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Many people are unfamiliar with the story of Rosemary Kennedy, who was JFK’s youngest sister. As a child, Rosemary had some learning difficulties. But she participated in most family activities. She met the King when her father, Joseph Kennedy, was the American Ambassador to Great Britain in the late 1930s. But then, in her late teenage years, Rosemary started having violent mood swings and seizures. Doctors couldn’t treat her and her family couldn’t care for her. So, when she was 23, Rosemary Kennedy had a lobotomy. She lived the rest of her life in seclusion at a Wisconsin sanitarium.

To us, her treatment seemed barbaric, and her father Joseph seemed more interested in his family’s reputation than his daughter’s well-being. But in the early 1940s, and even into the late 60’s, a radical lobotomy was standard practice in these situations. There were few alternatives. Today, medical science can effectively treat hidden disabilities, like the one which plagued Rosemary. But science cannot address the stigma which mentally ill people face. Because of social media, this stigma might be worse today than it was in the before times.

At the Heermans Social Security Disability Law Firm, our SSI disability lawyers in Memphis do not make many promises. But we do promise to treat all clients with respect, regardless of the nature of their disabilities. We not only work to obtain the benefits these individuals and families need and deserve. We also try to give these people the tools they need to overcome/cope with the stigma of a hidden disability and live their best life possible. Save the date and celebrate 2021 Invisible Disabilities Week October 17-23 with us. Invisible Disabilities Week (IDW) is Hosted by the Invisible Disabilities Association (IDA). IDW was Founded by IDA in 2014.

The Asylum System

The well-documented lack of healthcare infrastructure, particularly for the mentally ill, was not entirely a bad thing. Unless they were a threat to themselves or others, such individuals were like the younger Rosemary Kennedy. Since they lived at home, family and friends were more accepting of such conditions. Extreme mental illness, such as the problems an older Rosemary Kennedy faced, usually meant confinement in an asylum, especially if the family was able to afford more luxurious and accommodating facilities.

To many, an “asylum” means straitjackets and medical experimentation. But when they first appeared in the early 1800s, the mental health advocates who operated them believed that mental illness was a moral condition which was curable. That belief seems almost ridiculous today, but back in the day, advocates were quite sincere. 

By the 1890s, the times they were a-changin’. Local governments pushed elderly and poor people who suffered from senility, an ill-defined malady which could include forgetting to feed the cat, into asylums. Then, the Great Depression cut funding and World War II cut available personnel. In the 1950s, chlorpromazine, an antipsychotic drug, effectively ended the asylum system. Today, these institutions are still around. But they only care for the most extreme mentally ill patients who would otherwise probably be in prison or on death row.

Some Hidden Disabilities

Most of us deal with NVD (Non-Visible Disability) individuals every day. People who cannot hear well wear tiny hearing aids and people who cannot see well wear invisible contact lenses. But there are a number of other conditions which SSI lawyers near you, Heermans Disability Law Firm serving Memphis and the greater mid south, regularly represent with their clients. Some examples include:

  • Psychiatric: Many people who suffer from illnesses like major depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, and bipolar disorder are very adept at concealing their symptoms, even from themselves. Even if an SSA law firm cannot obtain benefits for these people, the mere process legitimizes these illnesses in the minds of many. That respect might mean more than a monthly check.
  • Traumatic Brain Injury: Vehicle collisions are the leading cause of brain injuries in the United States. If severe symptoms, such as memory loss and personality changes, persist more than twelve months, disability benefits could be available. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is also a physical brain injury. When people see or experience severe trauma, like a car wreck, their brains undergo chemical changes.
  • Epilepsy: This condition might be the most common NVD, in terms of Social Security Disability benefits. Medication is available, but in many cases, it only takes the edge off. The available drugs also come with side-effects. Many people do not easily tolerate the dosage needed to be effective without side effects that cause other difficulties in holding a job.  Furthermore, many seizure disorders are so severe that medical interventions are unavailable.

Other invisible disabilities include fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, learning disabilities, and AIDS/HIV.

Obtaining Benefits

If you have a disability which doctors say will last at least twelve months or is terminal, Social Security Disability benefits might be available. To the Social Security Administration, “disability” is more than a medical or psychological term. Essentially, people are disabled if:

  • They cannot work in their current occupations, and
  • They cannot perform any other occupations on a full time basis.

In other words, a “disability” is also an economic, vocational, and educational term. If Sarah’s epilepsy prevents her from working in an office, there are various freelance and work-from-home (WFH) opportunities available. However, she might or might not be qualified for them, and the companies in question might or might not want to hire her.

We should also talk about what disability does not mean. It does not mean confined to a wheelchair, bedridden, or otherwise physically limited. If you meet the minimum qualifications for Social Security Disability, you are eligible for benefits. 

Additionally, there is a big difference between Veterans Administration disability and Social Security disability. The VA allots benefits on a percentage basis. For example, if Sarah is a veteran, she might be 10 percent or 100 percent disabled, based on her symptoms. But as far as the SSA is concerned, Sarah is either totally disabled or totally healthy.

Overcoming Stigma

Based on the evidence and an attorney’s legal arguments, a Claims Examiner or Administrative Law Judge usually decides whether or not to award benefits. But NVD individuals usually have the power to reduce the stigma they might encounter in their daily lives. 

There are various approaches. Some individuals use the confrontational approach. They use disability stigma as an opportunity to educate people about their conditions. Others take the opposite approach and either withdraw socially or limit their interaction to things like family dinners and outings. Still others take the middle ground. They create a “safety net” of close family, colleagues, and friends who are fully aware of their disabilities. When they interact outside that circle, they conceal their conditions as best they can and ask their family to not talk about their disability to others. 

Most professionals suggest that, before you select an approach, you take a look in the mirror. Rather than obsessing over your disability or using it as a crutch, see yourself as a total and complete person. If you focus on the positive, such as your parenting skills, your ability to get along with others, or even your grooming and house cleaning skills, other people will see in you, all of the awesomeness you see in yourself. Remember, most people are more distracted focusing on their own limitations than spending their energy being critical of you. 

For more information about the various kinds of disabilities that may qualify for Social Security Disability, contact the Heermans Social Security Disability Law Firm. If you have been turned down for benefits, call or use our simple online form for a free evaluation. We are available 24/7 by text or call at (901) 244-0057


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