Making Justice RealThe Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia
Through Collaboration Between Mental Health and Legal Professionals, Clients Receive Better, More Effective Support and Services
Legal Aid routinely collaborates with caseworkers and others in the community who work with our clients. Without the support of dedicated caseworkers, some clients might never get to Legal Aid to request our assistance. And when caseworkers, lawyers and clients work together effectively, all of the parties can learn from each other and complement each other’s efforts to the ultimate benefit the client.
Such was the case with Ms. F. After a long history of abuse, Ms. F was receiving treatment through Community Connections, an agency that provides comprehensive mental health treatment and supportive services. Ms. F and her community support worker, Lauren, came to Legal Aid, where they met Jennifer, a Legal Aid attorney. Together, Lauren and Jennifer were able to guide Ms. F through the stressful process of appealing a denial of Social Security benefits. Thanks to Lauren’s efforts, Jennifer was able to get medical records from Ms. F’s psychiatrist that provided detailed support for her claims of impairment. It was also critically important to have Lauren, who Ms. F already knew and trusted, assisting Ms. F and supporting her through what can be a lengthy and stressful process.
As a result of the combined efforts of Legal Aid and Community Connections, Ms. F was awarded disability benefits for herself and her children totaling approximately $2,000 per month prospectively and tens of thousands of dollars of back benefits. Working together, Jennifer and Lauren were able to enroll Ms. F in a Medicare Part D plan and switch her to Fee for Service Medicaid (from a managed care organization) so that she could have improved access to medical services. Through their combined efforts, they were able to ensure that all of these systems worked the way they were supposed to so that Ms. F could concentrate on taking care of herself and her children.
Ms. F is an inspirational client because she overcame so much adversity to stand up for her rights. At her hearing, she was nervous but steady, making clear to the Administrative Law Judge why she was entitled to receive benefits. With Lauren by her side each step of the way, Ms. F got through the appeal without succumbing to paralyzing anxiety and panic. And Jennifer and Lauren benefitted as well. Jennifer learned from Lauren’s example how better to work with and support clients who struggle with mental illness. And Lauren learned from Jennifer’s legal expertise how the appeals process should work and relayed this information to other staff at her agency who can use this information to provide better assistance to their clients going through the same process.
In short, Ms. F’s case makes clear the value of collaboration across fields so that clients can stand up for their rights and prevail. And, at the same time, professionals with different but complementary expertise can learn from each other and provide better, more supportive service to all of their clients.