He served our country bravely. At one time he played piano with the best of them but his body is failing him now. He had lived a good life, despite the fact that 14 years ago he was diagnosed with a disease that caused his body to betray him. He had trouble with all kinds of mobility, but his mind was as sharp as a tac and he was a fighter. He kept active by reading and staying up to date on all of the news and politics that he could tolerate. And he had his routines. Watching the squirrels in the trees outside of his window, and with the help of his home health aid, he loved to walk around in his life-long neighborhood, shopping trips and visting with his friends and neighbors.
When he contacted us it was after the local government decided to reduce his home health services from 24 hours a day to 16 hours a day. This reduction would have been devastating-it would have likely caused him to head to a nursing home because of all of his needs. Luckily, he found us and we were able to request a hearing in time to keep his much-needed benefits in tact. I worked with him almost completely by phone, because travel was very difficult for him. A colleague of mine met with him in person while I spoke with him by phone. I agreed to represent him in this wrongful reduction of his benefits.
He was the type of client that makes our jobs easier. Not that the difficult ones are not as equally deserving of access to justice. He just cooperated so much that it made my work on his case so much easier. He was always alert and almost always able to answer questions related to his needs and our case strategy. The issues were clear, there was no reason his benefits should be reduced, because he was still medically and financially eligible for them.
The government however was hell bent on dragging the case out and for five months we prepared for a hearing all the while, he remained in the comfort of his home-unless his medical conditions caused him to spend a night in the emergency room.
My client was nearly totally reliant on his home health worker. When I finally had the chance to visit with him in his home to prepare fully for the upcoming hearing, I was overwhelmed. His physical limitations were so obvious to me–how could the government call into question his needs? It was difficult for me to not cry as I saw him struggle to hold his head up. I saw the way his aid followed him on every move. I knew after an hour that he was too tired to continue, so we had to wrap up quickly. I know at the end of our meeting, his catheter bag had to be changed so I had to rush out of there.
I began to take his case personal, as I know I should not. But I did. I fought hard for him and leading up to the hearing, I prepared the law, the facts, the entire case–it was going to be a full proof case!
For the first day of the hearing he actively participated. He took notes, despite the fact that at times he could barely read his own writing, he was able to point things out to me that the government relied on that were incorrect. He was inspiring. We took breaks often during the hearing because he was easily tired and because he needed the rest.
There was so much to present in his case that had to continue the case for a few weeks to conclude the testimony. And when the news came that he was in the emergency room the day after the hearing, I felt it. The guilt. Did I push him too hard when we decided to go until 5:00? What if I had advised him against participating in the hearing, would he have not been in the ER? Several weeks passed and as my colleagues and I prepared for the final day of testimony, it didn’t look good. I represented him at the last day of the hearing and he died three days later.
It was hard to come to terms with losing someone you intensely fought for but barely knew. He was kind. He was courageous. He was a fighter. And because of our help, he had his benefits for the last six months of his life –that’s something right?
But it still stings, when I think about what it would have been like to get the W for him. How happy he would have been knowing that he was going to be able to remain in his home without fear of losing his benefits. How great it would have been to show the jerk lawyer from the government what the truth was all about. What is right, is right.
None of that, instead it is over. I had hoped to get a court order ensuring that his benefits were protected. Instead, God had other plans and called him home. He is finally at peace. I bet he doesn’t need any help walking around.