Stories from the brainreels guest Cheryl Coon

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Part of the real-world story for many disabled people involves worrying about money. It’s a topic that has come up in some of the documentary interviews: where to find it, how to get it, how to hang onto it, and whether and how to apply for various benefits.

Before I go any further, let me please make a quick plug about Social Security benefits: SSDI is for people who used to work but became too impaired to support themselves by working. It’s paid to people from money they already paid into the system through deductions on their paychecks. SSI is for children or adults who haven’t worked enough in the past 10 years before applying. SSI pays out very little to people who have almost nothing. If we agree that people with impairments are full-fledged people regardless of whether there are jobs they can work, then the money is deserved. It’s living money, not buy new cars money. Neither of these schemes is about mooching. Just wanted to put that out there from the beginning. Because a lot of people with acquired disabilities feel great shame in needing to apply for benefits.

And do you know what people with brain injuries also feel? Utter confusion. The paperwork is complex. If you have trouble reading, concentrating, paying attention, avoiding distractions, following steps in order, keeping track of dates, following up, remembering what you’ve already written and what else you should still write, or knowing how to describe your struggles, you’re gonna have a tough time applying. A very tough time. I’ve often felt like some of us should be granted benefits based on how badly we filled out the applications or how many deadlines we missed. These mistakes end up proving the fact that we can’t get it together enough to hold a full-time and/or well-paid job.

At a time when many of us are working hard to prove to ourselves and others that we’re still valuable, worthwhile people, we’re filling out page after page describing how helpless, pitiful and needy we are. It’s very hard on the emotions in addition to the above-mentioned problems. And yet, both are true. We are worthwhile people with much to contribute even with those impairments that make 40-hour jobs impossible.

So why do so many of us insist on doing all this paperwork and fighting on our own? And why do people, including myself, insist on getting support from lawyers who know nothing about people with brain injury? It only slows down the slow process even more and leads to huge and unnecessary frustration.

Please listen in to “Stories from the brainreels” this Friday, October 6th at 1:00 pm Pacific time (or any time after that). My guest is Portland area Social Security lawyer Cheryl Coon. She works very closely with the brain injury community, both in assisting individuals to get benefits and in leadership roles like past service on the Board of the Brain Injury Alliance of Oregon and supporting local non-profit BIRRDsong. Cheryl will talk about some nuts and bolts in applying for benefits. She will also share some stories about her experiences around disability on a more personal level.

As with the last lawyer I interviewed on the show, David Kracke, Cheryl Coon has never been my lawyer. I just want the community to recognize her skills and expertise and appreciate that people with knowledge of brain injury are the people you want and need on your team. She’s also got a fabulous sense of humor and has a great way of making you feel at ease. You can’t get enough of that through this process. Contact Cheryl Coon’s office at 503-228-5222 and through

This is a fun and engaging conversation. I mean, it’s two Cheryls talking about brain injury. It’s bound to be awesome.

Click here for accessible transcript of episode # 009.