The three victories result in more than $137,000 in back payments plus significant ongoing monthly benefits moving forward; fourth case decision pending; others in pipeline
In the two short weeks of March before LSC moved to remote work, Safety Net Project Director Julie McCormack, and her students (two of them veterans themselves) represented four clients in administrative hearings before the Social Security Administration and the Massachusetts Welfare Department. Three cases have been decided already – despite both agencies having moved to remote work – resulting in more than $137,000 in back payments for clients, plus ongoing benefits totaling $2,360 per month.
The first Social Security decision came just three days after the student – Alex Pascualy JD’21, a veteran – made his oral argument, and resulted in a win of six years in retroactive benefits totaling almost $80,000, plus ongoing monthly benefits of $1,100. The client had been denied benefits numerous times previously despite a severe head injury and unhealed knee injuries when he was the victim of a hit-and-run car accident.
The second decision came just two weeks after the student, Zach de Stefan, JD ’21, argued the case at hearing, on behalf of a client who had become homeless after his mother died and who had been self-medicating due to post-traumatic stress disorder. He is living in a homeless shelter and is at extreme risk of contracting COVID-19, and this win will allow him the literally life-saving security of permanent housing as he will receive a lump sum payment of $56,000 that reflects payments he should have received back to 2010, plus ongoing monthly payments of $900.
In the SNAP case, student and veteran Ken Pearson, JD ’21 assisted in obtaining significant accommodations for a cognitively impaired elderly woman and her disabled husband, and won six retroactive months of badly needed nutrition support totaling $1,200, in addition to increased monthly benefits of $360 and assistance from a caseworker in managing the burdensome verification process going forward.
In addition, the Safety Net Project also obtained a significant win in a case appealed to federal court for a woman who, despite post-traumatic stress disorder and other significant mental and physical impairments, had been denied Social Security benefits without adequate consideration of all of her medical problems. The law student working on the case filed the appeals and supporting argument to the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration challenging the administrative law judge’s denial during his Spring 2019 clinical with the Safety Net Project. When the Appeals Council denied review, the student then took the opportunity to work on the federal court appeal all the way from the complaint filed in October through to the motion requesting fee approval under the Equal Access to Justice Act, which will be filed within the next week or so – an incredibly rewarding learning experience for him and a great result for our client, as less than 1% of the Social Security cases appealed to this level result in favorable rulings. LSC provides all services pro bono, so here the Social Security will pay fees and costs to LSC, and LSC will continue to represent the client in her remand case back before the agency. Thankfully, the client is now receiving monthly benefits as the new application the Safety Net team assisted her with pending the appeal has been approved and her remand hearing will be to determine retroactive benefits. Read our student Alexander Cottingham’s reflection on this case here.
Despite COVID-19 forcing hearings to be postponed and rescheduled as conducted via phone, students and LSC attorneys together continue to advocate for the veterans they are representing by filing motions and supporting memoranda for favorable decisions based on the medical records obtained and submitted by the students. McCormack says she is hopeful that another four cases soon will be decided in clients’ favor as a result of the work of her students.