The SSI Disability Blues


by Jean E. Taddie

        Ken B. nervously opened the letter from his lawyer. Ken had been anxiously awaiting a decision on his third appeal for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. He hoped that the letter would bring news of a positive judgment from the administrative law judge who heard his case.

        Ken suffered a serious brain injury in June, 1976, that destroyed one-third of his brain, including half of his temporal lobe. Ken is blind in his left eye and deaf in his left ear. He experiences grand-mal and petite-mal seizures and was diagnosed with epilepsy in 1977. He also experiences pressure in his eyes that was diagnosed as glaucoma in 1988.

        Ken first tried to obtain SSI benefits in 1977. He was denied SSI benefits and was told that he was able to work. So for the next eight years, Ken tried a number of maintenance, groundskeeping, and other jobs to try to support himself. "It was hard to keep a job. If employers found out I had epilepsy, or saw me have a seizure, I got fired.

        I had one incident where I went into a seizure at work that spun me around. I slammed right into a steel support beam and was knocked out." Ken explained that after a grand-mal it takes him at least three days to recover from its effects. This recovery time has also caused him to miss a lot of work.

        While driving four years ago, Ken experienced a grand-mal seizure that made him pass out behind the wheel. "When I came to, there was blood everywhere and my car was wrecked. I realized that I had just hit five vehicles parked along the road. Thank God no one was hurt but me. That's the day I gave up my driver's license."

        For the last two years, Ken has been scraping by on Medicaid, food stamps, rent assistance and a $118 monthly Disability Assistance (DA) check to cover utilities and living expenses. Ken's lawyer advised him that the best he could hope for would be about $450 a month from SSI. He is not optimistic about the outcome of his third appeal since his original denial in 1977.

Ken explained, "I got so mad sitting in this latest hearing. The federal work specialist said I would be qualified to work as a janitor or receptionist. They forget that I have 2-dimensional vision and can't even climb stairs, let alone clean them. Or how would a company like it if their receptionist had convulsive seizures in front of their clients?"

        Ken's letter from his lawyer was just more depressing news. "The judge told me that I would have a yes or no decision to my appeal within 60 days. Well it's been 45 days and now this letter says that I have to go for more complete evaluations. I'm just tired of this runaround."


Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Issue 23 October 1997