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Sadly, yet again, one of our clients passed away while waiting for his Social Security Disability (“SSD”) hearing to be scheduled. This case is more egregious than usual because we submitted his claim on a “dire need” basis on December 21, 2017. We provided supporting documentation, including a letter from the claimant’s landlord that verified the claimant was five months behind on his rent, and in danger of being evicted.
The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) has certain regulations that it must follow when a case meets the criteria for dire need. This case met that criteria, and the SSA even flagged it as dire need.
On April 13, 2018, the State agency denied the claim. We appealed it the same day, and confirmed with the Bronx Office of Hearings Operations (“OHO) that it was still flagged as dire need, and should be expedited.
On December 21, 2018, the case was assigned to a judge to be scheduled for a hearing. It is not uncommon for a case to sit in this status for months before the hearing is actually scheduled, and then at least another 75 days until the date of the hearing. Being aware of the standard procedures, we called the Bronx OHO to expedite the hearing. The Bronx OHO said it could not be done, even though the status in the electronic file clearly said “ready to schedule.” We explained the situation to the representative, who said the case was being expedited, and to call back in a few weeks. Because we were dissatisfied with the treatment of this expedited case, we called Bronx again on January 4, 2019, but received the same response.
Last Friday, the claimant’s elderly mother called to say that he had passed away overnight. We immediately called the hearing office to advise them about the claimant, and to advise them that the claimant’s wife would take his place at his hearing. We were matter of factly told what form needed to be filled out, and that we had to produce a copy of the death certificate. No emotion, no caring, nothing. It seems that so may claimants die while waiting for their hearing that it has become a common occurrence.
We called the Bronx OHO today to advise them that we had submitted the required documentation. The rep asked why we were calling. In other words, the rep’s attitude was the guy is dead, so what’s the rush. We explained that we wanted to be sure they received the documentation, and that we wanted the hearing to be scheduled promptly so the claimant’s wife and children did not wind up homeless. The rep reiterated that if we submitted what he asked for, then there was no reason for us to call, and that they would get back to us when they were ready to schedule. Wrong. The Bronx OHO’s failure to perform its duties on a timely basis possibly lead or contributed to the claimant’s death, and his family’s imminent homelessness.
Experience has proven that even when we have submitted something, especially something important, that if we do not call the SSA to highlight the submission, they mysteriously claim that they do not have it. The OHO rep was rude, uncaring, and unhelpful, which is not unusual, and will not deter us. This is how we fight for each and every one of our clients, and we will continue to do so.Previous Next
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