The Future of Mental Health Institutions

Peter Nielsen photoThe Future of Mental Health Institutions

By: Peter Nielsen, Spring 2018 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Student Intern

The most recent round of school shootings once again has the topic of mental health featured in headlines across the country. Although both state and federal governments provide a variety of mental health programs, there is one end of the spectrum of mental health treatment that has been almost completely abandoned in America. The largely forgotten and most intensive area of mental health care is inpatient hospitals. Continue reading

What to Be Aware Of When the Social Security Administration Awards Your Client Back Pay

Scott Robertson photo

By: Scott Robertson, Spring 2018 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Student Intern

Social Security disability claims can take a long time to process.  Thus, in a lot of cases where a client is awarded Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits based upon disability, the Administrative Law Judge will award past due disability benefits back to the date when the initial application was filed.  Unfortunately for the client, back payment funds may only be used for certain expenses and the Social Security Administration (SSA) requires that a benefits payee substantiate each purchase made with the funds.  This restrictive policy, along with other quirks in the process of obtaining and using the back pay can be frustrating, confusing, and generally troublesome for clients. Continue reading

Lawyers as “Connectors”

Sutton Freedman photoLawyers as “Connectors”

By: Sutton Freedman, Spring 2018 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Student Intern

Working in the HeLP clinic, even for just a few weeks that I have, has given me a new perspective on what lawyering can mean. My partners and I have been working on preparing an appeal for Social Security disability benefits—something I knew nothing about before beginning my work in the clinic—for a child that suffers from several health problems. Despite the seriousness of the child’s conditions, the Social Security Administration denied the family’s initial application as well as their second bite at the apple, the ‘request for reconsideration.’ The next phase of appeal involves requesting a hearing before an administrative law judge, a process that requires us to gather evidence from a variety of sources. This includes both general and special education records from the child’s school, as well as medical records from the child’s doctors, counselors, and specialists over the last several years. In order to prove that the child is entitled to disability benefits, we need all of those records, as well as all of the documentation from the client’s local Social Security office.

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The Professional Bridge

Jenna Dakroub photoBy:  Jenna Dakroub, Spring 2018 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Student Intern

When people need legal advice, they call their lawyers. When people need medical advice, they call their doctors. While all of the HeLP clinic’s clients have sick children, many are referred specifically for Social Security denials or Social Security terminating their existing Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. The issues raised in a typical SSI case overlap between both the medical and legal professions. When the two professions join together, the client gets more effective assistance. Continue reading

FMLA Overview

Jenna Dakroub photoBy: Jenna Dakroub, Spring 2018 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Student Intern


One of the biggest struggles for the families who seek legal assistance from the HeLP clinic is managing their work while also tending to their sick children. Our clients sometimes find it difficult to retain a job because they often have to leave work early or take days off due to a medical emergency. Additionally, these emergencies are not predictable, so they are not always able to give their employer advance notice. Continue reading

The Importance of Active Listening

Michelle Wilco photo

By: Michelle Wilco, Spring 2018 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Student Intern

In the digital age, it can be difficult to fully focus on one task or one person for an extended period of time. Because of this, no matter how much you prepare for a client meeting, you will miss information if you do not engage in active listening. Active listening is a technique that requires you to fully concentrate on the person with whom you are communicating, absorb and focus on what the other person is saying, and then respond accordingly. Active listening is a skill that requires practice, but it is an important habit that can help you communicate better in your personal and professional interactions.
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SSI Back Pay Benefits: The Hard Part is Over…. Now the Restrictions Begin

Paul Blackstock photoBy: Paul Blackstock, Fall 2017 HeLP Clinic Student Intern

Successful Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability claimants, in addition to ongoing monthly benefits, also often receive large lump sum payments dating back to their application date. A disability claimant can receive a substantial amount of back pay simply because of the usually lengthy amount of time it takes for a claim to proceed from the application to a final decision.  Claimants generally wait 100 days to receive an initial decision based on the information they put on their application.  Because approximately 65% of claims are denied at the application stage, these claimants must file an appeal for reconsideration, which takes at least another two to three months, and sometimes even longer.  If reconsideration is denied, then the claimant must file another appeal for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).  The wait for an ALJ hearing can take 12 to 18 months.  So, it is easy to see how back pay benefits can add up to a significant amount while awaiting a final decision. Continue reading