Disability Benefits: A Second Chance for Some

By Mary Alice Novak

Chicago, Illinois. Maureen Pearson, a native of Waukegan, Illinois, needs a second chance, and she got it in the form of financial help from Social Security and rehabilitative help from the Gateway Foundation. Not many people get a second chance. We all make decisions, good and bad which follow us through our entire life.

Maureen’s life took a wrong turn some 25 years ago, as she stood on the threshold of adulthood. Seduced by Heroin, she fell in love with the drug, and it controlled her life for over two decades. In addition, Maureen abused alcohol.

 By July 1991, Maureen was in serious trouble. A heavy user of drugs and alcohol, she was not enjoying them as she had in the past. In fact, she was miserable. The drugs had taken a physical toll, and she looked nearly 20 years older than her age. Her family, although supportive, was losing patience with her. As is true for many drug users, she had run into difficulties with the law. In addition, the many years of drug abuse had made her unfit for employment.

 At this low point in her life, a friend suggested that Maureen contact the Waukegan Social Security office to file an application for disability benefits. By November, her claim was approved, and her first check arrived.

However, Maureen did not get any of the Social Security money. Social Security decided that it would not be in Maureen’s best interest for her to receive her own checks, and instead paid Maureen’s money to her mother, Olivia Byson. Mrs. Byson made sure the money was used for rent, utilities, food, and rehabilitation---instead of drugs. “At first I resented it that Social Security would not send my own money directly to me, But, in looking back, I’m really glad that the money went to my mother, because I know that I would have definitely spent the money on drugs instead of paying the rent,” Maureen admits.

 After the death of Maureen’s mother in 1992, Social Security appointed Maureen’s aunt, Ellen Hammons, to take over the responsibility of managing Maureen’s Social Security money.

 It was Maureen’s probation Officer, Robin Potts, who referred Maureen to Gateway Foundation for rehabilitation. Maureen tried several short-term drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs in the past, but had always relapsed. She needed the longer and more intensive program that Gateway provided.

 At first, Maureen was reluctant to go to Gateway because of its reputation for strictness. Gateway nearly rejected her for missing her two appointments, but Assistant Director Linard Stroud, gave Maureen a third Chance, and nine months later Maureen successfully completed the program.

 In fact, Mr. Stroud was so impressed with Maureen’s recovery that he hired her to work for Gateway as a client advocate. Maureen loves her new job and looks forward to going to work every morning. Gateway is equally pleased with Maureen’s work.

Maureen’s last Social Security check was June,1994. You see, when a disabled person returns to work, Social Security continues payments for a year. This is a “safety net” to make sure that the disabled person is going to be able to keep working. If a disabled person is still working at the end of a year, the Social Security payments are stopped. However, during the next three years, the disabled person can have his/ her benefits re-instated if the job does not work out, Medicare coverage continues during this three year period.

Today Maureen is happy with her second chance at life. Drug free for the past 2 years, the attractive woman now looks younger than her age. She has a positive outlook for her future. She still takes it “One day at a time” and attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings weekly.

 Maureen feels that she was able to seize her second chance because of her supportive family, the Gateway program, and Social Security benefits. “The financial help from Social Security was crucial to my recovery. It helped me to finance my rehabilitation and enabled me to move away from the lifestyle and the acquaintances that kept me tied to drugs.

 “There is no question that without Social Security’s help during the past two critical years, I’d still be doing drugs. Now that I am working, I no longer need Social Security benefits, but I will always be grateful that t was there for me when I truly needed a second chance.”

Editor’s Note: Social Security’s toll—free number is available on the internet for answers to questions about disability benefits.

Copyright NEOCH for the Homeless Grapevine Sept – Dec. 1994  Issue 7