disability settlement may restore benefits to Utah homeless FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sun, 24 May 1998 20:50:23 -0700 (PDT)


http://www.desnews.com/cit/v00lhku5.htm
FWD  Deseret News - 05/22/1998


     8,000 MAY GET A CHANCE TO REAPPLY FOR DISABILITY BENEFITS

     ACCORD WOUKD RESOLVE SOCIAL SECURITY RIFT

     By Joe Costanzo - Deseret News staff writer


As many as 8,000 people who were denied Social Security disability benefits
will be given another chance to apply for those benefits under the proposed
settlement of a class-action lawsuit.

The settlement agreement, which attorneys plan to file in U.S. District
Court next week, would resolve a dispute over how Utah's Disability
Determination Service handled claims for benefits between 1991 and 1994.

Utah Legal Services filed the lawsuit in 1992 on behalf of seven disabled
Salt Lake residents who contended the DDS, U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services and Utah Office of Vocational Rehabilitation did not follow
federal rules in assessing eligibility.

The case later became a class-action lawsuit representing as many as 30,000
potential plaintiffs. Attorney  Brent V. Manning, who took over the case in
1996 after Congress barred legal aid agencies from handling class-action
lawsuits, said about 8,000 of those plaintiffs are covered in the
settlement.

The settlement only entitles the applicants to a redetermination of their
disability benefits eligibility and is "certainly not a guarantee of
benefits," Manning said.

Manning said it's impossible to estimate how many applicants might actually
receive benefits. However, he said 90 percent of the rejected applicants
who appealed to a federal panel during the years in question ultimately won
benefits.

According to Manning, the eligibility determination process was badly
flawed between 1991 and 1994 because cases were being reviewed by
government clerks rather than by doctors as required by federal regulations.

Utah's DDS changed those procedures in February 1994, shortly after
attorneys began taking depositions in the class-action lawsuit.

None of the original seven plaintiffs stands to gain anything from the
settlement. Two have died, and the others were awarded benefits separately.
The lead plaintiff in the suit, David L. Goodnight, who suffered from
asbestos-related injury, died just few weeks before the settlement was
reached, Manning said.

Interested individuals will have an opportunity to review the proposed
settlement agreement after it's filed in court early next week. A hearing
on the settlement is scheduled for July 29 before Judge Tena  Campbell.

If the settlement is approved, the government will mail at least two
notices to everyone who is potentially eligible for a redetermination of
benefits, Manning said.

Also, $20,000 will be set aside to locate individuals who aren't reached by
the mailings. For example, many of the potentially eligible applicants may
be homeless, Manning said.

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