This week I finally started volunteering with Medical-Legal Aid! I had really been looking forward to an opportunity to do something to give back to the community and find a way to keep busy after moving to a new city. Because we only have one car, I haven’t been able to go out and get a job. Now I have something to keep me busy.
Legal Aid is a non-profit organization that is tax-exempt. Legal Aid exists in many different cities (although each entity is independent), and provides pro bono legal services of various nature to clients in need. The Medical-Legal Aid partnership is between Legal Aid and local hospitals and treatment facilities in my city. As a volunteer, I am working to help families apply for supplemental social security income for disability for their children. When applying for SSI Disability for adults, the process is more straightforward because it asks “Does this adult’s condition affect their ability to work?” However, with children, certain criteria must be met to indicate that the child is functioning below what is considered age-appropriate. This evidence can come from many sources, including medical records, school records, and testaments of persons who see the child on a regular basis (in some cases the parents’ testaments are considered.) Interestingly, I learned that a medical classification of “disabled” does not mean that the client automatically will receive SSI Disability.
Instead, our clients must meet the criteria of a listing and have effects. Listings are legal definitions of the medical condition affecting the child. Here are some examples. Effects are, to my knowledge, the effect that these listings have on the child’s life. Effects can include academic and social difficulties.
Keep in mind that SSI Disability is only given to low-income families. Anyone can apply for SSI Disability without the help of Legal Aid, but the typical family will not provide the large amount of evidence required to assure an approved application. Usually the procedure without Legal Aid is as such:
- Family applies for SSI Disability for their child.
- Application is rejected.
- Family applies again.
- Application is rejected.
- Family appeals in court. Two years have passed without the needed financial aid.
- Family is denied—or if approved, the family is reimbursed for the two years that have passed without aid. However, this money can only be used towards behavioral and educational expenses.
What we do, at Legal Aid, is look for evidence that the child could qualify for SSI Disability. We don’t fudge evidence to make them eligible. If we cannot find enough appropriate evidence through the child’s records to match the listings and effects, we do not recommend or file for SSI Disability on behalf of the client. Another benefit of seeking help from Legal Aid is that we do the research for the client. We contact the child’s schools, day care providers, and physicians to obtain the appropriate records to peruse, and then write this on the application. I was disappointed to hear that sometimes these sources can be unwilling to aid the client in seeking SSI Disability. Of course, there are perhaps many individuals that attempt to scam the government for money, but there is no reason that schools or physicians should feel they would be participating in a scam. If they provide valid evidence in good faith and the application is approved, then they did not contribute to fraud. Furthermore, if Legal Aid is in the picture, these sources can be more assured, knowing a third force is screening clients before recommending they apply.
After meeting with the client this week, the benefit of this work was clear. Hearing the trouble she had with her special needs child and seeing how desperately she wanted to help her kid was both sad and heart-warming. I’m going to work as hard as I can to help this family apply for SSI Disability as quickly as possible. We are estimating it will take a few months, but I hope with dedication I can shorten this time frame.
Do you have any questions about SSI Disability or Legal Aid? Where do you volunteer? Comment below!