Celebrating 20 Years – Bobby and Lisa
In the summer of 2019, Bobby and Lisa received a letter from the Social Security Administration (SSA), asking for information about Bobby’s income. Bobby had been receiving SSDI, Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, for more than 25 years, but was working part-time. Bobby has difficulty communicating due to the combined effects of a genetic disorder and a traumatic accident he experienced as a child. Bobby cannot read, write, or speak clearly, which has made maintaining employment difficult for most of his adult life. Bobby’s wife, Lisa, read the letter and sent back the income information requested by the SSA without a second thought.
However, right before Christmas that year, they got another letter from the SSA; this time, it said Bobby’s disability benefits would stop in January 2020. They were stunned.
Lisa and Bobby both worked but relied on Bobby’s disability benefits to keep them afloat. If anything were to happen to Bobby’s employment status, they understood it would be extremely difficult to find another employer that would offer him the disability-related accommodations that he received in his current job. Bobby’s co-workers and employers had adapted to the art of communicating with him, even without the ability to directly hold a conversation.
A few short months later, COVID hit, and Bobby and Lisa found themselves in an all-too-familiar position with no work, but this time, they had no disability income to support them. They reached out to the SSA, but they refused to re-evaluate their decision and kept telling him to “be patient.” Bobby’s employer—his first stable job in years—sent them to Legal Aid of WV.
At first review with Lisa, LAWV staffer Carmen provided her with a list of financial documentation needed to evaluate his case and pinpoint the cause of his benefits being stopped. Bobby was working full-time and making just enough money to no longer qualify—mostly due to pay period timeframes.
“All of a sudden, we got another letter from Social Security,” says Lisa. “When that came through, we learned we were facing a $32,000 overpayment charge. It was a scary time.”
Because of Bobby’s job, the SSA determined they had overpaid benefits to Bobby totaling $32,100, and they would need to pay back as soon as possible.
Lisa continued to explore ways to get help, but Bobby had had enough. He went to the local SSA office with a sticky-note of questions written by Lisa asking for help in understanding what was happening. With no income and now a large amount due, the response of “be patient” wasn’t enough. Without telling Lisa, he also went to the Legal Aid of WV office on his own to get some answers.
“My first encounter with Bobby was one of my most frustrating experiences as an advocate,” says Carmen, who is a paralegal for Legal Aid of WV. “I knew he was upset, but I had a hard time figuring out what he was trying to say.”
He came into the office, and Carmen talked with him. She patiently listened and could pick out a few words from Bobby’s speech but could not get the whole picture. After several minutes together, Carmen asked if he could return later that day with his wife to help facilitate a more productive conversation. Bobby agreed.
In reflecting on that meeting, Carmen recalled, “I remember saying before he left, ‘What’s wrong, Bobby? You mean you can’t just write a $32,000 check?’ He relaxed after that. He knew I understood, and the humor broke the tension.”
Carmen got to work on the case, but they faced delay after delay, largely due to COVID. It took months to even get the proper paperwork through to the remote worker handling the case. Through this process, Carmen was able to get Bobby’s employer’s perspective and a better understanding as to how he was able to perform the work despite his disability. The SSA re-calculated his income with a numeric deduction for the accommodations that Bobby received on the job.
After months of work, Carmen got word that Bobby would get his benefits back. Bobby and Lisa were ecstatic when they heard the news. Not only would his monthly check be reinstated, but the overpayment was also waived and the SSA would be repaying him a lump sum for benefits that he should have received during the months his case was being reviewed.
“It hasn’t been easy.” says Lisa. “There is a real stigma. People say Bobby’s working—and he is—but if he were to go anywhere else or if his workplace closed, he might not be able to find work again. When he tries to communicate, most people just turn away.”
Carmen was someone who was willing to work with Bobby.
“Working with these two—working with Bobby, has been one of my most rewarding experiences,” says Carmen. “I am proud that I was able to help him to resolve his benefits issue, but I have also really enjoyed working with them.”
Bobby and Lisa agree, and Lisa says love, community, and support is what has helped them be who they are.
“To come from what Bobby came from, it was like watching a caterpillar come out of a chrysalis,” says Lisa. “That’s how the Lord works. We feel like he brought us here to Legal Aid, and we need people to know they are here, and they are here to help.”