Northwest Justice Project - Public Benefits Unit
Brian Cadousteau is working in the Public Benefits unit of the Northwest Justice Project in Seattle, Washington. NJP provides free civil legal assistance and representation to low-income people and communities throughout Washington. Its mission is to secure justice through high quality legal advocacy that promotes the well being of low-income individuals, families, and communities. Brian is directly representing clients in public benefits cases, which include denials, terminations, and reductions of TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), Basic Food, Medicaid, and DDD (Division of Developmental Disabilities) benefits. Brian has the opportunity to participate in client interviews, provide legal advice, conduct discovery, participate in negotiations, draft legal briefs, and participate in administrative fair hearings. He works with diverse client populations, such as domestic violence victims, individuals with limited English proficiency, the elderly, children, and the disabled. Currently, Brian is focused on developing legal arguments and strategies in regards to the DDD eligibility guidelines for disabled children transitioning out of the foster care system. Last summer, Brian interned in the Department of Social and Health Services Litigation Division at the Attorney General’s Office in Seattle. He hopes that his experience there will give him a unique and valuable perspective as he now takes on the challenge of litigating claims against his former employer.
July 2, 2012
I've been at NJP for a little over a month now and my experience here has been everything that I expected: painfully-slow computers that make me wonder each day why I didn't lug my lap-top onto the bus and into work that morning; shared office space that makes the conversations happening across from me extremely distracting unless I’m laser-focused on whatever it is I’m working on; clients who, for a variety of reasons, won’t call me back with information I need to move their case forward. But this is what I signed up for. This is what I wanted: a place to grind it out with the best of them.
I currently have 4 open cases. In one of them, I am assisting a client with an appeal of the denial of her 14-year old daughter’s Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) benefits. In Washington, to qualify for DDD benefits for mental retardation, a psychologist must make a finding that the patient received a Full Scale Intelligence Quotient (FSIQ) score of 69 or below on the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales, a standardized test that assesses intelligence and cognitive abilities in children and adults aged 2 to 23. Because it is unclear whether the daughter will score a 69 or below if she takes a new FSIQ (she took one back in 2005, but this score most likely won’t hold up in court, as it will probably be deemed an inaccurate representation of her current cognitive functioning), and because DDD will use the most recent FSIQ score when making its decision to approve or deny her benefits, I advised the client that, at this point, it’s not worth the risk of locking in an unfavorable FSIQ score that will forever be a blemish on her daughter’s DDD application. I suggested a different approach. I have been conducting discovery and familiarizing myself with the daughter’s medical record so that I can be well-versed when I have to convince the psychologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital that he should make a favorable estimate as to the daughter’s FSIQ (turns out, there is a Washington Administrative Code (WAC) that states that an estimate is a legally sufficient substitute for an actual FSIQ score). Developing a legal strategy for this case has been a very rewarding experience for me, and has allowed me to get out from under the shadows of other attorneys and into a place where I can work independently and creatively to address my client’s legal issues.
July 27, 2012
It’s 6:23 p.m. on a Friday and life was good at the office today. One of the senior Public Benefits attorneys just won a huge case for her client from Azerbaijan. The client had been receiving Supplemental Security Income (A federal income supplement designed to help aged, blind, or disabled people who have little or no income) in the amount of about 600 dollars a month when the State stopped his benefits and served him with an overpayment bill of roughly 16,000 thousand dollars. The reason? He had “concealed” his ownership of a house he had inherited from a family member in Azerbaijan a few years back, and therefore wasn’t under the resource limit required to receive SSI benefits. The attorney did some investigating and discovered that the house was essentially worthless because it was stationed in the middle of what used to be a huge mudslide. In a nutshell, she argued that because the client was not living in the house, and because the client couldn’t sell the house to anyone (he tried), it should be exempt from his resource pool. Makes sense right? The judge thought so too. It wasn’t a super complex legal argument because it didn’t have to be. But it allowed a guy who’d been dealt a crappy hand in life to get a huge break and not have to pay back a ton of money he didn’t have.
As for the cases I’ve been working on, well, they’ve been pretty interesting too. One of my clients who’s on Medicaid was tortured in Baghdad during the War in Iraq because he vocalized his opinion to not engage in violence with U.S. soldiers. Now he’s living in the U.S. and is unemployed as a result of the injuries he incurred. He is trying to get a certain type of back surgery done so that he can work again. However, Medicaid (The U.S. health program jointly funded by federal and state governments for certain people and families with low incomes and resources) has said it won’t cover the back surgery because it’s not “medically necessary.” My job today was to investigate everything from how/when he incurred his back injury to how courts have interpreted “medically necessary” in prior cases. As always, I’m really hoping to find a way to help this client. Despite being in a lot of pain, he is a very nice man and deserves a chance to rebuild his life here in the states.
I have only 3 weeks left of my internship and I have to say I’m going to be very sad when it’s all over. I have grown to really love the work I’ve been doing this summer and the amazing people I work with. I will never forget it.