Meanwhile, watching Mina wake up at 4:30 a.m. for work, then return to take care of the household, all on her salary of about $55,000, preys on his soul as much as the diabetes, neuropathy and carpal tunnel diminish his physical capabilities.
Along the way, he cashed in his 401(k) to pay off the remainder of the mortgage and clear credit card debt. But with only Mina's salary, rising medical and prescription costs are causing those credit card balances to balloon.
"He's a lucky one," said Hall. "All things considered, that's a very bad situation, but many are in worse situations."
Hall referenced a woman he represents who had a hearing Monday. Because of her predicament, she lives in a house with no electricity or functioning plumbing. Hardship cases are typically expedited. Even so, this woman was two years into her claim. She will likely wait another four to five months for a decision, and if she wins, another two to three months to receive her benefits.
Expedited hardship cases mean a longer wait for those like Tovar.
Some wait so long they die before their hearing. Last year, 7,400 people on wait lists were dead, according to a report by Social Security's inspector general.
Up to Congress
Disability benefits are not meant to replace salary, but rather to lend a helping hand. The average benefit is $1,037 a month. It won't help the Tovars pay down their credit cards again, but it could at least help them from piling on excessive debt.
"I've been thinking about that, too; what am I going to do if I get turned down?" Tovar said. "My condition is deteriorating. I'm just wondering what I'm going to do if it doesn't go through. Eighteen months from now, it's going to be worse."
Many claims that finally reach the hearing stage are declined. Of the 4,513 claims that went before a judge last fiscal year, 38 percent were denied.