Barry Shapiro: "I read my status was ‘Approved.’ I was in disbelief."
November 2, 2022 · 2 min read
It started with pain shooting down his left leg.
At first, he worked through it. Barry was a clerk with the New York state court system. During his 30-year tenure, he’d done it all: worked with judges and swore in witnesses; watched Judge-Judy-like spats; managed schedules and ensured that court functions were adequately staffed.
His job required a lot of sitting, standing, and walking, which aggravated his back and leg. After an MRI, his orthopedist diagnosed him with spinal stenosis. He received an epidural, which stemmed the pain enough for him to continue working.
But a few years later, the pain came back — this time, sharper and unrelenting. The courthouse spanned the length of a city block, and rushing to and from different floors became unbearable. The pain would seize him in hallways and stairways, forcing him to find a bench to rest on or a wall to lean on. It got so bad that he was forced to apply for medical leave.
“I lived in so much pain, but didn’t realize I was eligible.”
One day, a friend noticed Barry struggling to walk.
“Why aren’t you on disability?” his friend asked.
“I lived in so much pain, but didn’t realize I was eligible to apply for disability,” Barry recalled. Spurred by his friend, he contacted the Social Security Administration (SSA) and began the application process.
He submitted the initial application on his own. Everyone he spoke to warned him that he should get a lawyer. He received calls from companies that claimed to help people get disability, but when he looked them up online, he found complaints.
“Some lawyers didn’t even show up to their clients’ hearings. I didn’t want to deal with that,” he said.
Then Barry found Atticus.
“It was really easy to find an attorney with Atticus,” he recalled. “I requested help on the website and I think [Atticus] called me back the very same day to get things going.”
Just days later, Atticus notified Barry that they had found a local, vetted attorney who was interested in taking on his case. After an initial phone call, Barry hired him.
A few months later, SSA sent him to a doctor to evaluate his medical condition. Everything hurt: bending over, walking around the small room, dangling his leg from the exam table. The appointment lasted all of five minutes. Even though Barry told the doctor that everything hurt, the doctor’s cursory conclusion was that Barry could work “with no restrictions.” Shortly after, SSA denied his claim.
“I’d heard almost everyone gets denied. It was such a relief.”
Fortunately, Barry’s lawyer was ready. He filed for reconsideration and, when that was denied, requested a hearing. “He was very good,” Barry said of his lawyer; “I was very happy.”
The judge assigned to Barry’s case was tough: She had a reputation for denying three out of four disability claims. But Barry’s case was strong. When the hearing began, the first thing the judge said was that she could see from Barry’s MRIs that he had severe spinal stenosis.
“That gave me some hope,” Barry recalled.
In the days after his hearing, Barry checked the SSA website over and over again, waiting for the judge’s decision to be posted. Then came the good news.
“When I checked the website one day and read my status was ‘Approved,’ I was in disbelief,” he recalled. “I’d heard almost everyone gets denied. It was such a relief.”
Barry was awarded over $3,000 a month, in addition to back pay. He received his first check from SSA two months later.
The money has been a “tremendous help” with his rent and bills. Nowadays, Barry helps take care of his aging mother and has time to return to his first love — film. “I love film and spend my time collecting, sharing, and watching films.”
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Sydney Hershenhorn is an attorney on Atticus’s Client Experience team. She‘s a licensed attorney, a graduate of New York Law School, and has counseled hundreds of people seeking disability benefits. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and spending time in nature.
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