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CALL 6: Woman living in car faced months of government red tape

56-year-old has master's degree
Posted at 5:33 PM, Feb 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-22 20:27:02-05

AVON, Ind. -- Rebecca Lamkin has been living in her vehicle on a parking lot outside the Meijer off of U.S. 36 in Avon since October 2016.

The past few months have been a struggle for Lamkin who has the documentation to prove she needed the help but got stuck in government red tape.  

“This is where I live. I live in this parking lot. It's not something I'm proud of. I'm just trying to survive. I do what I have to do survive," said Lamkin.

The 56-year-old with a Masters Degree in Chemistry has been unable to work for months because of health issues involving her colon. When her partner died in June, she didn't have the money to keep up with the rent and faced eviction.

That means since October 21, 2016,  Lamkin has called the Meijer parking lot home. She lives in the front half while her cat Smoky roams in the backseat. Her trunk is her closet.

"I can't work, if I could I would be. I don't like doing this. I have never wanted to apply for disability. I have to because I can't work," said Lamkin.

Call 6 Investigates met Rebecca on January 30th and began looking into the situation. Indianapolis attorney J. Frank Hanley, who’s handled social security cases for the past 4 decades, brought Rebecca to the Call 6 Investigates team.

“The agency is very inefficient and it takes a long time to get a hearing. I can remember it would take 4 years. and now gotten it down to 2 years," said Hanley.

He paid for Lamkin to stay at a local motel during the coldest days, while Call 6 Investigates dug into her case. Lamkin depends on the Meijer bathroom and gets her medication at the store pharmacy. She does receive food stamps and spends a lot of time at the nearby library.

To get help, Rebecca applied for Social Security Disability Insurance. To qualify for benefits, the Social Security Administration says:

"A person must have worked long enough in jobs covered by Social Security (usually 10 years). Then, he/she must have a medical condition that meets Social Security's definition of disability.  In general, we pay monthly benefits to people who are unable to work for a year or more, or who have a condition expected to end in death. The disability must be so severe the worker cannot work.  We also consider age, education and work experience when making a determination.”

The 56-year-old began the process of seeking disability in November 2015. Between March and October 2016, she received two denials and an appeal. In November, Rebecca's doctor at Saint Vincent Hospital provided an official write-up detailing her inability to work. Her case was further delayed when she asked for an in-person hearing versus a video hearing.

"I don't understand all the people who don't need it get it right away then others like myself that they put through hell in order to get it. I'm tired of it, " said Lamkin.

In reference to Lamkin’s case, a Social Security Administration spokesperson said:

"On November 4, 2016 Ms. Lamkin declined the office’s request to conduct a video hearing, and she opted for an in-person hearing which required additional scheduling time.  The Indianapolis Office of Adjudication and Review (ODAR) was able to review all the evidence received in Ms. Lamkin’s case and issued a decision on February 3, 2017, that was an approval to her without holding a hearing. “

After Call 6 Investigates got involved, Lamkin received an emergency payment that she's used to live in a hotel for the past two weeks.  She expects to hear from a suitable apartment in the next few days.

A Call 6 Investigates review of a report generated by the Office of the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration shows that about 1 million people are waiting to get a hearing on their appeal challenging the agency’s decision on their claim

A SSA spokesperson told Call 6 Investigates that,  “The Social Security disability program is an important resource for people with disabilities, and we work tirelessly every day to provide the best service possible. We acknowledge that current average processing times for disability appeal hearings are high nationally, around 560 days, and we are working to address the issue.”  

When asked what’s contributing to the backlog, Call 6 Investigates was told, “that the growth in disability applications is largely due to the demographic shifts in the United States, such as an aging population entering their disability-prone years and more women entering the workforce and working long enough to become eligible for benefits.”

The agency says it well aware of the backlog involving wait times for hearings and is attempting to address it through a program it calls CARE---- a Plan for Compassionate and Responsive Service.

“We built our CARES plan around two interdependent components: people and quality—engaged, well-trained people providing quality service. CARES includes four broad categories of drivers that will propel our efforts to address the crisis at the hearings and appeals levels. High-quality decisions are at the heart of our initiatives to reduce wait times and better serve the American public. Timeliness is an element of high-quality decisions. Our success is critical to the people who have been waiting for an answer from us,” said a SSA spokesperson.