May 102012

Obtaining Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) can be a time-consuming and stressful experience. Two out of every three applicants initially are denied. Charmyne Howell was a working mom with two boys before a medical expert diagnosed her with spondylolisthesis, a condition she was born with that had caused chronic pain throughout her life. Read how Coverage stood by Ms. Howell during her time of crisis.

Already suffering from debilitating health issues, a car accident causes more pain for Charmyne Howell.

Former Claims Rep Gives Coverage High Marks

Mesquite, Texas—On a snowy winter day, Charmyne Howell thought Mother Nature might be conspiring against her. After all, Dallas isn’t known for snowstorms.

After years of chronic pain, Ms. Howell, 39, was scheduled for a hearing with the Social Security Administration (SSA) at its Dallas office to appeal her rejected application for disability benefits.

For years, Ms. Howell fought increasingly debilitating health issues that kept her from working full-time as a telephone claims representative, a job she loved. She had many health setbacks and numerous unsuccessful attempts to return to work. As the single mother of two active boys, Ms. Howell needed the income from her job as a telephone claims representative.

As her health deteriorated, Ms. Howell applied for benefits through the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program and was denied.

Now, weather might keep her away from her chance to tell her story to the administrative law judge.

“Almost everything was closed,” Ms. Howell recalled. “All the roads were iced over. My Coverage representative, Stacie Stoehner, called me the night before and told me she would be there no matter what.”

She continued, “I was so relieved. I had not had an income for more than 18 months. People do not understand what it is like until they are in your shoes. When it was my time to go before the judge, I was going to be there. I left three hours in advance, and still arrived just five minutes before my hearing started because of the crazy, nasty weather.”

Ms. Howell explained how Ms. Stoehner helped her prepare for the judge. “Stacie helped me understand what to expect and she told me who would be in the courtroom. She let me know that I was not alone, and that made the whole experience far less nerve-racking or intimidating.”

So, how did Ms. Howell find herself in front of the administrative law judge with a Coverage representative by her side on that snowy Texas day?

As a child, Ms. Howell frequently had aches and pains in her legs and lower back. “My mother kept me active in cheerleading, soccer, drill team and track, which probably kept me from knowing my symptoms,” she said. At Richland Community College, she was also physically active, studying dance.

Ms. Howell said that after college she was less active and started having multiple flare-ups. She was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and then Meniere’s disease, which often gave her vertigo.

When she was able to work, Ms. Howell served people in crisis. After enduring seemingly unrelenting pain for years, she visited a world-renowned rheumatologist at Dallas Presbyterian Hospital.

Piecing together her immune-system related issues, he diagnosed spondylolisthesis. The doctor said Ms. Howell was probably born with this condition, which explained the aches and pains early in life. Spondylolisthesis is a painful condition in which vertebrae slip in the lower back, resting on nerves or other vertebrae.

Ms. Howell continued experiencing mind-numbing pain.

Yet the worst was still ahead.

In 2009, she was driving on a Texas highway when an 18-wheeler to her left changed lanes. She was slightly ahead of him. As he eased the big rig over to her lane, his passenger side connected underneath the wheel well of Ms. Howell’s car.

“He was actually dragging me down the highway at 60 miles per hour. I couldn’t get my car unattached from his truck. His passenger saw that we were connected, and alerted the driver who hit the brakes, the jolt jarred my hip and shot pain all up and down my left side.”

Ms. Howell could not sit for long periods of time because of the terrible pain. “It was very stressful; I went from being an independent, working single mom to someone who depended on other people taking care of me.”

Now in almost constant pain and unable to work, Ms. Howell sought true help. Frustrated over her initial denial for SSDI benefits, Ms. Howell saw a pop-up ad for Coverage on a
fibromyalgia website.

“I had tried to get my benefits on my own. I had given up; I thought there was no way I’m going to get benefits. I thought, I’m so young and benefits only go to people over fifty,” she remembered.

“Coverage was amazing. I never had to call back with questions because they anticipated my needs and told me what to expect at every step.

“What really impressed me was how everyone involved always knew about my case. Everyone was well-informed, and that was such an excellent part of their customer service process,” she said.

On that unusually snow day in February 2011, Ms. Howell and Stacie Stoehner faced the administrative law judge. Ms. Howell said that Stacie was fully prepared with all of her medical information, from range of motion studies to detailed notes from her world-class rheumatologist.

Although the judge didn’t fully reveal the outcome of the hearing on that day, he did compliment Coverage on the comprehension and order of the paperwork. He told her and the Coverage rep, “I don’t see any reason for you not to get your SSDI benefits.”

Ninety-eight percent of those individuals who go through the entire SSDI process with Coverage receive benefits, as Ms. Howell did.

Ms. Howell learned of her award when, about 50 days after the hearing, her bank notified her that the SSA made a direct deposit into her account.

While Ms. Howell still battles persistent pain, she is doing better with new medications and the gift of reduced stress from her SSDI award. She enjoys listening to her young son sing the Shirley Caesar gospel favorite “Walk Around Heaven All Day,” which takes her to another place and time, where she is pain free.

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