Mississippi Math Teacher Counts on Experts to Assist in Receiving SSDI Benefits
Obtaining Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a difficult and complex process. Two out of every three applicants initially are denied. Sheri Sistrunk was experiencing chronic pain when her initial application was denied. Determined to get the benefits she had paid for, she turned to experts for help. She shares her story here.
* This is a true story as told to Allsup.
After 13 surgeries and years of unbearable pain, this former teacher turned to the industry experts when she applied for Social Security disability benefits.
Pain is No Stranger
Jayess, Mississippi-Pain is hardly a stranger to Sheri Sistrunk. Despite the many medical problems that have plagued the 55-year-old Mississippi native, she has maintained an affable, almost serene, demeanor throughout.
A high school math teacher, Mrs. Sistrunk attained a sense of fulfillment and purpose through her 33-year teaching career.
"I really enjoyed the kids. That was the best part of my job," she said with a soft southern drawl. Then, with a slight chuckle, she added, "The grown-ups, well," she paused, "that's another story."
At age 30, Sistrunk came face-to-face with her first health problem. Ongoing, inexplicable pain hijacked her attention. She soon learned that she was suffering from endometriosis.
Endometriosis is the development of uterine-lining tissue outside the uterus. Although not always harmful, it is often characterized by abdominal or lower back pain, abnormal bleeding and infertility. Sometimes the pain and bleeding can be severe enough to interfere with daily functioning and activities.
Mrs. Sistrunk continued working, but she eventually opted for a hysterectomy-the removal of the uterus and ovaries. This is typically the last-resort option for women experiencing severe and unmanageable pain. Unfortunately, the pain continued. Still determined, however, she opted to undergo another surgery…and yet, another. Over time, there was an almost unfathomable total of 13 surgeries.
Mrs. Sistrunk managed to continue working until she faced yet another obstacle-a series of migraine headaches, which were so extreme that it became difficult to stay on her feet.
"It got to where I'd be out of commission for two to three days," she explained. "My doctor prescribed medication, but it didn't work too well."
Then, she began experiencing other symptoms that she was unable to explain. She developed shingles, memory loss, and mysteriously, her face had begun to droop. She sought help through the high school nurse, who quickly urged her to see a doctor.
"The nurse thought I might have had a stroke," Mrs. Sistrunk continued, adding that she promptly sought medical care. To her surprise, her neurologist ruled out stroke, and instead diagnosed her with Ramsay-Hunt Syndrome.
Ramsay-Hunt Syndrome is a rare neurological disorder that leads to the paralysis of certain facial nerves and a rash that may affect the ears and or mouth. The same virus causes chickenpox in children and shingles in adults.
In 2007, Mrs. Sistrunk reluctantly left her beloved teaching profession. "It's hard to continue teaching when your students are like, 'What's wrong with you?' " she explained.
Not knowing where to turn, she began conducting online research. It was there that she learned about Allsup, the nation's leading Social Security disability advocacy company.
Headquartered in Belleville, Ill., near St. Louis, Allsup has helped over 110,000 people with disabilities nationwide obtain more than $10.3 billion in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Medicare benefits. Now celebrating its 25th year in business, the company's success rate is a staggering 98 percent. Based on those numbers, it is understandable why Allsup has identified "expert" as one of its core values.
After careful consideration and reading encouraging reviews of Allsup from the Better Business Bureau (the organization had awarded Allsup its prized Torch Award for superior customer service), Mrs. Sistrunk made the call.
Allsup representative Tina Sambo went to work on her SSDI claim in May 2007. She cautioned Mrs. Sistrunk that the SSDI application process would be stressful and could take one to three years. As expected, because the Social Security Administration denies two-thirds of all initial applications, Mrs. Sistrunk's claim was denied. With Allsup's help, she appealed the decision, but was denied once again.
With her case now headed toward adjudication by an administrative law judge (ALJ), the claim was elevated to an Allsup senior representative. He thoroughly prepared Mrs. Sistrunk for the oral hearing before the ALJ and presented his case. He stressed that the claimant had a strong work history, and deserved SSDI benefits because her disabilities prevented her from working.
The ALJ agreed and awarded SSDI benefits in February 2009.
Mrs. Sistrunk found the process to be "unbelievably easy."
"It took more than a year and a half to receive notice of my award," she explained, "but Tina had warned me ahead of time what to expect. I had a tremendous experience with Allsup. They were so helpful and patient."
Allsup helped relieve Mrs. Sistrunk of the burdens of the process, handling most of the work for her over the telephone and through the mail. "All I had to do was fill out a little paperwork, see the doctor, answer the phone and show up for my hearing," she recalled. "Allsup did a tremendous job."
Financially, the regular monthly benefits have been helpful. "My stress has decreased drastically," Mrs. Sistrunk remarked. "And managing stress is very important, especially for people with Ramsay-Hunt Syndrome."
Fortunately, she has had help from thoughtful family and friends.
"My mother is in the early stages of Alzheimer's, and one of her caretakers helps me out sometimes," the former teacher said. "Sometimes, he'll help me out with errands I need to run or even help me iron clothes."
Today, she is managing her pain and has been able to control the Ramsay-Hunt Syndrome symptoms through medication. Still, Mrs. Sistrunk says there are ups and downs.
"How I manage varies from day to day," she said matter-of-factly. "Some days are normal, and other days I stay in pajamas most of the day and just hope tomorrow is better."
Mrs. Sistrunk enthusiastically added that she would, "absolutely recommend Allsup to a friend. They made things very easy for me and took away the stress. You couldn't find a nicer group of people to work with."