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In 2015, Jessica McTiernan abruptly received a notice from Social Security (SSA) that they were terminating her benefits. She immediately reached out to Julie Marks, Work Incentives Counselor at Starbridge, to ask for help in appealing the termination. As Jessica remembers, "I was scared to death. There’s so much involved and I’m afraid of doing something wrong."

Jessica M at work webJulie says, "Because of Jessica's recordkeeping and her willingness to seek out the truth, we uncovered an earnings report error by SSA."

For people who receive disability benefits through SSA, losing that safety net is a big fear—and can have devastating impacts.

The error Jessica experienced is uncommon. Still, it took a year for Jessica’s benefits to be restored and to receive repayment of funds that had been withheld. During that time, Jessica struggled to make ends meet.

Jessica works full-time at ABVI's call center and is visually impaired. She first connected with benefits advisors at The Advocacy Center (now Starbridge) in 2010. As Julie recalls, "Jessica is a very strong advocate who made conscious, informed choices about benefits and working."

Today, Jessica praises Julie's support and determination. "Julie was relentless with the supervisors. She kept saying 'I won’t stop until you get this resolved' and she didn't."

When asked what advice she would give to someone else about working with SSA, Jessica says:

"They are pretty reasonable. You have to be firm but you also have to be diplomatic. Go in person. Show that you are serious, and keep showing up."

Since getting her benefits restored, Jessica shares what she has learned with other friends so they can avoid having their benefits cut off.

Jessica's life has returned to normal. She is able to enjoy going out to eat with her friends, play beep baseball, and look forward to a future with her boyfriend. 


This article originally appeared in Champions, Issue 2, in Spring of 2017.