This past summer I had the wonderful opportunity to work with Gateway Legal Services, a non-for-profit law firm based out of Saint Louis that takes cases involving supplemental security income, social security disability, and veteran benefits. Throughout the summer I attended pre-hearing meetings where a lawyer would discuss each case to ensure that the correct paperwork and related medical and school notes were requested. In addition, I called clients to ensure that their medical records were up-to-date.
Talking to clients was one of the most thought-provoking things I did. Many clients desperately needed the money to pay for medical expenses, a home, and other essentials. The process is arduous, and sadly, it shows no signs of improvement. During my time there, the average wait after filing for a hearing, which is already the third step, moved from 15 to 18 months. No matter the client’s background, they all have one thing in common: they need the money to survive.
When I was calling clients two distinct themes emerged: either the education system had failed them or the medical system had failed them. Or both had failed them. These are two systems that we often talk about in sociology, and during this election season these two systems are receiving much attention. Party lines, however, need to be set aside when talking about these issues; the decisions being made are not affecting the politicians who are making them, but people like the clients at Gateway. They are affecting those who are seen, but never heard. These are real people with real stories and it is essential that we remember that.
We are fortunate enough to attend a wonderful university and have a voice. It is our job to speak for those who are not being heard.