Disability Digest January 2011

Inside This Issue

Social Security News

By: Charles Binder

Charles E. Binder Managing Partner

An excerpt from Charles' soon to be published book:

These days it seems as though everybody is talking about Social Security. Politicians, reporters, and folks around the office water cooler - they all have something to say.

Most of the discussion concerns the future of this massive government program. Politicians particularly seem anxious to frighten us all that there won't be a Social Security program when we most need it. They tell us that as the "baby boomer" generation starts to retire, a lot of Social Security's benefit money could dry up. There's a lot of political capital being expended on how the system is going broke, or the need for private accounts to fix the system.

All of this sounds pretty gloomy, and it is important that people are giving it some attention before it's too late. Unfortunately, with all of this focus on retirees, one group of Americans continues to get overlooked: People with disabilities.

Social Security provides financial support to tax-paying citizens who retire. The government automatically starts paying retirement benefits once we turn 67. But what if a person is not able to make it that far? What if she gets permanently injured when she is only 45? What if he becomes seriously ill at age 50? Who takes care of us then?

The short answer is Social Security; however, it is not that simple. Anyone who wants Social Security benefits has to prove he is entitled to it. For senior citizens, this is a straightforward procedure: they bring in a birth certificate showing they are at least 62 years old, the earliest age an individual can collect Social Security. Full retirement begins at age 67. If they've worked enough years (or if their spouse did), they receive Social Security retirement benefits. But even this isn't always so simple. We've represented many people who can't prove their age by normal documents. Some countries don't keep written records, or people are persecuted and leave their country without proof of their age. In the Deep South, many black Americans do not have their births recorded officially in the 20s and 30s. The Nazis destroyed all records of Jews in Europe, making it difficult for survivors to prove their correct age. Ironically many had to lie about their age - lowering it - in order to escape Europe after the war as younger children got preference. Now U. S. citizens, they are told to wait until they reach their "legal" age for retirement even though they are actually older. Social Security has created a special Rule covering holocaust survivors who cannot prove their real age.

For people with disabilities it can be a far more difficult and complex process. The government will not simply take an applicant at his or her own word. There must be extensive amounts of medical evidence, often times from more than one doctor. Even then, there is no guarantee that Social Security will agree that you are disabled.

It should not be hard to see how the disabled have a tough time. Most of those people who need Social Security's help are the same people who do not have health insurance. For such citizens, being able to afford a doctor - especially one willing to take the time to help out with a disability case - is next to impossible. It is a classic "Catch-22" situation: I cannot work and cannot afford medical care, but I need the medical care to prove I cannot work.

The truth is, any legitimate disability case can be won. The problem resides in knowing how. Too often, applicants try to fight Social Security on their own, not knowing the "ins and outs" of the system. Especially at a time when things are already difficult, battling the government can be overwhelming.

The good news is that help is out there. Disability Advocates and other professionals trained in this field can greatly increase your chances of winning benefits. Having experience on your side can make all of the difference.

Unfortunately, many people seek help when it is already too late. So much can be done before the question of disability comes up, even when you are perfectly healthy.

We Feel Your Pain...Literally

by Rachel Farganis

Rachel Farganis

In the spring of 2009, my right leg got sick. Yeah...just my right leg. It's been so long now that I can't begin to remember what it felt like, but I know do remember it hurt. I tried to ignore whatever was happening to my leg because I hated the thought of going to the doctors; but, it got to the point where my right leg had swollen to twice the size of my left...and walking became a big challenge.

I spent a week in the hospital surrounded by teams of doctors from various specialties; from infectious disease to rheumatology...everyone was trying to figure it out. The final diagnosis? Autoimmune Focal Myositis (and some other stuff I fear I've forced myself to forget). It took me a while to come to grips with the fact that my own body had attacked itself. To this day, I still don't understand what exactly happened, or why. The last few years have been nothing but continued doctors' appointments, visits with specialists, immense amounts of blood work, every scan imaginable-you name it, I've been tested for it. I'll never forget the pain from the bone marrow biopsy. I'll never forget the surgeries for the lymph node and muscle biopsies. And the preparation for two different colonoscopies and endoscopies? That's a considerable amount of fun I'll never forget. My health has gotten to a stabilized point, but the underlying condition for what happened to my body then, and what continues to happen to my body now, is still a mystery.

But, I'm not the only one at Binder and Binder® who has dealt with health issues-not even in my own office. A lot of us have had our fair share of health related complications, from one end of the spectrum to the other. And if we haven't been through it personally, we know someone who has. So, when we open up a client's file and begin reading medical records, it really hits home for us. We are able to put ourselves in our client's shoes, if only for a minute, to begin to understand what it feels like from their point of view. It makes our job that much more important, and it makes the end result of winning a case that much more rewarding.

Filing for Social Security benefits is a long and difficult process; we deal with the ins-and-outs of it on a daily basis. It's hard for us to not be emotionally connected to our clients. And it's hard for us not to become upset on behalf of our clients. As one of my co-workers, Shaneta Charles, often explains---we know this is our client's livelihood. The outcome of their claim is often the most important piece of the puzzle. So, we fight. We fight with doctors' offices for their support on our client's behalf. We fight with the government; there's never an end to the daily calls for updates and requests on behalf of our clients.

Health, or lack thereof, is something most everyone can understand; it's a fairly universal concept. Granted, it affects everyone differently---but, at Binder and Binder®, we don't take it lightly. For me, I've seen so much of my own fight for health in our clients. It makes me work that much harder, that much more diligently. We cheer-with smiles ear-to-ear-when we win for our clients. Not only because we've gotten to know them throughout the process, but because we hold certain amount of understanding of what their going through-our clients become a part of our family. Like a sister, brother, mother or father...or even like ourselves, we work hard because we feel our client's pain-and we love cheering and smiling when they succeed.

Simple. Direct. Aggressive....The Hat.

by Rachel Farganis

Our clients hear about us through many different media outlets. Which is good, considering we pride ourselves on our ability to reach out to potential clients through our advertising. If you're already a client, you may have taken one of our advertising surveys. It's a short, one page, limited question survey-but the feedback we've gotten from them speaks volumes. Despite the fact that each survey comes from a unique individual, the responses tend to flow together. When asked what clients like most about our advertising, the responses often include the same key words and phrases: Simple. Direct. Aggressive. Straight forward. Sincere....The Hat. Of course, there tends to be some mention of Charles Binder's infamous hat (love it or hate it, you remember that hat). It's always nice to read feedback from our clients; be it positive or negative, it continuously helps us grow.

Deborah Roberts-Sims

Chicago Strong

by Rachel Farganis

Deborah, a native of Durham, North Carolina, grew up in Chicago. As the second-oldest daughter in a large family (three sisters and five brothers!), Deborah stated, "I grew up knowing that I wanted to be in a career where I made a difference in someone's life."

As a recent newlywed-this past July 25 th, to be exact-Deborah is enjoying her new life with her soul mate, Victor. And, when she's not basking in the glow of her new marriage to Victor, she likes to spend her free time relaxing and watching her favorite shows, "Law and Order-Special Victims Unit, and the Lifetime channel." Most touching of all, however, Deborah stated, "I spend time with my disabled mother who has a kidney disease."

Following in the footsteps of her phenomenal father, Deborah graduated from Chicago State University with a degree in Criminal Justice. As the manager of one of our bigger offices, Deborah indicates that she is "a woman who wears many hats!" In an attempt to keep everything running smoothly on a daily basis, she's constantly on her toes. A day in her job entails "a lot of multi-tasking, problem solving and making sure the office is running efficiently." And, as an employee of Binder and Binder for nearly six years, she's definitely earned the ranks of this month's Power Person of the Month!

We Get Letters...

"I would like to thank you all at Binder & Binder for all of your help. You have been a life saver to me and I just want you to know how grateful I am. If I ever run across anyone that needs some great lawyers, you can bet that your name will come out of my mouth. Thank you again so much."-P.K. (Letter)

"Dear Mr. Charles Binder: I have been a client of your organization since March 2010. Several times when I telephoned I was assisted by Kim. It was quite a while before I realized she was a receptionist because of her professional demeanor and willingness to offer assistance in my caseworker's absence...I realize that I am not your only client, but this entire process has been lengthy and frustrating. Kim's calm manner was reassuring, and she never made me feel that she was too busy to answer my questions or act on my behalf. Words are inadequate to express my gratitude for Kim.

One of my telephone calls was transferred to Shaneta. Finally, I spoke to an individual who spoke with knowledge and understanding. Because Shaneta was so competent and efficient, she often acted on my behalf in addition to her regular caseload. Anytime I spoke with her, I felt that someone understood my angst over the revolving door of caseworkers who never elicited any confidence from me. She never made any disparaging comments about my displeasure with my former caseworkers; however, she was always willing to listen, calm my apprehensions and offer to make a contact or take action to give me peace of mind. When Shaneta said that she would act on my behalf, I was confident that I could depend on her; when she offered to call me with information, I knew I would hear from her.

Your office could not have two more competent, efficient employees. It seems that individuals who work with the public are often the recipients of abuse and criticism by the people they assist. Because of Shaneta Charles and Kim McGowan, I would recommend your firm to others who find themselves on the social security disability merry-go-round. They are excellent representatives for Binder & Binder!

I wanted to apprise you of my satisfaction with these two young women and their expertise. I realize that in order to have my hearing produce a satisfactory result the skills of legal counsel is necessary, but the employees who work with your clients on a day-to-day basis are truly the foundation of your firm. Very Sincerely Yours-K.M.E." (Letter)

And Emails...

"Jessica did a fantastic job with my claim and I am extremely pleased with her effort on my behalf. My experience with Binder & Binder was very positive and I would recommend your advocacy to anybody needing assistance with a social security disability claim. You can be proud to have people as competent and caring as Jessica Scalzo." -C.B. (E-mail)

"I just want to thank you so much for helping me get my SSD. It will change my life so much you will never know. A big thank you to Lang...you are so kind and caring, you always made me feel better after our talks. Again, thank you so very much."-K.S. (E-mail)

"Dear Mr. Binder: Please do not feel obligated to answer this email...I received your handwritten thank you card over the weekend...thank you very much...and immediately put it up on the refrigerator with a magnet!! I went to an ATM here to withdraw some money-the receipt said I had a large amount from the U.S. Treasury!! I guess this means we are now finalized in my Disability Case. You have no idea what this has done to me and my wife (and our lives!)! It's amazing that a company still does exactly as it said it would...and a hand written note from you in this day and age is commendable. Again our sincere thanks and best wishes." -W.W. (E-mail)

"To all of you, I just wanted to thank you all for all the hard work and dedication you put in on my disability case. It's such a blessing to finally be able to afford my medications and medical care without having to stress about it! Thanks again to you all-and God Bless! Sincerely, G.W." (E-mail)

And...we have conversations:

"For years I have seen your commercials saturating the TV networks. I've been wanting to tell you how absolutely stupid you look with that absurd floppy hat. Now it is even worse when you are trying to put it on your head and speak at the same time. Come on, REALLY, are you a haberdashery or an advocacy firm? B.R." (E-mail)

Our response:

"Mr./Ms. R., I'm sorry you don't like our commercials. I'm the guy responsible for them. A personal story: The original commercials were shot on a chilly day in New York. Mr. Binder always wears his hat on cold days. It was that simple. A little while ago, I had occasion to use a law firm on a personal matter. (Binder and Binder only does Social Security Disability cases.) It was an agonizingly slow process. Their lawyers simply weren't in a hurry. Mr. Binder sees to it that our company gets moving on our cases. I'm used to seeing him put on his hat and coat and dash out the door. That's what I want to get across in our commercials. Dick Summer, Communications Director" (E-mail)

The conversation continues:

"Dear Mr. Summer,

Thank you for your considerate reply. I am getting old and grumpy and sometimes have to let off steam. I'm sorry you were the target of my venting in that email. Just today, before I read your reply, I was out walking my dogs and just before I wet out the door, your commercial came on. I started reflecting on it, and came up with the possibility that you were trying to show that Mr. Binder was always on the go, as in the Alaskan series last year. You are a stand-up guy for sending me a civil reply to an uncivil request, and I respect you and B&B for that. Sincerely, B.R." (E-mail).

"B.R., I understand. Believe me. There are days when I feel that there is nobody any older and grumpier than I am. I thank you for your very kind reply. Dick Summer"

Our Littlest Fan

by Rachel Farganis

Littlest Fan Julie

That hat! The Charles Binder hat! I've mentioned it many times in this Newsletter already, but it never gets old—not to me, anyways. So, when this story came my way, I simply could not resist retelling it here. We recently received an email from Erin, the mother of 7-year old Julie (pictured to the left). Erin's own mother, Eileen, had urged her daughter to pass along Julie's story, in the hopes that we might…well, retell it right here in the Disability Digest!

Recently, while shopping with her dad at Tractor Supply Company (a local chain of farm and garden stores), Julie saw a display of hats. Without hesitation, Julie grabbed one of the hats, put it on, and said, "We'll deal with the government. You have enough to worry about." This incident really tickled Julie's dad. So, when they arrived home, he told the family what had happened-and little Julie giggled the whole time!

Thanks for sharing with us Erin, Eileen...and Julie!

Opening the Floor

by Rachel Farganis

The Disability Digest hasn't seen much change since its opening day, which isn't bad-because it has always been worth the read. But, I'd like to hear from our readers. As such, I am opening the floor to you. What would you like to see in upcoming issues of the Disability Digest? Are there specific issues regarding Social Security Disability that you would like clarification on? Do you have questions regarding our offices, our processes, or our daily routines? Or, do you have a story you'd like to share, just like Julie's (even though it might be hard to top!)?

Perhaps you'd like to see something different. Perhaps you'd like it to stay the same. But-the bottom line here is: You, our readers and our clients. So, feel free to send an email my way; I'd love to hear what's on your mind. The floor is officially open to you...

If you'd like to contact me, I can be reached at rfarganis@BinderandBinder.com


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