Jo Ellen’s Story

JoEllenAt Chanukah, we Jews say “A great miracle happened here.”  My miracle came about through DisAbility Rights Idaho.

Imagine receiving a letter from the IRS stating you owe them $48,000.  WOW! That would catch your attention, wouldn’t it?  Well, I received a letter like that from Social Security Disability in June 2008.  They told me I had earned eleven dollars over their limit in April of 2004.  For some reason, they were just catching it.  So I owed them all monies paid to me for my disability since then.  They did not dispute my dual disabilities.  The issue was earning too much to be on disability.

I tried to use their unwieldy website that was a horror, even to a former social worker like me!  I went to the Caldwell Social Security office.  They gave me information on a waiver of the amount.  I would qualify if, (1) I was too poor to pay it back, (2) I did not understand English, (3) I had a confirmed mental health problem, (4) I did not understand gross versus net.  I qualified on three of those criteria and by the end of this story; I certainly was convinced I did not understand Social Security English!

So I filed a waiver form, which was rejected by the local office.  I went in to appeal and was told by the case worker that it would cost her job to have approved it.  Mind you, you only needed to qualify on one criteria, I qualified on THREE!!

(There’s) Another piece to the story at this point:  I take anti-depressant drugs to remain functional and non-suicidal.  My Social Security was cancelled in August 2008.  So I no longer had blood pressure medicine, thyroid medicine or anti-depressants.  My income from working part-time is $600 per month.  So I could not afford any of my meds.

So as I struggled to fill out forms and comply, I was having mental fatigue, crying, and impaired mental function.  I had no idea there was an agency to advocate for people with disabilities.  I had gone to Legal Aid who had looked over my waiver appeal and then (sent) the appeal to a Social Security judge in Billings, MT.  That was as much as they could do for me.  Within two weeks, I received a reply that the judge had made his ruling and no trial was necessary.  The facts were self-evident: I qualified for a waiver of this $48,000.  The judgment gave 60 days for either side to appeal.

Meanwhile, I am trying to function at work and trying to pay my bills on $600, when I formerly had $1,000 from Social Security as well as my paycheck each month.  I was very depressed and contemplated suicide every day.  I considered burning myself to death in front of the Caldwell Social Security office.

In February 2009, I went into Social Security with the judgment in hand, grateful to know this ordeal was about to end.  I would get back on my meds, back on my Social Security, which I had had since 1993.  It had not been my plan to have three right hip surgeries since age 43.  It had not been my plan to have such severe depression that I couldn’t work as a social worker full-time anymore.

Social Security told me they were happy to put me back on the rolls.  By the way, they did not have a copy of the judge’s decision.  I brought a copy for them.  Then they stopped cold and told me I had been out of the system long enough (5 years because they had never informed in 2004 of the problem) so I would need to start a completely new application, which would take one and one half or two years.  At this point, I (am) truly despaired.  I made plans to place my dogs and kill myself.  I had no reason to hope things would work out.

I went to synagogue that Saturday, like always.  A friend, who is a psychotherapist, asked me after the service how things were going with Social Security.  I broke down crying.  He asked first, “Do you have any food in the house?”  I told him I did not.  He bought me groceries that day.  Second:  “I know an agency that deals with Social Security problems.  That is their specialty and they don’t charge for their services.  He connected me to DisAbility Rights Idaho.

I got CORRECT information and was told about forms I had never been told about.  They were totally on the ball and got me back on disability within 30 days.  They also told me about Workers with Disabilities Medicaid, which I had never heard of.  Idaho Health and Welfare had turned me down for Medicaid the two times I applied, never mentioning this federal program.

The caseworker was wonderful on a personal level.  I had to take these various documents to the Caldwell Social Security office.  I was so terrified even thinking about going there.  They had given me false information repeatedly or lack of information I needed.  She coaxed me with morning calls to encourage me to go.  She even offered to go with me if I couldn’t get a friend to accompany me.  That was above and beyond.  She understood that severe depression leaves you with no energy to fight battles on your own behalf.

So that is my MIRACLE story.  I was so impressed by DisAbility Rights Idaho that I refer all of my friends to them for help.  Now I am a fully functioning person (on her meds), contributing at a job, contributing at her synagogue, and happy to be alive once again.

Jo Ellen

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