On November 21, 2018, the day before Thanksgiving, the mail arrived just as the AIDS Law Project was closing for the holiday. In that day’s mail was a letter from the Social Security Administration (SSA) informing us that our client had won his appeal and was entitled to continued disability payments.
The client’s disability benefits had been terminated in September 2017, after a continuing disability review. He began receiving benefits in 2006, when the SSA determined him to be disabled by HIV according to its criteria.
For decades, the SSA didn’t ask people disabled by HIV to complete a continuing disability review because they were not expected to improve.
In 2017, the SSA changed the policy to reflect the advances in HIV treatment and began to require people with HIV to prove that they were still disabled.
As a result, many people who had benefits for a decade or more – like our client – were suddenly undergoing continuing disability reviews. Our client was terminated because his HIV was now stable and his viral count was undetectable.
He filed an appeal and contacted us.
Our first step was to make sure that his benefits continued uninterrupted. We then reviewed his SSA file, which listed HIV as his sole impairment, even though the client had psychiatric hospitalizations, ongoing mental health treatment, and a traumatic brain injury that left him unable to read or write.
We submitted medical records for him and attended a hearing in July 2018. After the hearing, we continued to follow up with the hearing officer, updating him on the client’s current treatments.
The hard work paid off. We were delighted to call the client to tell him the good news that came in the mail. As Thanksgiving approached, he wept with gratitude and relief that his only source of income would continue.