Benefits suspension leads to strife, death

Tuesday’s public meeting was no less crowded than the first, with well over 150 people crowding the fiscal courtroom to ask questions, file paperwork, and hear updates in the cases against the Social Security Administration and Eric C. Conn.

PRESTONSBURG — Outside the court proceedings against the Social Security Administration and Eric C. Conn, the struggle 900 people were facing as the disability benefits go into suspension has led to strife, desperation, and in at least one case, suicide.

Thursday afternoon, Congressman Hal Rogers announced that the Social Security Administration would reverse its decision and return benefits to those in need until individual hearings can be held.

That news came too late for some. The surviving family of Leroy Burchett is grieving after the 41-year-old Ivel resident took his own life.

Attorney Ned Pillersdorf, prosecuting the cases on behalf of the estimated 900 who received disability letters, announced on Facebook that he spoke with Burchett’s widow, Emma Burchett, who confirmed that the suicide was the result of desperation and to see his family would continue to receive benefits.

Pillersdorf says Emma shared the news and authorized its announcement in the “hopes that others feeling desperate won’t do the same.”

Pillersdorf shared later that in speaking with a detective with the Kentucky State Police, who wished to remain anonymous, the KSP is investigating other possible suicides that may be linked to lost disability benefits cases.

Many of those receiving disability benefits need the money to afford their prescriptions. Many medications are for critical medical needs, while others are for psychological needs that could prove just as potentially fatal if discontinued. In another posting, Pillersdorf urged those who take antidepressants to continue them if at all possible and contact their physician before discontinuing them.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is (800) 273-TALK. Mountain Comprehensive Care Center can also be reached at a toll free number, (800) 422-1060.

After the second public meeting on Tuesday, attorneys with Appalachian Research and Defense Fund (AppalReD) spoke about the other harms these people face. While they are currently inundated with calls and working to gather information to try and find legal counsel for the hundreds affected, they are also bracing for wrongful death lawsuits, foreclosures, evictions, and other crises.

Attorneys interested in joining AppalReD to provide legal aid in these cases can contact Mary Going at (606) 886-8136 ext. 1315.

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