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Denman Law Office

Social Security Disability Attorney
5025 North Central Expressway
Suite 2004
Dallas, TX 75205
United States
Phone: 214-219-7288

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Intentional Disability Hearing Slowdown?: Another WSJ Cheapshot

 

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It seems that every time I really know something about an issue, and I find a media story about that issue, I am absolutely amazed just how wrong the media can be.  Or at least in the case of Wall Street Journal writer Damian Paletta, how true facts can be twisted to create an inaccurate conclusion. I have seen several comments on the internet indicating just such an effect in which readers think that this article proves that the Obama administration is playing politics with the social security disability program and purposely slowing down disability claims (though it is not clear why a work "slowdown" at Social Security would be in anyone's political interest).

This article can be found at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203405504576601243696313416.html.  It is not particularly well written, but apparently these are the facts.  The Office of Disability Adjudication & Reviews (ODARS) handles administrative hearings on social security disability claims.  Due to an ODARS fiscal calendar "anomoly" this year, there was one week that did not "count" in either fiscal year 2010 or fiscal year 2011.  Therefore, cases closed (i.e., case decided and sent out the door) in that week could not be a part of the determination of whether ODARS did or did not meet their goals for the fiscal year.  So ODARS would not get "credit" for cases closed in this "dead week".  The article implies that ODARS personnel "bonuses" are determined by these case disposition numbers.  I know of no bonuses paid at ODARS at all.

Apparantly ODARS administrative law judges in some regions were instructed to not close out cases during this "dead week".  No such instructions were alleged to have been issued in "Region 5" that includes 3 Dallas Fort Worth ODARS offices.   In an apparent response to word getting out to the public about these instructions,  ODARS chief judge Debra Bice sent a memo to all judges ordering them to close cases as normal.

The right hand side of above infographic comes from the WSJ article compares ODARS average daily case closings with the first day of the week this year that was "fiscally dead".

The clear implication of the WSJ article, and the "guilty behavior" of the ODARS' chief judge, suggests that social security disability claimants are being mistreated, and that government bureacrats had a free week off.  One can just almost hear the giddy whoops of the "Angry Birds" echoing down the halls of ODARS as government workers idlely entertain themselves on the clock. As a Dallas Fort Worth Texas social security disability attorney of 20 years experience, I certainly have seen ODARS mishandle many situations, but the allegations of this article are a bum rap.

Consider that at any one time an Administrative Law Judge has 100+ cases - all at different "stages" of development.  There are some cases in which she has to review the file before setting it for hearing, others she has new medical evidence that has been submitted that she has to review, other cases she has not yet decided the case, and others she has decided and has not written the decision yet.  So if she is instructed to not "close" cases for one week, do you think she is just sitting around that week?  Of course not!  She will turn her attention to any number of tasks that will lead to decisions getting out the door.  Isn't it just common sense that she would simply make a nice neat pile of the cases that ready to be "closed" until the next week?  So that the next week "two weeks worth" of cases get out the door.  "Closing" cases is just part of the job: the fact that for one week cases are not to be closed is hardly a noteworth event.

The worst that could have happened when ODARS suspends case closing for one week is that some claimants got their decision a week later than they would have.  And the infographic above showing this massive decrease in case closing seems designed to intentionally to inflame, if not mislead, the reader.   Wall Street Journalist Damian Paletta: was this article of yours really worth the ink you spilled? 

Dallas TX Attorney Stanley Denman has limited his law practice to social security disability since 1991.Google

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"Do I have to have back surgery to get disability?"

 

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Social security disability applicants are often in the process of considering various medical procedures that have been recommended by doctors.  For example, the back surgeon wants to do a lumbar fusion or the pain management doctor wants to implant a spinal stimulator.  Sometimes disability claimants can feel a little like the strawman in the Wizard of Oz when the Wicked-Witch-of-the-West jabbed the flaming broom his way saying "How about a little fire scarecrow?".

I am often asked about the implications that a decision to have or forego medical surgery or procedures will have on the pending social security disability claim.  There unfortunately is no easy answer.  Here, however, are a few guidelines:

1.  The social security disability assessment system looks at the ability to work inspite of medical efforts to return functioning to normal.  So the failure to secure medical treatment, the failure to take prescribed medications, and ignoring medical advise is not helpful to a social security disability case.

2.   Claimants are NOT required to undergo risky surgeries to be approved for social security disability benefits.  This is particularly true for claimants who have already had several surgeries that have not been successful.

3.  My experience is that claimants usually refuse surgeries such as spinal fusions out of fear:  they know someone who has not been successful, or have an unreasonable fear of dying in what are fairly routine procedures.  These are "fear-based" reasons to not have surgery, and will not help your disability claim.

4.   If you decide against a surgery that is offered, have (i) a well thought-out reason, and (ii) chart an alternative path to better functioning with your doctor(s). 

Dallas TX Attorney Stanley Denman has limited his law practice to social security disability since 1991.Google

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"We Win 8 out of 10 cases!" : Is this the Social Security Disability Attorney for You?

 

A well-known national social security disability firm runs a Google AdWords campaign claiming that they win 8 of 10 cases (an 80% win rate).  Most good social security attorneys have a similar win rate (as do I) but I think this ad is deceptive.  My colleague and fellow social security disability attorney Tomasz Stasiuk has written an excellent blog post on this issue found at  http://www.socialsecurityinsider.com/2011/08/social-security-lawyers-and-percent-won/.  

Tomasz rightly points out that win rates are a poor indicator of a good social security disability attorney: if a law firm can spend enough money on advertizing to attract only cases that are "lay-down hands" they can have a 90%+ win rate, and have very limited skills in social security disability representation.   I would also ad to Tomasz' points: flashing win rates is something most Bar Associations frown on, precisely because of the potential for clients being misled.  A law firm that uses aggressive marketing tactics may not be the wisest choice.  You also have no way to verify that the success rate a potential attorney brags about is accurate, current, or pertains to the medical condition and disability you suffer from.

In my opinion the best way to choose a social security disability is to talk personally with the lawyer, ask your questions, voice your concerns, and trust your instincts.

Dallas TX Attorney Stanley Denman has limited his law practice to social security disability since 1991.Google

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Parkland Hospital Scandals: What is an Uninsured Dallas County Resident to Do?

 

The Dallas County indigent health care facility, Parkland Memorial Hospital, has been plagued by problems in treatment and supervision of health care providers in recent days.  The sad reality is that it is virtually impossible to secure social security disability benefits if you are not getting regular medical treatment. The Parkland PLUS program provides medical treatment to Dallas County residents on a sliding scale - virtually free if you are without income or resources.  So if you live in Dallas county Texas and are without medical insurance, Parkland is the only game in town.

But these recent horror stories coming out of Parkland Hospital are disconcerting.  Many of my clients now going to Parkland ask me "if they can stop" going to Parkland.  Obviously I cannot give that kind of advise.  But regardless of the bad press Parkland is getting, it remains true that if you are seeking social security disability benefits, and have no medical insurance, most Administrative Law Judges deciding Dallas cases will find the recent Parkland scandals to be a sufficient excuse for not seeking medical treatment.  A couple of thoughts:

1.  Medical treatment is inherently risky.  Mistakes, misdiagnosis, and poor medical treatment can happen anywhere.  Conversely I have seen many clients receiving excellent care at Parkland.

2.  Medical treatment "horror stories" (like amputating the wrong leg) get a lot of attention, understandably.  But they are still very rare, and the sheer tragedy of such mishaps often causes us to overestimate the risk we run in medical treatment.

3.  Parkland is under such intense scrutiny right now that I would expect the care provided there is the best it has ever been. 

4.  The risks of not treating a medical condition vastly outweigh the risks of medical malpractice.

Dallas TX Attorney Stanley Denman has limited his law practice to social security disability since 1991.Google

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Continuing Disability Reviews Will Ramp Up in the Near Future

 

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article indicating the high probably of more Social Security Disability Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs) in the near future:  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904292504576482372637942558.html?mod=googlenews_wsj.

The key points of the article of great import to social security disability recepients in North Texas and across the nation:

The days of getting on social security disability and staying there until full retirement age may be over, especially for younger persons.  Our office is advising all our former clients receiving social security disability benefits in North Texas and the DFW area as follows:

  • Pay attention to when the social security administration advised you they might do a CDR (its in the Award Letter)
  • Continue to get good medical care
  • Talk frankly with your doctors about your condition and ability to work:  would they support you if the government reviews your case?
  • Carefully consider whether your condition has improved and whether you think you could return to work.

 

 

Dallas TX Attorney Stanley Denman has limited his law practice to social security disability since 1991.Google

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Around the Disability Blogosphere: Week of July 4, 2011

 

1. I commend to all the e-book just posted by my colleague Gordon Gates of Maine entitled "Ten Steps to Prepare for Your Social Security Hearing" found at  http://www.mainesocialsecuritylawyer.com/Prepareforyourhearing.pdf.   I would add that Gordon's article is really a road map to the entire case, not just focusing on the ALJ hearing.

2.     When I started practicing social security disability lawyer, Charles T. Hall's "social Security Disability Practice" was always by my side.  In his blog post this week found at http://www.charleshallfirm.com/can-i-get-social-security-disability-for-a-lightning-strike-injury/ Attorney Hall notes that he has won disability benefits in a number of cases involving a person surviving a lightning strike.  I am often asked by Dallas area social security claimants whether a particular condition "qualifies" for disability benefits, as if there is some kind of exclusive list.  Attorney Hall's post  illustrates that there is no such exclusive list: as long as there is a "medically determinable impairment" there is a basis for social security disability benefits.

3.Atlanta social security disability attorney Jonathan Ginsberg addresses the issue of whether a social security disability overpayment is dischargable" in bankruptcy.   http://www.ssdanswers.com/2011/06/30/can-i-discharge-my-social-security-disability-overpayment-in-a-bankruptcy/ By "dischargeable" basically we mean that the debt is paid at a drastically reduced rate in the context of a Chapter 13 reorganization, or in the content of a Chapter 7 liquidation, paid at a drastically reduced amount and only if there are sufficient assets (not likely).

Dallas TX Attorney Stanley Denman has limited his law practice to social security disability since 1991.Google

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99% Approval Rate of ALJ Draws Media Critism

 

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal profiled Social Security Administrative Law Judge David B. Daugherty of Huntington West Virginia and the fact that he approves nearly all disability claims that come before him. Here is a link to the article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704681904576319163605918524.html.

The article seems to suggest that Judge Daugherty and other similar ALJs are a big part of the reason the social security disability rolls have ballooned over the last few years, and the fact that government estimates predict that the social security disability insurance program will run out of money by 2018. The article also highlights the high number of cases Judge Daughetry handles, suggesting that the intense pressure within the Office of Disability Adjudication & Review (ODARS) to deal with the widely critisized case backlog encourages such high approval rates. The Wall Street Journal article notes that a high number of Judge Daugherty's cases are with one particular lawyer, and suggests that Judge Daugherty seeks out cases with that particular lawyer.

Interestingly, I have had several attorney friends in other areas of law forward this Wall Street Journal article to me, one labeling it as "SSI Judge Corruption". I think the article does make that suggestion, but I would note that the article has little to suggest Judge Daugherty is in fact corrupt. There is no suggestion Judge Daugherty is in cahoots with the lawyer in question, or that the lawyer has provided the Judge with any "kick-back" or anything of benefit. Nor does the article suggest that Judge Daugherty pays only that particular lawyer's cases, and not those claimants represented by other lawyers.

At worst, I suspect Judge Daugherty indeed does approve too many cases in an economically depressed area of the country. And, yes putting too many claimants on the disability rolls will in the end hurt those who are truely disabled, because the integrity of the program is put in question. But if the Wall Street Journal is truly interested in uncovering corruption, and millions of government money being wasted, they should look to the "Street" their newspaper is named after - namely, Wall Street.

Dallas TX Attorney Stanley Denman has limited his law practice to social security disability since 1991.Google

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Putting your Best Face(book) Forward?

 

My fellow social security disability lawyer Jonathan Ginsberg has written an excellent blog on the dangers that social media and Facebook may pose to social security disability claimants: http://www.ssdanswers.com/2009/07/11/can-your-facebook-profile-hurt-your-social-security-disability-case/. I share Jonathan's concerns about the representation disability applicants and recipients may present on Facebook, and I too have many present and former clients with Facebook pages that present a more vigorous life that one would expect of the disabled. So what is going on here? I commend you to Mr. Ginsburg's article, and offer my own observations:

1. In own experience, I find former client Facebook pages more œvigorous┬Ł than current clients. This is a very small sample, but I believe that present social security disability recipients may have experienced improvement in their health, perhaps due in part to the fact that they are no longer under the severe financial stress they experienced in waiting for disability benefits to be approved.

2. It is natural to want to œput your best foot forward┬Ł. Don't assume that a Facebook page of a disability recipient presents their true limitations.

3. Attorney Ginsberg offers a colorful example of a claimant with a Facebook page in which she bragged about her sex life. This person may be more illustrative of a disability recipient with some mental and issues. But you don't have to have severe mental problems to have an inaccurate picture of yourself. That is, it is quite common for us to project not who we are, but who we would like to be, or wish others to believe.

4. So take a hard look at your Facebook page. Is this really you? Ask family or friends to look at it also. Do they think the social media you have created is an inaccurate picture of you and your disabilities?

5. Don't shy away from including your health struggles on your Facebook page.

6. Finally, take a hard look at your activities as reflected on Facebook. Is this truly the picture of a disabled person? Perhaps the activities there reflect a passion in life that you have found despite your disability. Could you turn that passion into a career? You are not a dishonest or bad person if you conclude you might no longer belong on disability. Do yourself and your country a favor by working toward getting off disability and finding new reward on meaningful work.

Dallas TX Attorney Stanley Denman has limited his law practice to social security disability since 1991.Google

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"Project Access": New Dallas County Low Income Medical Treatment

 

I have written before about how important regular medical treatment is in winning a social security disability claim. Loss of a job due to a disability, however, often leads to loss of medical coverage, Parkland Hospital is available to low income Dallas county residents who do not have health insurance available. My experience, however, is that my disabled clients often have medical insurance "available" (for example, medical coverage is possible through a spouse's job) but there is simply not enough money without a job to pay for medical insurance.

Project Access is collaboration of Dallas county doctors and healthcare providers to bring free medical care to those not poor enough to qualify for Parkland Hospital treatment. For more information visit www.projectaccess.info.

Dallas TX Attorney Stanley Denman has limited his law practice to social security disability since 1991.Google

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Disclaimer

 

This Web site and all materials on it have been prepared by The Denman Law Office for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on specific facts or circumstances, a solicitation of legal business, or the creation of an attorney-client relationship. You are urged to consult an experienced lawyer concerning your particular factual situation and any specific legal questions you may have..

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Dallas TX Attorney Stanley Denman has limited his law practice to social security disability since 1991.Google

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All Posts

Dallas Fort Worth/DFW Texas attorney Stanley F. Denman serves disabled workers who have been denied social security disability benefits in North and East Texas, including Dallas, Texas, and the Metroplex, the following cities: Allen, Arlington, Bedford, Boyd, Carrollton, Corsicana, Denton, Denison, Decatur, DeSoto, Duncanville, Ennis, Fort Worth, Flower Mound, Frisco, Garland, Grand Prairie, Greenville, Hurst, Irving, Kaufman, Lewisville, Longview, Mesquite, McKinney, Murphy, Plano, Red Oak, Richardson, Rowlett, Sherman, Terrell, Tyler, Waxahachie, Weatherford, and Wylie, and the following counties: Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Erath, Gregg, Grayson, Harrison, Hunt, Kaufman, Navarro, Tarrant, Parker, Rockwall , Smith, and Wise.

 

NOSSCR Member Stanley Denman