McKinney, Texas – If Gloria Barotta had her way, she might wear a bandage on her head to show something is wrong with her. Not that she wants to publicize it, but the insidious nature of brain injuries is that people with mental impairments can look normal, which masks unseen forces as crippling as physical ailments.Ms. Barotta is adjusting to life with a disability. At age 57, she reluctantly accepts this as a never-ending process, a stark contrast to her life a little more than two years earlier.
For 33 years, she had a career in marketing and advertising. Formerly based in St. Louis, she relocated to Dallas to continue executive work as a vice president drawing a six-figure income. Life was good.
A crash of metal at an intersection April 2, 2010, brought all that to a halt. Riding as a passenger, her side of the car bore the brunt of a collision that inflicted a frontal lobe blow to the side of her head followed by a major jolt when her car hit a fire hydrant.
“I blacked out,” she said, “and woke up 35 minutes later in the ambulance. I had a huge laceration on the left side of my head that was deep enough to see my skull.”
She said that the next six weeks were like a fog. “I was just going through the motions of life,” Ms. Barotta said. She spent just a few days in the hospital and then was sent home after being told that she would be fine. However, she was not fine. She was mentally changed, but the differences were subtle.
“I was overreacting, overemotional and needed help to do even simple things,” she said. “I’d have a conversation and totally stop for a minute. Then I’d pick up on a totally different subject. My business partner noticed it first.”
Initially after the accident, Ms. Barotta found that her world was completely flat. “It’s like watching TV,” she explained. “There’s no depth to anything. I don’t feel like I’m a part of life.”
Eventually, that feeling went away and was replaced with visual spatial issues. She has trouble focusing her eyes when driving, on quickly moving objects or at large gatherings of people where there are distractions.
Visits to stores and malls are too much stimulation for her. “My hearing is so sensitive that I often wear earplugs in crowds,” Ms. Barotta said.
She credited a rehabilitation center in Dallas for helping her get started in the right direction during four months of therapy. From the start, the news was grim. “My neurologist told me this was a big deal and said, ‘I wouldn’t trust you on the road with my family out there,'” Ms. Barotta said. “I couldn’t even do fourth-grade math.”
She hoped to return to consulting, but, she said, “I had lost my critical thinking skills and judgment. The psychological and emotional skills were the lingering effects.”
When she asked if she should apply for Texas Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, her neurologist was taken aback. Ms. Barotta said he asked, “You mean you haven’t already applied?” She received a brochure for Allsup and decided to make a call.
Allsup is a nationwide provider of Social Security Disability Insurance representation and Medicare plan selection services. Founded in 1984, Allsup employs more than 800 professionals who deliver specialized services supporting people with disabilities and seniors so they may lead lives that are as financially secure and as healthy as possible. Allsup has helped more than 190,000 people receive the SSDI benefits they paid for while working.
Ms. Barotta called Allsup in November 2010 and immediately had to battle one of her new psychological problems-the need to be in charge of everything. “Allsup wanted to take control,” she said. “But then I saw they built a case very differently from what I thought they would. They were very comforting. I dumped everything on them and didn’t have to worry about it anymore.”
Even in her condition, her SSDI benefits were denied twice. Allsup professionals told her to expect that because most initial SSDI applications are denied. “They told me it’s common that you’ll be rejected,” she said. “But they never gave me false hope. I felt very assured.”
In early 2012, she appeared at a hearing before an administrative law judge with an Allsup representative next to her. “His credentials were impeccable,” Ms. Barotta said. “He was very assured and said we had a solid case.”
Weeks later in May 2012, she got a call from Allsup. “They received a note from Social Security asking to verify my bank information,” she said. “I felt like jumping up and down, knowing I had been approved. Then the reality hit me that I qualified for disability.
“I wanted my old life back, even though I knew I was never going to do what I used to do,” she said. “It’s tough going from a six-figure income to living on such a tight budget. It’s difficult to resign myself to this as my new life.
“Getting my disability benefits saved me from sinking,” she said. “Without it I would be living with no income or health insurance.”
With Allsup’s help, Ms. Barotta now has Social Security disability benefits for which she is grateful. “It felt like they were working with Social Security and talking in their language,” she said. “They were not fighting, but advocating. They were very empathetic, and that’s a huge benefit.”