Jim’s Story

Nov 4, 2011 by

Social Security AdministrationI worked for a time as a certified credit counselor with a non-profit agency in Minnesota. Meeting daily with as many as five clients, I helped each put together a household budget and collected a full accounting of their debts. With this I could explain the pros and cons of the client’s options for getting out of debt.

I found the job rewarding and exhausting. Clients wept, couples clashed, and many felt embarrassment and shame. I assured clients that I had no interest in dredging up who should be blamed. I urged clients to focus on the current situation and the best course for the future, starting now.

Some of the stories were horrendous. One client–Jim–served in Special Forces during the Viet Nam war and undertook missions to rescue American POWs. He’d recently been diagnosed with Type A Parkinson’s. He used a cane, and clearly struggled with memory, speaking, and analysis. His wife–and now caretaker–accompanied him. Soon after diagnosis he left his job, no longer able to work. Because no private insurance company in the U.S. would voluntarily sell health insurance to a Parkinson’s victim, Jim had no choice but to continue his employer-provided insurance under COBRA. He paid $1,411 per month for health insurance. His out-of-pocket medical expenses that weren’t covered by his insurance averaged another $600/month. He was too young for Medicare or regular Social Security benefits, and his $20,000 savings–all he had left–meant no access to affordable help from a VA hospital. The Social Security Administration had turned down Jim’s application for disability benefits–twice. Jim hired a lawyer to pursue his claim. The typical timeline for getting a final judgment on a disability claim is two or three years. Meanwhile, Jim’s income was $0.

At the end of our session, Jim shakily stood and held out his hand. “Thanks for treating us like humans,” he said. I had the sense I was the first to do so since his hellish odyssey began, and in response to his gratitude I just looked at my shoes, in shame I guess, on behalf of our country’s various “systems.

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