Obtaining Social Security Disability (SSD) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits quickly when disaster strikes is very difficult. Even if the claim is perfect, with all requested information provided and no missing documentation, it takes the agency weeks or months to decide whether to grant benefits. The story of a man in Salem, Oregon, reflects the vulnerability of the disabled and the weakness of the safety net.
The man, who was on parole, was trying hard to turn his life around. He was working and earning a modest income, with his only public assistance coming from food stamps. Then he became paralyzed and unable to move his lower extremities. After being in the hospital for six weeks with a diagnosis of transverse myelitis, a rare condition caused by inflammation of the spinal cord, he was hit with two other diagnoses, Bell's palsy and Type II diabetes.
The Oregon Health Plan paid for most of his medical expenses. However, now that he is unable to work, he no longer has even the small amount of income that allowed him to pay his rent and utilities. He is several months behind on the rent and is worried that even though his landlord is very sympathetic, he will be evicted soon.
His landlord, who widened the door to the man's tiny apartment to accommodate a wheelchair, said, "I don't want to evict him. He's a good tenant and none of this was his fault. He shouldn't have to add looking for a new place to live on top of everything else he's going through. I'd like to see him stay put, but I run a business. I can't wait a half year for the federal government to decide he's disabled enough to qualify for SSI and cut him a check. Why don't we have something to help people in his situation?"
Because transverse myelitis is rare, it is possible that his claim for SSI benefits will be expedited. However, a decision still depends on the hospital providing records quickly - technically it only has to respond within the time allowed by the law, which gives providers lots of time to provide medical records. Only then can Social Security make a decision on his SSI claim. He could receive up to six months of payments before the final determination of disability, allowing him to keep his apartment.
He remains hopeful. However, so many things must come together - his landlord, his records, Social Security - in order for this story to have a somewhat positive ending that sometimes he is close to despair. Like his landlord, whom he says is the best landlord in the world, he wonders why it takes so long when he is so obviously needy.