Too sick to work—but scared that applying for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits will tie you up in a terminal case of red tape? Get over it, says Karl Ezkovich, New Orleans’ go-to guy when it comes to working the system. Ezkovich started helping PWAs nab benefits—a new full-time job—after retiring from his gig at Louisiana welfare 15 years ago. He admits that the SSD office can be a bureaucratic bayou (“Take a Prozac before you go”), but promises getting benefits can be as painless as “buying movie tickets”—and, hey, if you’re eligible, you’ve earned ‘em. His secret weapon? “I’m just a nice kid,” the 71-year-old says. “But I can be pushy as hell.” Not to mention a mensch: The guy has never accepted a penny for his services. That’s why he’s our May recipient of Partner Props!
Where to start? Click onto www.ssa.gov/pubs/10029.html. Then take these four tips from Master Karl:
• Help me, Doc! Not all HIVers qualify for benefits. But if you’ve had any of40 opportunistic infections or such chronic symptoms as diarrhea or fatigue—and if your doctor keeps good records—you should collect.
• Be prepared. Bring proof you exist—driver’s license or passport, SSD card, rent receipt and latest bank statement—to the SSD. In turn, they’ll give you a medical checklist for Doc.
• Walk the walk. To speed things along, walk all necessary forms to the SSD office. Is it too far away? Or are you too sick? Let your fingers do the walking—phone 800.772.1213.
• Get personal. Take down the name and title of everyone you talk to at SSD. Once you’ve applied, you’ll get a letter saying your case is being reviewed. No word after 30 days? Give your new SSD friend a call, Ezkovich says. Uncle Sam requires a decision on all HIV cases within 90 days.