled Boatner’s case. He noted that the ALJ had already resolved over 600 cases in 2016. Reeves stated that examiners aren’t equipped to handle the number of cases that SSA requires them to. According to Patti Patterson (regional communications director at the Atlanta regional office, Social Security Administration), Mississippi DDS’s 111 examiners handled approximately 64,000 cases in fiscal year 2013. Chris Howard, chief of the Department of Rehabilitation Services, stated that examiners can handle 65 to 125 cases. According to the guidelines of the state Personnel Board for hiring examiners, Mississippi requires that examiners have a four year degree from an accredited college. They are paid between $27,000 and $47,000 per year. The starting rate is around $14 an hour. Fear of the Disability Con. There is a human cost to spending so much time on cases and waiting for approvals, according to Doron Dorfman (an associate professor at Syracuse University College of Law). He examined the impact of the disability determination process upon claimants and how it affected their perceptions of themselves as disabled citizens. Dorfman pointed out that disability is not the fixed definition used by the Social Security Administration in a paper cited Judge Reeves. Dorfman stated to the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting that there are not many people who see the process from the perspective of the person who is going through it. Dorfman said that he had studied the “fearof the disability con”, which is the belief that everyone is faking disability. My research has shown that fear is a driving factor in disability law. Dorfman’s studies have shown that people are often embarrassed by their disability, even though that is what the Social Security disability process requires them to do. Dorfman pointed out that such a display can influence how people view disability and what they think it means. Dorfman asked, “Do we as a nation ask that not all people can overcome their impairment?” Boatner said his condition has stabilized in the years since he finally was awarded benefits, but not after more medical interventions, including a defibrillator/pacemaker implantation and four months of dialysis for kidney failure. Vonda Peters claims that her brother was in a wheelchair and in bed at her parents’ Tupelo home when he died. When he died, he had Type I diabetes as well as non-alcoholic cirrhosis. Peters stated that Herring never drank in his entire life. Herring was diagnosed with three pulmonary emboli in 2002 and applied for disability. Peters stated that Herring’s career as an engineer installing and maintaining xray equipment was over after that. Peters denied his appeal and said that he would not confront people. He spent 209 days in hospital after August 2017 for two amputations. One on his forefoot due to diabetes and another six inches below the knee. Because of wound infection, he was not able to be fitted for a prosthetic. His other leg was also threatened towards the end of his life. Peters stated that he couldn’t stand for long and his other leg would swell. He was almost to lose the other leg. DDS denied Peters. He submitted his final application in early 2019. He was on the waiting list for a liver transplant evaluation when he visited North Mississippi Medical Center. This was after he had spent nine days in a nursing facility. Peters claims that Disability Determination Services called her about her brother’s condition at that time. Peters stated that they asked when he would be discharged and that he died. Peters also said that her brother was currently on the hospice floor. He was just informed that he was also suffering from kidney failure. Peters stated that he was offered dialysis but that it would not have prevented his death. Peters stated that they did their best to meet all of their requirements. Reeves pointed out that examiners who decide whether someone is disabled are often required to interpret complicated medical results and laboratory results. This is beyond the scope of a regular examiner’s training. Howard of the Department of Rehabilitation Services stated that Mississippi DDS examiners are given three months of classroom training, before they receive their caseloads. Unit supervisors also provide ongoing training throughout an examiner’s career. Reeves noted that DDS examiners often worked alongside medical case consultants who were part-time doctors. DDS and administrative judges use consultative exams to fill in any gaps in claimants’ medical records. The administration employed a psychologist in Boatner’s case to assess his mental condition. According to the psychologist’s report, Boatner’s personality problems, mood, anxiety, and depression were likely to continue for 12 months. However, the Administration allows ALJs to ignore such reports. Boatner’s ALJ dismissed the psychologist’s report because it was ‘vague’, despite its nearly 2,000 words. Reeves stated in his ruling that justice delayed often results in justice denied. Finding truth requires empathy, expertise, time, and patience. People who decide disability cases will do wrong without these resources.”_x000D