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Lawyers: Success in Missouri disability benefits cases wanes

The percentage of successful disability cases aimed at reversing the denial or re-evaluation of benefits for the aged, blind or disabled has been consistently dropping for years, Legal Aid of Western Missouri said.

Data provided by the Missouri Department of Social Services shows that the success rate of cases has dropped from 54 percent in 2017 to 42 percent in 2018, according to the organization that provides free legal services in civil cases. It says the success rate dropped to less than 20 percent in the first four months of this year.

The Kansas City Star reported that more than 100,000 people have been dropped from the state Medicaid rolls in the past year. Medicaid is the state-funded program that provides health insurance for low-income families.

“We are all experiencing the same thing — it’s virtually impossible to win a disability case at this time,” said Jim Brightman, a Legal Aid attorney.

The Department of Social Services did not respond to emailed requests for comments or explanations.

Most of Legal Aid’s clients have to wait more than a year just for a case number, let alone a hearing before a judge, Brightman said.

“Where’s your due process if you have to wait over a year to have your case reviewed in circuit court?” he asked. Brightman said DSS has blamed staff shortages for the slow movement of appeals in circuit courts.

Legal Aid learned on Monday that one of its client’s — a woman who has suffered from a seizure disorder for 15 years — could keep the benefits that the state had wanted to discontinue. But before that, Legal Aid in Western Missouri hadn’t won back disability benefits for a client since April.

While the issue doesn’t affect as many people, those it does touch are among the states most vulnerable, Brightman said.

“These are people whose lives are not anything people would want to try,” he said, calling them lives that do not “provide for margin of error.”

The reasons for the decline in successful disability cases were not immediately transparent.

Brightman believes “misapplications of the law” is the leading cause, but also cited the recent turnover in middle management in the agency.