By Ceilidh Gao ’13
My Bureau moment happened in my first year, when I won disability benefits for my client James*. James had a history of severe physical and emotional abuse throughout his childhood. As a result, he suffered from debilitating mental health issues including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. James had also been a manual laborer during his youth and injured his back such that he was now in chronic severe pain. His disabilities left him totally unable to work.
When we met, James was seeking disability benefits at a turning point in his life: he was trying to reenter society after a period of incarceration, struggling to remain drug free andsober and hoping to move towards independence, but the odds were against him. He had no income, no social supports, and was homeless, moving around from shelter to shelter every few days without any stability. I advocated for James at his administrative hearing for disability benefits: we won him benefits going forward and a backpay amount of over $20,000.
Working with folks seeking disability benefits — some of the most marginalized folks we see — can be challenging. Folks traumatized by abuse, deep in depression, or simply without a phone or fixed address are understandably hard to work with. But knowing that I helped James in his first step towards independence — a little bit of income, a chance to get on housing lists and a step towards stability — was one of my most rewarding moments at the Bureau.