Advocacy on Behalf of Disabled Refugees and Immigrants
After many years of representing disabled Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders, in particular Iraqi and Afghan individuals who assisted the U.S. military in their countries, we noticed a disturbing pattern.
Social Security Administration offices around the United States, where SIVs applied for disability benefits, were telling them that they were ineligible. Or, if they had been approved for benefits, their benefits were being terminated after only eight months, with reliance on an outdated law.
We knew that eight months eligibility was not the law. When our efforts to work with the Social Security Administration to correct this problem failed, we turned to the courts.
In 2017, we brought a pending class action in federal District Court (OR) against the Secretary of Health and Human Services on behalf of these SIVs to demand that the benefits owed to them be paid.
An immediate positive result of our lawsuit was that Social Security issued new rules to instruct its Field Offices not to terminate benefits or refuse to process applications for SIVs.
However, Social Security continues to argue that this is limited to a few isolated individuals. Moreover, these SIVs are still owed up to eight years of past benefits illegally denied to them; if we succeed in our lawsuit, they will be better able to access healthcare, housing and other needed services.
Sometimes the best place to achieve change is through the Oregon Legislature.
Our Executive Director successfully drafted, and with the help of Senator Sara Gelser, shepherded legislation in 2015 to create a right for disabled individuals to obtain their medical records free of charge. That legislation withstood challenge in 2017 and remains the law today.
In the coming session, we will be drafting and working with legislators on a new bill directed at achieving greater health equity for disabled refugees and immigrants.
If you’d like to learn more about our advocacy, please contact our Executive Director at 971-270-0755 or cheryl@riseNW.org.
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