In what is being described as a precedent setting lawsuit settlement, the Social Security Administration (SSA) agreed to provide training and assistance to two mentally ill men in San Francisco who claimed they lost disability benefits because they could not understand the rules.
As a part of the settlement, Social Security also agreed to pay $900,000 to cover the legal expenses incurred by the plaintiffs, who were represented by the People with Disabilities Foundation. The case had been dragging on for the last five years.
The two men who won the settlement suffer from a variety of mental illnesses, including functional illiteracy, autism, schizophrenia and severe anxiety. One of the plaintiffs is identified as Terrence Davis, whose benefits were cut off for seven years because of an incorrect assessment of his prior income. The other one, whose real identity was not revealed, did not know that disability-related training expenses could be deducted from his part-time income, so he was not getting full benefits for many years.
Social Security will now be sending a staff expert to meet regularly with both men, to help them with the agency's compliance requirements and forms, and to keep them informed of their rights.
Social Security began offering Braille notices to blind recipients of social security benefits after a class action lawsuit went against them in 2009. This was followed by another lawsuit on behalf of deaf recipients, and the agency was again forced to make special arrangements for those who are hard of hearing.
This settlement for mental disabilities was not a class-action lawsuit. It applied only for the two plaintiffs. But there are 2 million people already in the system that are mentally ill or have learning disorders, and get no help from Social Security. This does not include applicants who get rejected because they were mentally incapable of comprehending or fulfilling the process requirements without any help.
Did you know?
A claimant may appoint a qualified individual as a representative for all dealings with Social Security.
The appointment of a representative has to be in writing and the written authorization must be filed with Social Security. Any fees charged by the representative have to be approved by the agency, regardless of whether the benefits claim is accepted or rejected.