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When it comes to securing disability benefits, it can be a long road. With the majority of applications turned away at the initial stage, it is vital to have a dedicated lawyer by your side as you go through the appeal process that follows. No one is more familiar with this reality than Adria Vizzi Holub, whose application for disability benefits was finally approved in January 2022 thanks to Sampson Dunlap LLP, 12 long years after she filed her application.

There is no doubt that the disability benefit system in the US is broken. With months – sometimes years – to wait between each stage of the application process, vulnerable people are frequently left with few to no options.

When asked if she ever considered leaving the process, Adria confesses to finding this the toughest question of all. “What else would I do?” she asks, earnestly. “Like so many others who are unable to work, this was my only option. I do know people who have given up on the process and it has been difficult for them – they remained homeless, and it took them many years to get into housing. People are relying on a failing system and it often feels like a stand-off – who is going to give up first?”

Adria’s health began to decline during her undergraduate years and continued to worsen as she went onto further study. “Once I finished my graduate schooling, I felt I had hit a brick wall,” she shares. While surgery has helped to ease some of her physical disabilities in recent years, Adria still finds her pain debilitating. “I have pinched nerves, specifically in my arms, elbows, shoulders and neck, and I had very bad endometriosis, to the point that when I finally got surgery the doctor was shocked. He had never seen a case so bad in someone so young. I have since had a hysterectomy – which was the best medical decision of my life.”

“People are relying on a failing system and it often feels like a stand-off. Thankfully it was worth fighting on.”

Adria has suffered with digestive problems, vitamin deficiencies, and chronic tonsil stones. She also has telangiectasia (painful, itchy bumps that appear on her hands), severe eczema, and Raynaud’s disease, which is when blood vessels in a person’s fingers and toes overreact to low temperatures and stress.

In addition to her chronic physical pain, Adria has severe depression and anxiety, and dissociative identity disorder (DID), which used to be referred to as ‘multiple personality disorder’, and is caused by severe trauma at a young age.

“Imagine wearing a football helmet with a speaker in it while going about your day,” Adria explains. “Through the speaker, voices are screaming at you about things that they believe you have done wrong. Not only are you hearing these voices, but you are feeling their emotions too. That is what DID is like.”

For Adria, her disabilities leave her exhausted and unable to work. “It takes more energy to keep doing things when you are in chronic pain,” she says, explaining energy using the ‘spoon theory’.

“Imagine you have 10 spoons; these are your pieces of energy for the day. You can choose what you use your spoons on every day, and each new day you get 10 more spoons. When you have chronic pain or mental illness, you only get five spoons to begin with – then you need to figure out how to use them. In my experience, there are days that I have the energy to cook but none left to shower. It costs too many spoons.”

Adria’s journey to securing disability benefits got off to a rocky start.

“My biggest mistake was filling out and submitting the initial paperwork before contacting a lawyer,” she admits. “I am convinced that held my case up the longest. They ask you to list activities you partake in, so I detailed all the things I used to do that my conditions have put a stop to. I wrote down martial arts, rock climbing, hiking… different things I used to enjoy.

“In another section, they asked me to describe my limitations, and I explained I couldn’t do any of the listed activities anymore. However, they thought that I was listing things I currently do and did not read on. It was after my first denial that I got Sampson Dunlap involved.”

“Sampson Dunlap got me through this process. I did not have the knowledge, nor the physical and emotional energy, to research, write and file appeal paperwork, or to represent myself in court. They changed everything.”

For 12 years, Sampson Dunlap has been by Adria’s side as she has been through multiple appeals and appeared before several judges. “Attorney Keith Kinzebach never dropped my case,” Adria smiles. “He is the most wonderful, supportive man. After 12 years, we are like family now. We exchange Christmas cards and, every time I called up for an update on my case, I knew I was talking to a friend.”

Keith Kinzebach, a Sampson Dunlap Partner who specializes in Social Security Disability cases, told Adria what to expect in no uncertain terms. “He described it as a ‘war of attrition’. He said it would be a long process, and would come down to who gave up first.”

An intelligent and tenacious woman, Adria was up for the fight long-term, although she admits there were many very difficult times in the 12 years where her health severely suffered.

“The verdict came in early January 2022. I was putting dishes away in my kitchen and, when I received the news, I was thrilled. Keith almost cried. It was a very emotional day.

“Were it not for Keith, there is no way I could have got through this process alone. I do not have the knowledge, nor the physical and emotional energy, to research, write and file appeal paperwork, or to represent myself in court.” Adria smiles and recites the adage, “only a fool represents themselves in court!”

In terms of what Adria found most challenging about the process, she cites the difficulty of being believed, something that is sadly common in the disability benefits system.

“Judges have a hard time seeing that pain can affect people of any age, gender, education, intelligence and appearance,” she explains. Being a young and articulate woman may well have made Adria appear more capable of working than she is, and this is something Adria is rightly angry about. “Pain doesn’t care how articulate or cultured you are. All of us are one accident or illness away from being disabled.

“What’s more, the disability system in the US is ostensibly in place to provide for people unable to work a full-time job due to physical or mental impairment. However, judges often rule on disability as if the requirement is that a person is unable to do anything at all. These are vastly different things.”

“Pain doesn’t care how articulate or cultured you are. All of us are one accident or illness away from being disabled.”

Several things helped Adria get through the last 12 years. With a supportive friendship group and some financial help from her parents, Adria admits she is “one of the lucky ones”. But she still recoils at that thought. “The fact that I am ‘lucky’ is disgusting, because it means that there are many other people who have it much worse.

“Having a good network was crucial throughout this process. I had my friends, I found resources to support me, and I knew I could ask Keith for updates at any time. Sometimes I just needed reassurance.”

So, what advice does Adria have for someone about to embark on the application process for disability benefits? “Contact Sampson Dunlap before you fill out your paperwork!” she asserts. “Or, if you have your paperwork but have not heard back yet, contact Sampson Dunlap. If you have heard that you have been denied, contact Sampson Dunlap. If you want someone to advocate for you, and you may not be getting that presently, contact Sampson Dunlap!”

Adria also recommends finding out what benefits your state has to offer and if you can access these in the interim. “That is what your local DSHS office is for,” she shares. “Your local food bank probably has a list of resources, too, and sometimes your local charity shop will have useful contacts.

“It is so important to do what you can to support your health throughout,” Adria concludes. “And know that you do not need to do this alone.”

We are here to support you. That is why you do not pay for our services until we win.

Speak to Keith or another member of our friendly team today.

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