Rebecca Thompson is a 45-year-old recovering heroin addict with a long history of mental illness based in significant trauma. For many years she struggled to concentrate and work a full time job. And in addition to her mental health issues, Rebecca suffers from neuropathy in her limbs as well as hip and joint issues. As a result of the discomfort, she became addicted to painkillers and then later, heroin.
Then, Ms. Thompson’s daughter died in a house fire in 2013, which only compounded the situation. Ms. Thompson says, “I really lost it after my daughter’s death.” After this tragic event, Ms. Thompson descended into major depression. Unable to work or support herself, she made the decision to apply for social security disability benefits. With the help of the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York (LASNNY), Ms. Thompson’s request was granted. Consequently, these benefits have drastically improved her life in ways many of us take for granted.
Adam DeFayette, an attorney in LASNNY’s Plattsburgh office agreed to represent Ms. Thompson, but explained that though her case had merit, it was complicated by location. Essex County is an extremely rural county with very limited access to mental health treatment; the mental health clinicians that are available are generally carrying heavy caseloads and consequently burnt out. This was a significant factor in Ms. Thompson’s case because her treating therapist would not take the time to provide an opinion on the case. And without this supporting evidence, the case was much more vulnerable to denial.
But from the moment Mr. DeFayette met with his client, he knew the case had a solid chance. He says, “She seemed very kind and sincere. That’s important because I knew she’d eventually go in front of a judge and she needed to be believable.” Mr. DeFayette says that credibility is one of the things he looks for before taking on a client and Ms. Thompson readily passed the test.
Mr. DeFayette continues, “She had terrible things happen to her. She had major depression and other mental health issues. It just wasn’t in the cards for her to work 40 hours per week.” Despite limited resources in the North Country, Ms. Thompson was able to see a traveling doctor once per month for addiction counseling and a suboxone prescription. In addition to the suboxone, the doctor also provided psychotherapy and psychiatric medication. Mr. DeFayette worked to get Ms. Thompson’s medical records from this doctor and was ultimately able to speak with him on the phone.
Mr. DeFayette asked the doctor if he would provide an opinion in Ms. Thompson’s case and thankfully he agreed. The doctor came through with a detailed medical opinion, which is unusual in social security disability cases. Mr. DeFayette’s hard work paid off and the judge decided in Ms. Thompson’s favor. She ultimately received $12,900 in retroactive benefits.
Mr. DeFayette says, “While we were waiting for a decision, I thought about this case nearly every day, wondering if Ms. Thompson’s life would improve.” And thanks to a favorable judgment in 2019, her life did improve dramatically. Ms. Thompson was able to procure a better apartment and has been able to keep her three dogs, which she says are integral to her mental health. Mr. DeFayette says, “These little things that people take for granted were made possible because she received this benefit.”
Thanks to the hard work of Adam DeFayette in the Plattsburgh office and a well-timed letter from a sympathetic doctor, Ms. Thompson’s life has changed course for the better. As for LASNNY, Ms. Thompson is effusive with her praise. She says, “Adam was great throughout the whole process and LASNNY really helped pull the case together. I couldn’t have done it on my own.”