An Interview with Catherine Strode
State Representative Lois Landgraf (HD-21) talks openly about her son Todd’s brain injury and the impact it has had on her family. She has sponsored several bills during her tenure supporting individuals with disabilities. House Bill 18-1192 is one of them. The bill proposes application assistance for individuals applying for federal disability benefits.
In an interview with Catherine Strode, Representative Landgraf says her own family came close to losing all benefits for Todd due to one missing signature. She also holds this bill up as one of the most important she has ever championed.
Why is this bill needed?
“When we moved here, my son had already had his brain injury. He had services in Seattle. He was in the hospital. People came to us and said, ‘Todd is going to need all these services. We have to fill out all these papers.’ They sat there and they helped us fill out all the papers. We didn’t know. How would we know? We didn’t live in that world. We didn’t know what was available. We didn’t know what Todd would need. We had no clue. Plus, my son had just lost his life. It had dramatically changed. When we moved here, we knew (about services) but we had to figure out where to go, where to sign up. There wasn’t anybody who would just reach out and help. I’m not complaining but I think people in this situation need help. They need to be made aware of what’s available. I have continued to learn things by being here at the Capitol, working with the disability community. I am still learning things that have actually helped my son since I’ve been here. Taking care of him certainly points out deficiencies in the system. This is one of those deficiencies.”
Can you explain the deficiency?
“When somebody has a disability, they may not be in a position to understand what’s going on, what services are available. It’s very complicated. If you have an intellectual disability, I don’t understand how anybody could work their way through all the paperwork, understand all the programs, understand everything they need to do to get the services they are entitled to. These aren’t giving things away to people. These are things they need to live. These are things they need to survive, on a day to day basis. It could be something as simple as you forgot to sign this particular paper, therefore, you’re not going to get your benefits. This is important.”
How does the bill provide application assistance?
“The program is provided by county departments of human or social services; the counties will be running this program. It will be administered by the state Department of Human Services. The services may include assistance with drafting and compiling supporting documentation for the application for federal disability benefits and completing and submitting the applications. That process can often be very confusing. It often does require supporting documents. My own family has to go every so often to the doctor for them to verify that our son is still disabled. As if he’s going to not have a brain injury someday. It’s ridiculous.”
Is repeated document submission necessary because of benefit fraud?
“Absolutely. But there should be a way to check a box to say, ‘This is permanent. This is a lifelong disability.’ I actually talked to a man once who said, ‘I’m never going to grow my legs back.’ He’s a double amputee. Why does he have to go to the doctor every year to have the doctor verify that he still has this disability? If you need to prove that you have gotten worse, or, if you have a chronic disease and you are deteriorating, then you should have to go back. Someone like Todd is going to have a brain injury until the day he dies. He’s not going to change. Nothing’s going to improve. Why should he have to go and have this paperwork filled out all the time? With this bill, at least you get help filling all this out. I can tell you, because it just happened to us, we got a letter saying all of Todd’s benefits would be cancelled because something didn’t get filled out right. We found out that one paper hadn’t been signed.”
Is complicated documentation requested to discourage people from taking their benefits?
“No one wants to throw people off their benefits. One of the advantages of this bill is increasing the percentages of eligible applicants awarded federal disability benefits. We want to catch all those people. There are people who have members of their family who are eligible but may not have any idea that these services are out there. Unless a doctor, or someone you come across says, ‘Colorado has these benefits, have you accessed them?’ You wouldn’t know. But the paperwork does have to be filled out right. It does have to be signed by the right people. Until you live this life, you’re not aware of these issues. This bill seems like it doesn’t do a lot. It doesn’t seem like a bill that is going to change the tax base or have a huge impact on people’s lives like some of our legislation. But I believe it will have a huge impact on people who truly need it. This is a group of people we should always be looking out for and taking care of as best we can. If this bill goes forward, I think it will be a much more important bill to a lot of Coloradans than people realize.”
Catherine Strode is Advocacy Denver’s Communications and Policy Specialist. She holds a Masters degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Health Care Policy. Catherine publishes Policy Perspective, featuring interviews with state policy makers on issues that affect the work and mission of Advocacy Denver.