A student team with the Health Law Partnership (HeLP) Legal Services Clinic overcame unique challenges to win a fully favorable decision during a hearing this spring. The team composed of Georgia State Law students Brian Aton, Brittany Stocus and Kayla Watkins successfully convinced the judge to grant their client Supplemental Security Income benefits for her child.
The first of several challenges was having only three weeks to prepare for the hearing after the semester began. Once they started going over the details, they realized it would be difficult explaining the child’s disease. Team member Brittany Stocus said it is not something many people are familiar with, and her particular condition was more serious than most.
“If you Google searched her condition everything online about it is pretty minor,” Stocus said. “People might not understand why it is a big deal, so we had to explain the very unique case that she has.”
The team said it was helpful to have the partnership with medical students to make sense of the thousands of pages of medical records they combed through.
“Those records are not very easy to read so a lot of time was spent pulling pieces out of the documents and constructing them in a framework that made sense in light of the SSA’s listings for eligibility for SSI benefits and constructing our arguments,” Brian Aton said.
The hearing included testimony from a medical expert, who agreed with their argument, but even so, it was an uphill battle for the students to convince the judge.
“This judge asked the most questions and definitely seemed the most skeptical of this case than all the other hearings I’ve been to,” supervising attorney Jimmy Mitchell said. “The students were able to handle the hostile hearing climate in a very professional way and a way that might not even come natural to a lot of actual lawyers.”
The team said as much as they tried to prepare for anything that might get thrown their way, the hearing taught them to always expected the unexpected.
“You can practice and go over things in your head but sometimes in the hearing things just pop up and it may or may not work in your favor,” said Kayla Watkins. “I just learned to be flexible and to be open to different scenarios happening.”
This win is especially meaningful for the team, each saying they’re glad they could give their client one less thing to worry about.
“Just to know how detrimental this can be to them and the little thing we did makes their life easier is a good feeling,” Stocus said.
Written by Mara Thompson