For all the good that Social Security Disability programs have done and continue to do for disabled persons and Oregon and nationwide, few people would argue that either the programs or the system used to implement them are without serious flaws.
In fact, it’s no secret that big changes are needed simply to keep the Social Security Administration’s disability benefits programs financially solvent for the foreseeable future — let alone fix deeper problems involving the system’s rules, definitions or claims and appeals process. Yet one woman, a cancer survivor who now understands the problems inherent in the SSA’s disability system better than she ever imagined, is fighting to do exactly that.
Julia Schaefer, an Ohio resident, was diagnosed with a rare type of liver cancer called fibrolamella at the age of 39. Until that moment, Ms. Schaefer had what most people would consider a fairly “normal” life. She was a married, stay-at-home mom with a comfortable home, a 10-year-old son and a newly adopted infant. During the course of her battle with cancer over the next few years, however, her marriage disintegrated. She also lost her home and custody of her adopted son too.
Despite those losses, Ms. Schaefer refused to give up her fight and eventually regained enough health to return to college for a teaching certificate and begin working. After three years of teaching children with learning disabilities, the cancer came back and forced her to give that position up.
Since then, her health and employment history have been unsteady to say the least. Two years ago, however, she received good news of sorts when the SSA approved her claim for disability benefits following a surgical procedure that left her reliant on a permanent feeding tube for nutritional intake.
More recently, she has turned that same fierce determination that enabled her to beat the odds with her cancer over the last 12 years toward a different goal — making the SSA’s disability benefits programs fairer to and better for everyone.
In our next post, we’ll talk about two of the important changes Ms. Schaefer hopes to see made.
Source: Dayton Daily News, “Cancer survivor advocate for disability rights of all,” Susan Dalzell, May 2, 2012