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


In the summer of 1974, at age 33, a Cranston resident and veteran of the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army began to experience symptoms of mental illness and was diagnosed with a serious mental disorder. In 1975, he applied for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied his claim. His family could not understand why he was denied, and he re-applied in March of 1978. SSA again denied his claim. His family reluctantly accepted SSA’s decision and did not appeal. His mental health never improved.

In 2003, when he became eligible for Social Security retirement benefits, his wife applied for him. While at the SSA, she asked why he was never eligible for disability benefits, and she applied again on his behalf, alleging disability back to 1975. Later in 2005 a hearing was scheduled for his case. At the hearing, an independent medical expert testified that the claimant had experienced “marked” limitations in multiple fields of functioning since at least 1975. The Administrative Law Judge therefore approved the case, issuing a decision awarding benefits, but only since the most recent application in 2003. The judge denied him benefits dating back to 1975. Therefore, although medical evidence established disability back to 1975, he was only awarded SSI benefits dating back to December 2003, the month after his final SSI application. Not long after in 2005, the claimant died in a veteran’s home.

His grieving widow consulted with Marasco & Nesselbush partner Donna Nesselbush to inquire whether she had any appeal rights regarding his prior disability applications. Citing a little-known Social Security law, Attorney Nesselbush appealed the ruling, arguing that he was, in fact and in law, entitled to disability benefits dating back to 1975. The Appeals Council denied the claim, as did the United States District Court. Loyal to her client and believing in the case, Attorney Nesselbush appealed to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. In September 2010, the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in our client’s favor, remanding the case back to Social Security for another hearing.

At that hearing, Marasco & Nesselbush Associate Attorney, Joseph P. Wilson, represented our client’s widow. After reviewing all the evidence, an independent medical expert agreed with the Social Security team at Marasco & Nesselbush, stating that our client’s illness was totally disabling all the way back to 1975, and the judge awarded his widow the retroactive benefits dating from 1975.

Finally, 36 years after his initial application and after six long years of litigation, we are very pleased to report that our client’s family has seen justice done. For our client’s widow, this marks the end of a long and difficult journey. “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.” – our client’s widow said.