Widow Awarded 30 Years of Past-Due Social Security Disability Benefits


Cranston Widow of Disabled Veteran Awarded 30 Years of Past-Due Social Security Disability Benefits

(Cranston, RI): With the assistance of Marasco & Nesselbush, after a protracted legal battle, Cecelia Frusher, a Cranston widow, has been awarded 30 years of retroactive Social Security disability benefits as the beneficiary of the estate of her deceased husband. During the summer of 1974, the late Dr. Richard Frusher, a veteran of the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army, began to experience symptoms of severe mental illness. He sought treatment, and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. By September of that year, he had fully decompensated; family members found him repeatedly pounding his head against the wall. In 1975, he applied for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, and was denied.

Dr. Frusher continued to decompensate due to his illness. He and his family reapplied for benefits in 1978, but the Social Security Administration again found that he was “not disabled.” His family could not understand why he was continually denied, but they did not appeal, and his wife and children struggled to care for their mentally ill husband and father.

Dr. Frusher’s mental health never improved. In November of 2003, when Richard was age 62, his wife applied for Early Retirement benefits for him. She again inquired about disability benefits, and filed yet another application for disability. SSA determined that he was no longer eligible to apply for SSDI because his “date last insured” had expired, but they allowed him to apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. At the hearing, an independent medical expert testified that, in fact, Dr. Frusher was disabled since 1975. However, due to alleged legal constraints, the judge issued a decision awarding SSI only benefits, and only from December of 2003—the month after his most recent application. Gone were all those years of SSDI benefits.

After the decision, Cecelia Frusher consulted with Marasco & Nesselbush partner Donna M. Nesselbush to inquire whether her husband had any appeal rights regarding his prior applications. Knowing that there are tenets of Social Security law that would protect Richard Frusher and allow him to be paid the disability benefits he deserved all those years, citing Social Security Ruling 91-5p, Attorney Nesselbush appealed the 1975 denial of SSDI benefits to the Appeals Council. In September of 2005, the Appeals Council remanded the matter back to a second judge for a new hearing. Less than a month later, Dr. Frusher died in a veteran’s home. Despite her grief, his widow decided to press on with his disability claim.

At the second hearing in early 2006, Attorney Nesselbush moved that the court find that Richard Frusher’s documented severe mental illness constituted “good cause” for his failure to appeal the prior applications. The judge denied her motion in June of that year. Attorney Nesselbush again appealed the denial to the Appeals Council. This time the Appeals Council denied the claim. Believing that her client had been denied his rights unjustly, Attorney Nesselbush then filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island. The District Court denied the appeal. Refusing to give up, and feeling that due process and fundamental fairness were at stake in this case, Attorney Nesselbush then appealed to the United States First Circuit Court of Appeals. In September of 2010, the First Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Attorney Nesselbush and ruled that substantial evidence did not support the lower court’s refusal to find good cause, and that an additional hearing was necessary.

The Frusher matter was heard by the Social Security Administration for a third time, before a third administrative law judge, on April 25, 2011. Attorney Joseph P. Wilson of Marasco & Nesselbush represented the widow of Dr. Richard Frusher, and argued that the law and facts supported a finding of disability dating back to 1975. The judge agreed. In a decision dated April 29, 2011, the judge found that Frusher’s schizophrenia was, in fact, good cause pursuant to SSR 91-5p for his failure to appeal the denials in 1975 and 1978. Therefore, his estate would be entitled to Social Security disability benefits (SSDI) dating from 1975 until the date of his death.

“Finally, 36 years after his initial application, and after six long years of litigation, Richard’s family has seen justice done,” said Marsaco & Nesselbush Partner Donna M. Nesselbush. “I know from my legal training that Richard deserved nothing less than equal protection under the law, and I knew that the law was on his side, given his factual situation. I am proud of our firm for taking this case, and extremely proud of our judicial system. We are a nation of laws, and the law clearly says that, no matter what mental health takes away from you, it can never take away your legal right to be treated fairly.” Attorney Nesselbush further observed that no one should give up hope if he or she is unjustly denied disability benefits. “The appeals process is lengthy and strictly regulated, but at the end of the day, if a claimant is too ill to appeal an unfavorable ruling, he or she is entitled to special consideration under Social Security’s regulations. This case firmly demonstrates that justice is ultimately possible in such cases.”

For Cecelia Frusherthe decision was personal. “This decision finally honors my late husband, and he deserves it. Marasco & Nesselbush walked with me through the unjust times until we turned it into justice, and never once did this firm lose their confidence or give up on my husband’s claim. For this, I thank them.”

Marasco & Nesselbush is a leading personal injury and Social Security disability law firm, with offices throughout Rhode Island (in Providence, Wakefield, Warwick and Woonsocket). For more information, please visit www.M-N-Law.com.

The law firm of Marasco & Nesselbush, LLC, represents individuals and families in matters of personal injury (including auto accidents), Social Security disability, and medical malpractice. Our attorneys serve clients throughout Rhode Island at offices in Providence, Woonsocket, Warwick, and Wakefield. Our firm represents residents of Providence, Kent, Bristol, Newport and Washington Counties, as well as clients in Massachusetts and Connecticut.Providence SSDI Attorneys – Social Security Disability Lawyer