By Angela

Personal Letter to My State Legislators

June 4, 2009

Dear State Legislator,

I sent you an email a few days ago regarding changes which I believe need to be made regarding the state retirement systems. This email includes my personal experiences with SERS which led to me write to you in the first place.

My doctors tell me that I have a closed head injury including brain stem dysfunction, problems with circulation to my brain, a type of migraine which causes stroke-like symptoms, tremor, problems with walking and balance, depression and anxiety and it all started in July of 2004. That’s when I was rear-ended by a truck and my car was totaled. I went to Urgent Care and was told there was nothing broken and my problems were most likely due to whiplash. I continued to be in a lot of pain, have headaches, nausea, memory problems, etc. which continued to get worse.

computer, woman4To make matters worse, I had just lost my job due to millions in school budget cuts and I needed to find work. Still thinking that my problems were just soft tissue damage and that I would be as good as new with a little help, I went to a chiropractor who assured me he could help me with my pain. Never did he tell me of the risk of stroke associated with neck adjustment, or the symptoms of stroke. I faithfully received treatment from him.

Unfortunately, my problems then got worse – I couldn’t talk without stuttering, I had a hard time following conversations and remembering what I had said, I had difficulty walking, could barely sit up for 15 minutes at a time; walking 15 feet from my couch to the kitchen and back wore me out.

I went to see some real doctors and a couple of them thought I had a brain injury from the car accident, as well as migraine, torn rotator cuff, cervical and sacro-lumbar sprain. I tried Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapies so that I could hurry up, get better and get on with finding a job. Though I qualified for reduced medical costs, these costs quickly became a few thousand dollars.

I found a lawyer who was experienced with brain injury cases. While the judgment was in my favor, the insurance company lawyers worked hard to minimize my symptoms and the award was not enough to cover legal expenses; I received nothing and was left with trying to pay off about $130,000 worth of medical expenses.

My experience with SERS (State Employees Retirement System) has been the same as the lawsuit in that they have bullied me and worked tirelessly to pay me as little as possible.

To support myself right after the accident, I went through my savings, and borrowed against some annuities I owned. I was told I did not qualify for disability pension through Social security because my money was being paid into the state retirement systems for about 15 years as mandated by state law.

Finally in April 2005, I learned that I might be able to apply for disability benefits with SERS since I was still paying into SERS at the time of my accident.  I turned in my application by June 2005. Over the next 4 months, they sent me to 3 doctors whom they hired to examine me.

In March 2006 they sent me a letter denying me disability pay, saying there was nothing wrong with me.  I appealed their decision, by submitting additional findings from my doctors. They were not very prompt in getting me an answer.

But, eight months later, at the end of Oct 2006, I received a letter from them saying..oops, I am disabled but not from the accident so they didn’t have to pay me any back pay because according to them the accident didn’t cause my problems. For some reason their board determined I had first become incapacitated on Sept 1, 2006.  When I called them asking about this, they told me that this was their decision and there was nothing I could do about it. My advocate and I called numerous bar associations trying to find a lawyer who dealt with SERS cases on a contingency basis, but could find none.

In Nov 2006 I went to a Social Security office upon the urging of a friend and discovered that although I was not eligible for disability pay, I might be eligible for Medicare. In May 2007, Social Security determined I was disabled since July 2004 (the date of the accident) and that Medicare benefits would start Nov 2007.

My personal injury lawsuit finished in Nov 2007. The jury awarded me $160,000. The legal costs were $250,000 and all my medical costs were close to $200,000. I received no money and could not pay off my medical bills. Feeling ashamed that I would have to file bankruptcy and overwhelmed about how I was going to survive, I became suicidal and voluntarily checked myself into the hospital.

At that time, the money that I got from SERS was a Godsend but, did not cover all of my bills. To help me with my finances, my lawyer offered me a job editing his blogs and watching for issues for him to write about. It was for ten hours a week.  I could do it from my home, take breaks when I needed, and I wouldn’t have to drive. The accommodations were what I needed since I get disoriented driving, my attention span and stamina are compromised and I have to lie down frequently because of neck pain.

This seemed like a win-win situation. SERS allows members on disability to work as long as the job is not with a school in the same state, is not the same job last worked when the member became disabled and does not conflict with a person’s disability; SERS required that the member get approval from them before working.

It is hard for me to understand why but, at the end of Jan., SERS denied my request to work stating in letter and by phone conversation that it was too similar to my job as a program coordinator/parent educator because I would be using a computer to do the job. That is still unfathomable to me.

In Feb 2008 my advocate re-filed my request describing how these jobs were completely different. Again my request for work was denied stating the job would conflict with my disability which they only recognized as depression.

In Mar 2008 my advocate found a lawyer with Legal Rights Service who helped me with this issue. He obtained my official job description with the school district and had my psychiatrist write a letter describing how this job would not be conflict with my disability. In June, my advocate spoke with an organization called SERO, made up of people who have retired from SERS, and told them about my experience with SERS. Concerned about these issues, SERO contacted SERS and was told that I was free to do any kind of work I wanted to, but just needed to realize that would open me up for re-evaluations.

I never took the job, but was re-evaluated anyway. In July 2008, SERS sent me to a neuropsychologist for evaluation.  In Sept 2008, they also sent me to a neurologist and psychiatrist, the same ones who have evaluated me before, the same ones who said there was nothing wrong with me.

Then, in Feb 2009 I received a letter from SERS informing me that my monthly disability pension & health care coverage will be terminated no later than May 31, 2009. They say I can appeal but only have 90 days from the date of their letter to submit any new medical evidence.

I have been able to find a lawyer who was familiar with SERS and who worked on a contingency basis. I have been granted a personal appearance before SERS with my lawyer. If their timing is anything like the last appeal, I probably won’t hear about their decision until Oct or Nov. Meanwhile, I have no income, am behind on my mortgage payment and we all know the bank will foreclose.

I have applied for SSI, food stamps and Medicaid and have written to my bank asking if they will work with me to find a way to keep my home. But with no way to pay them anything, this doesn’t seem realistic. Also, it may take 3-5 months to find out if I qualify for SSI, meanwhile I have $419 in the bank to live on for an undetermined amount of time.

I have worked since I was 18, working while attending college & 2 jobs during the summers, allowing me to obtain a bachelor’s degree without owing anyone any money. The only gap in my work history I have is after having my second child and moving from Seattle. However, even during this time I began writing a book and started my own publishing company. I have always functioned well financially even under incredible stress.

I am not functioning well this time, however. The difference between now and other difficult times during my life is that I had skills & abilities to support myself. Now it is frustrating because while I still have some strengths, I need more accommodations to do any job.

I am unable to think clearly or move around and exercise. I am terrified of the future and so tired of being bullied by big corporations and government that it is difficult to get through the day without wanted to check out for good.

Angela Cramer

© Angela Cramer, 2008-2009

Clipart is the property of Jupiterimages made available through subscription:
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