Inside This Issue
- A Word From Charles E. Binder
- What's New in Our World
- Top Five Questions Clients Ask After A Hearing
- We Get Letters (And E-mails)
- Power Person of the Month
How to Get the Respect You Deserve From the Legal System
Times are changing. The federal courts are beginning to believe that CFIDS can be disabling. But for those of us who care about people who suffer from chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS), we still have a long way to go.
I gave a talk a few years ago at a gathering of lawyers who practice Social Security Disability law. In my address, I proposed several re-tape-cutting systems that would greatly speed up the process for dismissing obviously wild claims.
An Administrative Law Judge came up to me after my talk and told me he liked my proposals. With one exception: "Don't send me any of those chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia cases," he said.
If you have CFIDS, getting the respect you deserve from the government's legal system means you have to first convince your doctor you're disabled. Then your doctor has to help you and your attorney convince the government.
Here are five ways you can help your own case:
1. Find a doctor who is specifically familiar with your disorder and is well-respected in the medical profession.
The degree of respect your doctor's testimony gets at a hearing is often directly related to his or her expertise with your particular problem, and his or her standing in the medical community.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) routinely calls doctors to testify as "impartial" witnesses to explain unusual disorders to the Administrative Law Judges. Most of these doctors seem to feel their role is really to justify denying claims.
In order to properly refute their testimony, it helps your attorney if your doctor's qualifications concerning your specific disorder are as good as, or better than, the government's doctor.
2. Be a model patient.
Keep records of doctor visits. Keep a daily log of symptoms. When you describe fluctuations accurately, your testimony becomes more believable. Keep written notes on low-grade fevers, variable muscle aches and pains in the joints. It makes you a better patient for your doctor and a better witness for your attorney.
3. Ask your physician to make their reports in a simple and straightforward form.
Reports that look "slick" or "faddish" create credibility problems. Chiropractors frequently use fancy, color stationery that pictures the spinal cord. Often judges think the author of a report presented like that is somehow not serious enough.
Judges are lawyers. And lawyers tend to be stuffy. Their perception is that a really distinguished doctor, like a professor of medicine at a major teaching hospital, is not likely to use such stationery. Perception counts in winning your case.
4. Avoid self-serving doctors.
One of my favorite CFIDS clients was seeing a physician who was attentive and a good listener. That's good. My client felt she was doing better under his care. That's also good. Unfortunately, his reports always seem to mention how much better she is doing than when under another doctor's care. That's not good. It severely weakens the impact of his reports. To an experienced Administrative Law Judge, his reports lack credibility.
5. Always maintain your own self respect.
I think I understand how difficult that must been when you are suffering from CFIDS. But you can never expect to get respect from other people, let alone from the government and the legal system, if you don't respect yourself.
Administrative Law Judges in the Social Security system are trained to follow acceptable medical proof of disability. As the medical profession more readily accepts CFIDS as a disabling disorder, the Social Security system and the courts in general will follow.
Times are changing. For the better. You can help the times change a little faster for yourself and for everyone who must deal with CFIDS by following these five simple rules.
What's New in Our World
by Rachel Farganis
We've continued on with our venture into the social media world-and as I watch our number of "fans" grow on our Facebook page, a sense of personal relief grows along with it. As the world continues to change and grow, heading more and more towards the Internet and technology age and further away from...well, the paper age, it's great to be able to reach out with news at a moment's notice.
But, as I mentioned last time, the news we share isn't always what I would consider happy news. Recent news has shed a lot of negative light on the Social Security Administration and the Social Security Disability process. Some days, it's hard to post updates knowing how difficult the news can be to hear for some, if not all, of our clients. Although I am not personally applying for disability benefits, I deal with clients-directly and indirectly-on a daily basis that are. So, a part of me wishes there was more we could do to speed up the process from start to finish. And part of me wishes the process and the system wasn't riddled with so many stories of difficulty, scams, and fraud.
The bright light I find at the end of tunnel-and, the bright light I hope our clients find too, is that no matter the hardships faced along the way, we have a solid and dedicated team working on their behalf every day...and this is one thing I know will remain constant.
Top Five Questions Clients Ask After a Hearing
By Stacey Laskin
You've spent restless nights playing out the exchange. The judge is a kindly woman in a black robe, she smiles, and she asks you, "What's wrong?" You both cry together, and then she hands you a check, which you use to pay off your mortgage and buy a celebratory chocolate cake.
Then you wake up to spend another day worrying about why Dr. So Busy won't answer the phone and whether you should wear new shoes to your hearing. The entire process is exhausting. And this is why, after your hearing, you'll inevitably still have questions.
These are the ones I'm most commonly asked:
1. Did I Win? Social Security judges, experts and representatives speak in jargon. We use abbreviations, numbers, regulations and rule citations to talk about the experiences you live. As a result, it can be difficult to determine exactly what happened at a hearing.
Occasionally, a judge will issue an official decision at a hearing. Other times, a judge will only give an indication as to what his or her decision may be. More often than not, the hearing ends with some ambiguity.
Even when the judge explicitly states that he or she has issued a decision on-the-record, many clients don't realize they've won benefits until afterward, when I've shaken their hands and expressed my congratulations.
This proves there really is no such thing as a stupid question. I should be able to help decipher the "harrumphs" and the code words.
2. When Will I Find Out If I've Won? If your hearing is one of the many that ends with some uncertainty, your next question will be some variation of, "How long?"
The answer is that I don't know how long. I really don't. For the most part, it's completely outside my control. However, some judges are known for quick turn-around in just a few weeks and others have a reputation for dragging their feet for months. I can let you know about my experience with your judge and what you might expect.
Your judge will probably take your file after the hearing and stick it in a pile. Some time in the future, he or she may look at your file again and propose a decision. Then a staff attorney might review the file. The attorney and the judge may discuss the proposed decision. That decision could change several times throughout the course of their research. Eventually, the staff attorney will write up your decision and then give it to the judge for review and editing. Once the decision is completed, the Social Security Administration will mail a copy to both you and me.
3. Did I Say the Wrong Thing? If you say something in your hearing that is not supportive of disability, I'll probably let you know. But I'll also tell you what options we have now that the record reflects that you spend your afternoons deep sea diving or dirt bike racing.
Most likely, whatever you said was not "wrong." You testified about your story, and whatever your story is, it's not wrong as long as it's true.
But, if you lie to the judge, the judge will know. The judge has access to a great number of official and unofficial records about your life. If you tell one lie, whether it be about your weight, your medical conditions, your embarrassing past, or your entangled love affairs, the judge can use that slip to unravel your claim by finding that you are not a believable witness. It's not worth it.
4. Why Did the Expert Say I Can Work? A vocational expert testifies at many hearings. This person's job is to be an expert on doing jobs. Some of them provide vocational counseling or rehabilitation outside of the hearing room. Others are professors who study the social science of employment.
They usually will classify your past work according to the standards used by Social Security. Then, the judge and your representative will pose hypothetical limitations based on your medical records, your doctors' opinions, findings made by Social Security adjudicators, and your testimony. Some of these descriptions might include a hypothetical healthy you, a hypothetical you at a point when you were more able than you are now, or a hypothetical you based on one particular doctor's findings.
It's important not to take any one part of the expert's testimony too seriously. I will have the opportunity to address all of the expert's responses afterward. The judge also has the option of paying little attention to the testimony. Any questions you have about what the expert said can be addressed after the hearing-don't interrupt the expert during his or her testimony!
5. What Should I Do Now? It can be a bit anti-climatic, but often, the only thing to do after a hearing has ended is wait. If I need you to gather an opinion from your doctor or track down recent medical records, I will let you know what your homework assignment is.
Our office will usually call you after your hearing to find out if you've seen any new doctors or returned to ones we previously contacted.
Sometimes, the Social Security Administration will contact you after a hearing and before a decision is issued. You may be asked to verify information about your finances, confirm your contact information, or provide further information, such as a doctor's name or tax information. Sometimes, a judge will send you to an additional medical examination after a hearing. If this happens, it's important that you attend the examination. Failure to do so could result in denial of your claim, which would be a shame after making it so far in the daunting process.
The longer you wait, the more questions you may develop. I should be able to answer any questions you have while you are waiting for a decision. I'm always happy to check on the status of a decision for a client, confirm receipt of medical records, or just listen.
Just remember me when it comes time to buy that chocolate cake.
We Get Letters & Emails...
I just wanted to say thanks for the representation. You have changed my life. Three + years of fighting the system, loss of home, bankrupt, now things will change and the future looks brighter once more.
THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!
I am writing this contact with the hope that it will reach and be read by the Managing Directors of your Law Offices.
My Experience with Binder & Binder needs to be viewed by you. I believe true customer feedback is tough to get. I recently went through a disability situation with your firm. Though it is not over yet, the appeal has been held and the judge ruled immediately on my behalf.
In my professional career I spent a great many years and a large amount of hours working with our Corporate counsel and coordinating with outside counsel on very difficult cases involving wrongful death and breach of warranty suites. I have worked with some of the best Attorneys in the USA and some of the worst. I have stood trial in various states defending the company usually with outside counsel.
Specifically, let me state that my experience with your firm was nothing short of outstanding. I was kept in contact and treated with respect and dignity. It is quite important to me that you are clear on my experience with Stacey Laskin, the advocate you sent to my court appearance from your Chicago Office. I was shocked with her ability at her age and experience level. This is one very good attorney you have in her. We had little time to prepare, as we had not yet met however, Stacey was ready to go. It was apparent she knew the details and pitfalls that may have occurred under testimony. She interviewed me listened to my concerns and received answers to her concerns from me. In a very professional manner we worked together as a team immediately. A testament to her skill level. Once we had debriefed, I felt comfortable and it was quite easy to present myself. She guided me through the hearing and crossed me to make sure all key points were communicated. Our expectations were to make a favorable first impression and to prepare for the next hearing. We met those goals with ease as the judge ruled in 45 minutes in my favor and it was over. I am awaiting the things that will occur next, we are not finished yet I have not yet received communication on how the next steps will occur but, I am confident Binder & Binder will continue to pursue my case to completion and benefits will start to come.
Please give my fondest regard to all those who helped me. Your estimates on timing, cost and settlement have been right on the money so far. I now await payment. Thank you very much for taking me through a stressful time.
I've received a payment from SSA for back pay of benefits due to me and my children. I want to ensure you have been paid as well. I still haven't received a letter from SSA stating the amount I am supposed to receive, but it is probably in the mail. Thank you for all you have done to help me and my family.
To all at Binder and Binder:
I received a favorable ruling on my disability case on June 3, 2009. I would like to take this opportunity to thank your firm and all those who have worked on my case from beginning to end. In particular I would like to thank Frances G., Gloria S., and Patricia M. All were very patient with me and very cooperative in guiding me through this process. I would particularly like to thank Laura Pierce who was my advocate at my judicial hearing. Ms. Pierce was extremely knowledgeable about my case, her opening and closing remarks, questioning and cross-examination were AMAZING and I know that without her at my side this might have had an unfavorable ending.
This has been almost a two and 1/2 year struggle and the relief I am feeling at the moment is indescribable. This ruling will make it possible for me to remain in my house and catch up on some bills.
Again, thank you to all at Binder and Binder. You can be sure that I will recommend you to anyone who is in need of your help.
I just want to take this moment to tell you about two of your employees who are presently working on my behalf to represent my ongoing case to receive my disability claim. Josh F. has been the most professional and understanding person I have ever dealt with in my entire life and has by all means treated me and given advise to me then any other professional I have ever dealt with. I am not sure if this little note will benefit him in his job performance in any way but I am writing this just to let you know he is worth every penny he is being paid for (what ever that may be) and because of his professional attitude toward my case and the compassion he has shown I will certainly recommend anyone I meet in my life time to Binder & Binder. Also I cannot say enough about my case worker Stephanie B. She is beyond marvelous and very much an asset to your firm. Gentlemen, in my opinion I think both of these individuals should be congratulated at the least for making your client feel safe in these grim days that have been laid upon me in the past several months. It's nice to know that there are attorneys out there that show their real concern is to help those that others could care less about, you have shown and proved this to me through these two employees you have on your staff. I feel like the luckiest man alive even though I am battling with Colon Cancer and no one else has seemed to care. Thank you again and if there is any way I can ever help or be part of help to you and your firm. Know that I am not only grateful but would be proud to provide you with any letters of assistance as to just how caring your firm really is. I now understand your commercial when you say ...No one but No one is better than Binder & Binder when it comes to fighting for their Social Security benefits... You're the indisputable champions on getting justice for your clients.... Thank you and Sincerely,
Power Person of the Month
Our Power Person of the Month's name might look a little familiar to you! She recently made guest appearances on our blog, and provided us with some post-hearing insight for this newsletter! Stacey Laskin, who is originally from Indianapolis, recently moved from Washington, D.C. via Columbus, Ohio, and is one of our Advocates from our Chicago office. While she isn't married and doesn't have any kids, she's quick to point out that she and her boyfriend are "both more career types."
Stacey earned her undergraduate degree in journalism and gender studies with a minor in dance from Indiana University. She went on to obtain her law degree from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. And, not surprisingly, Stacey says it's "never been too difficult to determine which has the better football team."
Perhaps the most interesting and sincere piece of information about Stacey is her explanation of what inspired her to work in this area of law:
I always had an interest in medicine; my dad is a doctor, so when I was younger, I actually contemplated going to medical school. In law school, I was one of about two people who took an interest in administrative law. I actually voluntarily chose to spend months preparing for a moot court competition on the topic of procedural due process, which defines what kind of notice and hearing you're entitled to when you're denied a federal benefit. I also spent a summer, which turned into about another year, at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Board of Veterans' Appeals. I essentially adjudicated and drafted decisions on appeals for veterans' benefits, which were mostly medical. I'm pretty sure I know everything there is to know about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Since she's been with Binder & Binder®, Stacey has racked up her fair share of memorable moments. One of the advantages our advocates encounter involves traveling-as they travel to where our clients are located for their hearings. According to Stacey, she's been lucky enough to travel to a number of places she might not have seen otherwise-including Bismarck, North Dakota; Omaha, Nebraska, Marquette, Michigan; and Carbondale, Illinois. "I've definitely gained an appreciation for giant pockets of America that most of my friends have never even contemplated," said Stacey.
Despite finding herself in an area of law that she has a deep appreciate for, and reaping the benefits of becoming a new national traveler, Stacey recognizes a few difficult aspects to her position. When asked what she finds most challenging about her position, Stacey said "I don't think this is a job for everyone. You have to be a patient person with a lot of empathy, but you also have to be very firm with clients and sometimes dish out a little tough love." Despite the tough love approach, Stacey has received rave reviews from our clients, which is what makes her the perfect choice for Power Person of the Month!