Bill Emmons still hopes that someday, he too will win his appeal.
Emmons used to earn a living as a car salesman, but became an Uber driver due to his medical condition.
In the last few month, Emmons had to stop working completely as doctors told him his neuropathy, a condition that causes numbness and weakness in the nerves of his hands and feet, was now too severe for him to drive.
Bill Emmons applied for a hearing for his disability case in November. The hearing is not yet scheduled.
“My life was totally different, but it went downhill from the time I started getting injured and sick and it’s just gotten worse,” Emmons said.
Nerve damage in his hands and feet have left the 61-year-old without an ability to earn a living. But in November, he received a letter from the Social Security Administration that told him he should go back to selling cars.
Bill Emmons recieved this letter, stating he would not recieve disability benefits.
“According to my doctors and specialists I’m too disabled to work, but according to the state I’m not disabled enough.”
He promptly filed for an appeal, but without any means of earning money, he quickly ran out and was unable to pay the rent on the lot for his trailer.
“I lost my home, I was put in a situation where I had to sell it,” Emmons said. “Each week I am waiting to find out if I am able to get disability or not, and those days never come.”
Emmons is now living in his daughter’s basement, but says it’s only a temporary situation.
Dale Casares, a Colorado attorney who has recently began to take on more disability cases says she has seen several clients lose their homes while waiting on a disability decision.
Dale Casares, Colorado disability law attorney
“I have a few clients who are in shelters and most clients can, for some time, get by with couch surfing with family and friends but that only lasts so long,” Casares said. “They are going homeless because it is taking so long for them to get a hearing date in front of the judge.”
In 2016, the Social Security Administration developed a plan that included hiring 250 additional administrative law judges and corresponding staff each year through 2018 --- or about 750 additional staff to tackle the backlog of cases.
However, hiring freezes across the federal government slowed that process down.
No one with the Social Security Administration agreed to interview with 9NEWS, but in an email, spokeswoman Cindy Malone said, “Reducing the wait times for a hearing decision is of utmost importance to the Social Security Administration.”
“For several years in a row, the agency received a record number of hearing requests, due primarily to the aging of the baby boomers as they entered their disability-prone years. We also received an increase in applications during the economic recession and its aftermath. During this time, our resources to address disability claims did not keep pace with the increase in applications and backlogs grew. Primarily for these reasons, wait times for a hearing and the number of pending hearings began to rise,” the email read, in part.
Each stage of applying for disability takes months. For Steve Burns, the case took nearly three years from the time Keeley applied for benefits until the day they received the back pay.
“That was one of the most surprising parts – that it took so long to get this hearing. We were waiting for an incredible amount of time,” Keeley said. “Months in the hospital, medical bills, things of that nature – certainly (the money) would have been helpful to us.”
“We finally had a hearing. Then the judge kind of looked at this and said I don’t see why this got denied,” Steve said. “It was probably a few months after that I got paid… It was almost 3 years after I got hurt that I got paid.”
Unable to work and denied disability, Bill Emmons had to give up his home and move into the basement at his daughter's house.
Bill Emmons said he’s terrified of a multi-month, or even year long wait. After receiving the rejection letter in November, he filed for an appeal, but there has been no movement on the case.
“I feel like I am a file on a pile and everyone just keeps skipping my file,” Emmons said. “Just trying to make it through another day without hope – in the last couple months, I lost that hope.”
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