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Challenges Faced By The Newly Disabled

Every individual’s disability is very personal to them. Although, there are many similar challenges the newly disabled must face regardless of the nature of their distinctive disability. Several of the common issues faced by our clients our set forth below. It is unfortunate that we are unable to offer more solutions. By pointing out these situations in advance, we hope to help others to understand that such problems are suffered by many others and can be overcome. It is only little solace, but, then again, just understanding that you are far from alone and the problems you are facing are really not uncommon can be helpful.

Mounting Debts Debt Collectors Bankruptcy Access to Medical Care Tedium Loss of Self-Esteem Relationships With Others

Mounting Debts
Most of our clients have spent the majority of their lives working to get ahead. They have worked hard, paid their bills and kept their credit intact. Unfortunately, most of our clients to not have substantial savings on which to fall back on should disability strike. As we are all well aware, housing prices are based on a two income structure. If one household earner becomes disabled, it becomes incredibly difficulty to pay household expenses. Where the sole wage earner becomes disabled, the effect is devastating.

This is the time when you find out that all the previously nice companies willing to extend you credit time and again have now turned hard-hearted and will not allow any payment accommodation due to your disability.

We are often asked what programs there are to assist the disabled while they are engaged in the lengthy wait to get their disability benefits. The sad truth is that there is little assistance out there. There is only state-based welfare programs, charitable organizations, and your family and friends. As you will soon learn, even when you do receive Social Security benefits finally, the amount is not such that you can afford to pay a house mortgage. The system was designed to be a supplement only which is unfortunate for the younger disabled who did not have sufficient work years to save money. It is very common for they younger (of sole earner) disabled to lose the homes they worked so hard to obtain. Even in the best humor intended, the best we can say is to “beg, borrow or steal” whatever possible to survive while you are waiting to receive your benefits.

We get asked if the law firm lends money to clients while they are waiting for benefits. Our answer is: “We are Elkind & Shea, Attorneys at Law, not Bank & Trust.” It is not up to us as the ethical codes do not permit lawyers to have a direct economic interest in their cases, limiting their ability to pay for case related expenses only.

In the end, most of our clients will suffer from reduced credit ratings as such ratings are based on an individual’s ability to earn and spend through use of credit. Once your income is reduced, your spending power is reduced. This, in turn, lowers your credit rating over time. If you are unable to pay bills, your credit rating will fall precipitously. Disabled persons with higher earning spouses are very fortunate as they may be able to save their credit due to the consistent income stream provided.

Debt Collectors
Nothing irks our clients more than persistent and aggressive debt collectors. There are many businesses which are in the debt market. These business buy consumer debts from the credit industry for pennies of the dollar in hope of collecting more than they have spent in purchasing the debts. Their collectors are paid, in part, on what payments they can wring out of debtors. This leads to unscrupulous behavior and practices when pursuing debt collection.

If you tell these aggressive collectors that you are seeking disability, they will have no mercy. They just want their money. They do not care about your problems. Do not be surprised when they will stoop to any level in their behavior in trying to get money from you.

Too few people are aware of their consumer rights concerning debt collection practices. Here is a list of the protections offered to you:

  • Debt collectors may not contact you at inconvenient times, such as before 8:00 AM or after 9:00 PM.
  • Debt collectors may not use any of the following:
    • Obscene language
    • Threats of violence
    • Threats of harm
    • Attempts to falsely imply that you have committed a crime or are subject to arrest if you do not pay your debt
    • Falsely represent themselves as attorneys or working for an attorney’s office
    • Falsely threaten legal action unless it is actually intended
  • Debt collectors cannot contact anyone other than the debtor more than once, and then only to find out how to reach you
  • Debt collectors are not allowed to tell others that you owe money
  • Once you are contacted by a debt collector, they have 5 days to send you written notification informing you of the amount you owe and to which creditor the money is due
  • After receiving written notification from a debt collector, you have 30 days to file a written response if you do not owe the money
  • After you have filed a written response, a debt collector may only contact you again to provide proof of debt (usually a copy of a charge or bill) or to notify you that a specific action is being taken(usually filing of a complaint for debt in court)
  • Debt collectors cannot contact anyone other than the debtor more than once, and then only to find out how to reach you
  • Debt collectors are not allowed to tell others that you owe money
  • Once you are contacted by a debt collector, they have 5 days to send you written notification informing you of the amount you owe and to which creditor the money is due
  • After receiving written notification from a debt collector, you have 30 days to file a written response if you do not owe the money
  • After you have filed a written response, a debt collector may only contact you again to provide proof of debt (usually a copy of a charge or bill) or to notify you that a specific action is being taken(usually filing of a complaint for debt in court)
You should report violators to the following organizations: Federal Trade Commission, States Attorney Office and the Better Business Bureau.

Our advice to handling debt collectors has worked well for our clients over the years. If you do not have the money to pay, then do not engage in any conversations with debt collectors. Really, just hang the phone up. Do not worry if it is rude. Many of our clients will use answering machines or voice mail services to screen calls. There is even one voice mail service which will allow you to ring the call recipient directly if you have a pass code. All of this is really not necessary. The best approach is the direct approach. Just tell the collectors that you do not have the money and you will not have any money until you get your benefits. End of conversation. No negotiation. If they do not like that ---- too bad. Harassing you will not change the situation. In the end, it comes down to your own well being, not theirs.

If you are served with a summons and lawsuit for collection of a debt, please make sure to read it carefully to make sure it is accurate. If you do not have money for payment, there is no use in showing up in court to state that fact. Most collection actions end up in default judgments. The case is whether you owe money and whether you have refused to pay the debt. The reason for nonpayment is irrelevant. Therefore, if you do not have a real defense such as a defective complaint with an debt you do not owe or an incorrect amount, your trip to court will be a waste of time where you will be subjected to the debt collector’s attorney.

Remember, you cannot get blood from a stone. If you do not have the money or any other substantial assets, there is little a debt collector can do other than report your debt to credit reporting agencies. This is spiteful, but perfectly legal. You do not have to subject yourself to their abuse or threats. Again, just hang up the phone.

Always make sure to verify the statute of limitations in your state for debt collection. If a debt collector is trying to get you to pay an old debt, you should verify if this collection action is too late. If you make even a partial payment, you may revive the debt and be responsible for the entire amount rather than being relieved of the debt by the creditor taking too long to seek collection.

In the end, you may need to file bankruptcy when you become disabled as the amount of bills which mount may be more than your limited disability back payments can afford. The sad fact is that 9 out of 10 bankruptcies include medical debt. When you are disabled, medical bills come with the territory.

Bankruptcy should be regarded as only a set back as credit can be rebuilt easily and quickly. There is an incorrect popular belief that a bankruptcy means bad credit for 7 years. This is wrong. A bankruptcy will remain on your credit record for 7 years. You can rebuild good credit immediately following the bankruptcy and do so readily as long as pay your bills timely. You will just need to learn to live within your means.

Access to Medical Care
When people become disabled they usually cease being able to work. When they stop working, they stop receiving work-related benefits such as health care. Even when extension of health benefits are available through COBRA, many people are unable to afford the full cost of their contribution to a group health plan and will lose their health coverage.

Again, there are few things which can be done to assist those waiting for disability benefits in gaining access to health care. As before, you will be limited to your state department of health and human services to receive Medicaid assistance which will provide limited treatment and even more limited choice of treatment providers. There are some charitable organizations which will assist with access to health care. Many times, the medical debts will just be incurred and increase during the waiting process. Even more problematic is the money needed to purchase prescription drugs which are very expensive when you are not covered by a health plan with large purchasing power.

Medical treatment is not considered a case-related expense under the ethical code, so our firm is not permitted to lend money to assist for this purpose.

You always said there were so many things you wanted to do when you had the time. Once you become disabled, it becomes difficult to achieve your daily routine. Your physical or mental impairments will prevent you from accomplishing anything in the efficient manner you once did, let alone do any exotic activities you had planned.

You always said how much you wish you did not have to work and would just like to have time to relax. You will regret ever saying, let alone thinking, such a thing. As you will soon discover, the workplace provided you with meaning for your life. The structure of preparing for the workday, accomplishing your day’s work, then coming home seemed like a “grind” until you do not have it anymore. Then, all of a sudden, you have nothing to fill up your day. The days become longer as you do not have work activity to fill them. The nights become even longer as your sleep structure is often interrupted due to physical/mental impairments in addition to the absence of being tired from your day’s work. You will find that you will not sleep well (unless drug-induced) and will have interrupted sleep. This will include night awakenings and napping with increasing frequency.

Then, one day, you finally make a statement that will amaze even you. You actually miss the workplace. No matter how bad the bosses, fellow employees, or job were, you were kept busy. Often times, people say life is short. This is not true. If you remain healthy, life can be rather long. If you become disabled, it will seem longer than you can believe as time passes much slower when you become inactive.

To assist with this, we have some excellent advice. It is simple to give the advice, but it is hard for clients to follow. You need to work hard at creating structure in your life. You need to make efforts to make sure you get out of bed at a certain time each morning. You will need to watch your caloric intake carefully as you will become less active and are prone to gaining large amounts of weight quickly if you are not careful. You are no longer in the workplace which filled your day with activity and will have far too much access to food throughout the day.

You need to develop a daily regimen of exercise and mental stimulation. When you suffer from physical disability, exercise can be difficult. I always recommend going to the local swim center and doing exercise in the water, whether water aerobics or swimming. Often, my clients feel ashamed as they are younger than the more elderly crowd which attends such exercise sessions. GET OVER IT. These older folks are there for the same reason: to remain active, make their bodies move, burn calories, and feel alive. Jump in, participate, and, perhaps, make some new friends. You may find out that many of these folks are very interesting and really enjoy interacting with younger people. Your disability is of little consequence since many of them have similar problems. They are just too old to have the term “disabled” placed upon them as they are no longer considered to be of appropriate working age.

Make time for daily walks. Note that this is plural. You need to keep moving, even if it is for only short distances. You need to do so on multiple occasions each day. With time and maintained health, you will be able to tolerate longer distances. Make sure to push yourself each day to a small extent. Do not overdue it as you will pay for it afterwards, which will cause you to decondition further and have to begin the process of building your exercise tolerance all over again.

It is equally important to keep your mind active. Try to take time to do things you enjoy and do not let the television become your only friend. Make sure to read at least a newspaper or a portion of a book every day. If you do not have a hobby, it is a great time to start one...you finally have the time. Many hobbies are cheap to pursue and can keep you busy for long stretches of time. Further, sharing your hobbies with family, friends, or other enthusiasts can bring you a great sense of satisfaction.

Our firm joke about our clients is that due to their conditions, medications, or loss of mental regimen is that they all begin to suffer from CRS (Can’t Remember Sh*t). We know they can’t help it and do our best to remind clients of important matters as their case progresses. In your regular life, you will need to learn to keep lists and a calendar, even if you never had to in the past. As you will find, the lack of mental stimulation will result in a slow, but steady diminution of your previous mental abilities.

This all sounds simple in theory. In practice, it will take extraordinary discipline. Over the years, you became very accustomed to the enforced structure of the workweek which reduced your free time enormously. Now, that most of your time is free time, the lack of structure can become your enemy. So, make sure to make lists of things you need to do and keep your schedule. Although you may have become disabled from work, it does not mean you are unable to do many other things. In the end, there are fewer limits than you may have thought. We can only encourage you to try your best and find other meaning in your life other than that provided by work.

Loss of Self-Esteem
Every person differs to some extent, but we define a lot of ourselves by the work we do. For persons who worked many years to obtain their job status, the personal investment in their job can be immense. For this reason, professionals have the worst time when they are struck with disability as it took so long to achieve their status. For others, the effort to climb the proverbial “ladder” only to lose what was achieved as a result of a disability can be devastating.

Once people have lost the job they have worked for years due to disability, they all find out the worst thing about their new state: IT IS BORING!!!!!

As stated above, this is why it is so terribly important that you create a new regimen for yourself to occupy your time. Just because you are disabled, it does not mean that you cannot be busy. Obviously, you are more limited than before, but you will need to make the most of your time as your health condition allows.

Many disabled persons feel a sense of shame due to their state of being. We tell our clients: “You have not achieved such greatness, but have had such greatness thrust upon you.” It was not your choice to become disabled. Though, it is your choice whether to give into depressive attitudes and thinking culminating in removing yourself from society just to avoid having to tell anyone you have problems. There are hundreds of thousands of disabled persons, many just like you. For this reason, you need to get out and interact with the world. The television should not be your best friend.

Open any newspaper and it will list many free activities which will stimulate your mind and keep you active. You will have the opportunity to meet new people and be exposed to new ideas that you never would experience if you were still working.

If you believe your condition is overwhelming you (or, in most cases, it is pointed out to you by family and/or friends) you should seek counseling. We always recommend taking part in support groups with persons suffering from the same disability. Misery loves company. You will find out from others that there are solutions to the many of the problems you are experiencing which are readily available from similar sufferers.

Whatever you do, try not to lose your sense of humor, especially about yourself. Our funniest clients are the ones who find humor in their disability and have fun expressing it. As you may find out, self-deprecation is a very humbling and appealing trait. Everyone appreciates honesty laced with humor.

Relationships With Others
Now that you are disabled you will have to confront the fact that you will become more isolated from those you once associated with regularly. Most of your friends are working all day and are busy running around on personal or family errands and activities in the evening and weekends. Although you have more free time does not mean that they do. Unfortunately, a sad statement about people is that once you do not have a useful purpose for their lives, you may no longer be wanted as a friend. This is when you learn who your real friends are. The number may be far fewer than you imagine.(hopefully not)

The effects on your family can be severe. Many disabled people will be divorced from their spouses. When the other spouse no longer is contributing to the household, the put-upon spouse often becomes resentful and exits the relationship. Our unfortunate statement about this phenomenon is: “The wedding vow said ‘for better or worse’ not ‘for better and better’” (Don’t get us started about the “in sickness and in health” agreement!).

Families have our permission to treat us badly. Face it, you put up with statements from your family that you would not tolerate from others for an instant. Some of this can be constructive as your family will alert you to when you are becoming too needy. The best you can do is explain your situation and hope for understanding. Whatever you do, try to keep you temper in check as your anger over other issues surrounding your disability can easily spill over and be taken out on those who you need the most.

Always try to do as much as you can. Make sure to participate in family events. Try not to burden others as much as possible. And, again, try to maintain your sense of humor in life and see it for all of its absurdities.

It is very important for you not to let your disability take over your entire life. You are a person with a disability, not vice-versa. You still have the ability to contribute in other ways and must find ways to enable yourself to do so.

When you allow yourself to become inactive, you will find out that you become miserable. Your body becomes deconditioned and will not move as it once did. Your mind will become confused, lacking the previous clarity which allowed you to do things much easier. These may also be accompanied by depression (profound at times) as you may start to feel sorry for yourself. This can only happen with your permission. If you keep active in mind and body, you will find that time passes much quicker. There is much to do, see, and experience. Do not let your disability stop you from enjoying a full life even if it is not the life you wanted.
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