Martin was a trim, non-smoking, 40 year old man who had never been to a Doctor for more than a routine check-up his entire adult life. He ate right, he got plenty of exercise at his job as a construction Welder. If you were to do a heart attack risk assessment on him and 100 other people, he would be the last you would have been concerned about. Yet, he suffered a near fatal massive heart attack. Before Sherrie reached the hospital, he suffered a second, lesser, heart attack. By the time she finally arrived, Martin was already undergoing a bypass surgery. After he was placed into the Cardiac Care Unit’s intensive care ward, Martin suffered a stroke, and was rushed back into surgery for the placement of 2 stints to open other blockages. He was hospitalized for a total of 4 and a half weeks, and his final prognosis was bleak. Martin’s heart had suffered major damage, and was now only functioning at roughly 30% of it’s original ability. The stroke had also caused nerve damage to the left side of his body, and the Specialist said it was anyone’s guess on what time and therapy might be able to restore. Some stroke victims respond well and regain full or near full use of their damaged and effected areas, others do not. Martin, like the other estimated 8 million 35 to 45 year old males in our Country, had undiagnosed coronary artery disease.
Martin was the sole breadwinner for the family. He and Sherrie have five children, and she was a stay-at-Mom. They had a house payment to make, automobile payments to make, utility bills and household expenses – not to mention a whopping $232,000.00 in new medical bills! Due to a lapse in Martin’s insurance coverage through his job, he had been uninsured at the time of the heart attack. He now required expensive prescription medications, and they had no coverage for that either. At first, he actually felt as if he should have died, because he did have a life insurance policy that was in effect. Had Martin died, his family would have been provided for. Having survived, he didn’t think there would be any way they could manage financially with him unable to work. Sherrie was scared, but she knew there had to be a way. They couldn’t possibly be the first family that something like this had happened to. There simply had to be programs in place to aid families in this position. All they had to do was find them! The hospital supplied Martin with enough medication for 3 months in order to buy them time to appeal to several Pharmaceutical companies for help. They immediately applied Public Assistance, Medicare and Medicaid to help cover Martin’s medical expenses and provide medical coverage for the children, and contacted the Social Security Administration for an application so Martin could file for SSDI Benefits. They were completely unprepared for how slow these processes can be. They needed help today, not in a week, month – or year.
It seemed the wheels were all turning painfully too slow. To survive, choices had to be made. At the time, they had 2 near new automobiles, one was financed and one was not. They sold the one they owned to pay off the one that was financed. With no income, they had no way of making the payments. They then sold Martin’s boat to raise enough cash to purchase a dependable, but very old, used car. They were able to drop the full coverage insurance they’d been paying on the financed automobile, and place a very affordable liability and compensation policy on the used car. They used their meager savings for the first few months to make their house payments, but knew this would be a loosing battle. The debt was too big, the savings account too small. Reluctantly, they placed their home on the market, and began to look for a cheaper form of shelter. The house sold quickly at the fire sale price they’d listed it at, they were able to pay off the note and walk away with $10,000.00. They knew rent would deplete this small amount in a hurry, they had to find something to buy, and fast! Sherrie happened upon a classified ad in the local paper, “Land for sale, undeveloped, wooded, 25 acre tracts, Installment Land Contract sale, $500 down payment.” She called immediately and literally bought the land, sight unseen! They had to put $500 down, and the terms were iron clad. The payments would start the following month at $102.50 per month, and commence there forth until the full price of $10,000 at 10% interest had been satisfied. They felt they could swing this, $102.50 land payment – even if they had to sell furniture to do it!
Next, they had to get the land developed at least to the point that it could be accessed, have utilities hooked up, and a mobile home set. This was a matter of a few Easements, a plastic septic tank, a bull dozier, a culvert, 750 feet of PVC pipe, two truck loads of gravel, and a few calls to the power and water company. When it was said and done, they were down to around $3,000.00 and still had nothing to live in. They seriously considered financing a mobile home, but with no income, and no determination yet from Social Security on Martin’s eligibility for SSDI Benefits – it was too big a risk to take. The only choice that seemed logical at the time and at that stage in the game, was to try to find a used mobile home they could purchase and pay for in full. After some extensive searching, Sherrie finally found one in very poor condition for $1,800.00. They hired a mover to bring it to their land and set it up for an additional $800.00. That left them with roughly $400 to survive on until Sherrie could find work. It would be hard – but they knew they simply had to make it work, they were completely out of other options.
Mercifully, summer had came by this time and the children were out of school. Sherrie went to work as a Waitress, and the children all pitched in at home and worked tirelessly to whip the old trailer into livable shape. Martin was unable to help, but he was there to offer his advice and guidance. The children followed his direction, and in no time, the old trailer started to feel like home! Sherrie’s income made the land payment, and paid the insurance on the old car. Things were starting to look up. Then disappointment came in the form of a denial letter from the Social Security Administration. How could this be? Martin’s heart was functioning at only 30% of it’s original ability – how in the world could he possibly work? Were they insane? The entire family was simply devastated. But when Sherrie related this new development to one of her customers at the Diner, who she knew was on disability, she assured Sherrie that practically everyone is denied the first time they apply. It’s sort of an unspoken rule, meant to “weed out” those who could return to work, but just don’t want to. By making the process longer and more complicated, perhaps they think the able will give up and find a job? She suggested Sherrie consult a Disability Lawyer, and gave Sherrie a number to call.
The process of challenging the decision was tedious, complicated by miles of red tape, and at times – almost ridiculous. But in the end, a Judge overturned the decision made by the Social Security Administration and ruled that Martin was permanently disabled, and entitled to his full SSDI Benefits! It had taken almost 2 years from his denial until the Judge overturned that decision, so he was entitled to all that back benefit amount as well. The Lawyer took a certain percentage of this for his services, but the family were still left with enough to purchase a much better automobile. With the new income, they were also able to easily afford the land payment and finance a newer mobile home and begin payments. Over the years they improved the land, developed more of it, and eventually Sherrie was even able to quit work and stay at home again. The children all grew up, and have now moved on to start their own lives and families. Times were hard, and hard choices were made. But they survived as a family, by pulling together. Their journey started 14 years ago, and they continue to live on their land to this day. What at first seemed like the end of the of the world as Martin knew it, has turned out to be only the beginning.
If you suddenly find youself in a situation similar to Martin’s, the first thing you should do is contact your local Department Of Human Services (found in most telephone directories under County Government) and request a copy of their applications for Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps (and in States that offer it) Emergency Cash Assistance. There are many States and agencies with their applications on-line, you can view one from North Carolina here: http://www.ssa.gov/applyforbenefits/, be sure to check and see if your state offers an on-line application.
Next, you should contact the Social Security Administration and request an application for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. You may also visit their web site at: http://www.ssa.gov/ and fill your application out on their web site.
You should also contact your child(ren)’s school and request an application for free or reduced price school breakfast and lunch programs.