Disabled Students Face Frustrations with Disability Determinations

Disability determinations from the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) can take months to even years of navigating the application process along with hours spent seeing doctors and accumulating expert opinions on the nature of the applicant’s disability. In most cases, disabled Americans do not deal exclusively with the SSA, however, and the numerous federal agencies do not make applicants’ efforts any easier.

Investigative journalists in the past couple years have uncovered cases like the one of a 21-year-old student who, after doctors diagnosed her with a severe mental illness in 2009, was unable to work or continue attending school. The journalists discovered that young disabled students often face a frustrating ordeal with both the SSA and other federal agencies, which typically have no mechanism to share information with one another.

The SSA eventually ruled that the 21-year-old student was disabled. Disability benefits helped support the young woman and her mother, but she still faced about $25,000 in student loans. The Education Department normally forgives loans for students who suffer severe, lifelong disabilities, but it refused to accept the SSA’s determination. It required the student to undergo much the same process as the SSA did to prove her disability. In the meantime, she and her family faced daily phone calls from collectors. The Education Department did not fix her situation until her story appeared in publications.

This student’s story underlines the importance of thoroughness for applicants considering applying for disability benefits. Like the student discussed above, applicants will never know when they need to provide more information to the SSA or any other federal agency. While most applicants cannot expect a publication or a chance meeting with a public official to rescue their case, they should be prepared to put their best foot forward at every opportunity they have.

Troutman & Troutman, P.C. – Tulsa OK SSI attorneys


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