Terminally ill die while waiting for Social Security because of backlogs

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that backlogs at the Social Security Administration are so large that some terminally ill people die before they can collect benefits that are due to them–like this deceased Legal Aid client.

“One person who died waiting was Dexter E. Penny of District Heights, Md., who applied for disability benefits in February 2009 after being diagnosed with colon cancer,” the article said. “His initial application was denied. Then his first appeal was denied on the grounds that he didn’t provide enough medical records.

“Mr. Penny, a mason, approached the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau for help a year after his first application. He couldn’t understand why terminal cancer wouldn’t qualify him for benefits, says his sister, Diane Penny.

Kate Lang, his lawyer, called four hospitals seeking additional records. Mr. Penny’s condition worsened. By September 2010, he was told he had stage-four cancer. Mr. Penny, 50 years old, was nearly broke and dying in the hospital and the agency wanted more accurate documentation to determine whether he was able to work, according to his sister.

“On Dec. 15, 2010, the agency informed him by letter that he had been granted benefits. Mr. Penny had died nine days earlier. The letter arrived the day of his funeral. On Jan. 31, the government sent him another letter saying his benefits had been revoked because he hadn’t responded to the agency’s questions in a timely manner.”

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