Disabled Knoxville woman loses SSI benefits

Investigations

A disabled East Tennessee woman is fighting to get her Supplemental Security Income payments restored. She’s a cancer survivor and transplant recipient but lost her SSI eligibility last year. 

SSI pays benefits to disabled adults and children who have limited income. To receive SSI, you generally need the help of a doctor and an attorney to prove your case. Once you begin receiving payments, your case is redetermined about every six years.

It took several years for Melissa Grubb to get her benefits, but she lost them 12 months ago. It was dark at her home with WATE 6 On Your Side visited, and she depends on bottled water. The tap and the power were turned off months ago. She couldn’t pay either bill because she no longer receives her only source of income, SSI payments.

Grubb, a kidney transplant recipient and cancer survivor, owns her trailer.

“It is miserable at night, miserable. I can’t hardly sleep can’t hardly do nothing,” said Grubb.

A newspaper article from 1998 heralded the “gift of life” Grubb had received from her former husband who donated his kidney to her.

“I have real bad infections because my immune system ever since I had my organ transplant, I catch any kind of common cold, and kind of infection,” she said.

At the time of this interview last month, it had been one year since Grubb last received her SSI check  Beginning September 1 of last year, her monthly $735 disability check was cut off, according to a letter from Social Security.

“They stopped my check,” said Grubb. “They didn’t never tell me why.”

Grubb said she doesn’t understand the process. As a result, she appeared before a Social Security Administrative Judge early last year with no attorney or doctor to represent her. According to a July 2017 report, the review of her disability found that she was able to work and hold a significant number of jobs.

The review said Grubb’s impairments of being a post-kidney transplant, a history of malignant melanoma, and mild intellectual limitations did not prevent her from performing light work.

“I fall. I usually sometimes have to walk with a cane. I have had to use a walker before,” she said.

Grubb says if someone hired her, most of the time she’d being calling in sick, unable to work.

Grubb has returned to Social Security several times requesting that her case be reconsidered. She said she’s been told another hearing will be needed to support her disability claim. Oddly, a from Social Security sent two months ago says she’s “entitled to monthly payments as a disabled individual.” 

“Now it’s miserable. I don’t even want to be here. This is my home. This is not the way I should have to feel,” she said.

Since first talking with Grubb last month, she has since received an energy assistance allowance from CAC. However, she’s not turned on her air conditioning unit.

“I don’t want to run my bill back up where I’m not able to pay it,” she said.

There’s still no water in the home, but with food stamps, she’s able to keep a small stock of staples in her pantry.

“Without benefits I’m really just struggling. I’m trying to do what I can, but my leg has been swelling up,” said Grubb.

Grubb says physically she hurts and emotionally she’s a wreck.

“I’m fighting for my life. There is no other way of saying it, sir. I feel like I was really done wrong,” she said.

WATE 6 On Your Side contacted Social Security last month and was told they were investigating the case. Grubb says she’s unsure how to navigate the complicated system of refiling for benefits. She was told it’s best for her to hire an attorney, someone who knows the system. Right now, however, she can’t afford that.

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