January23,2015

Who Tells You You’re Beautiful?

An abstract image of a person holding a flower.

By Guest Blogger Kathe Palermo Skinner, M.A., L.M.F.T.

He took my hand and smiled. “Are you always this beautiful?” he asked.

A couple of weeks ago, David and I were in Texas for the funeral of his mother, who died two days before her 94th birthday. Kay was the lady in my blog post, “When a Caregiver Dies.” Her world of worsening blindness and hearing loss was lonely and frightening.

Although David and his sisters were far busier than I was, those four days were nevertheless fatiguing for me. In the two years since I’d last travelled, my multiple sclerosis had worsened. So when we boarded the bus from the car rental center back to the terminal, I did what I’ve always done, helped out with my rollator and luggage.

“What you doin’ that for when there’s two strong men here who can take care of all that?” he said. The man all but gently slapped my hand away when I didn’t listen the first time. “Let us take care of that.”

For me, multiple sclerosis has been invisible for much of its course. But that was then. Now, being pleased that someone feels kindly about helping is, well, kind.

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January21,2015

10 Questions to Ask a Lawyer before Hiring One for Your Disability Case

A photo of Samuel Packard, a San Antonio Social Security Lawyer and Partner at The Packard Law Firm

By Guest Blogger Samuel Packard, a San Antonio Social Security Lawyer and Partner at The Packard Law Firm 

Applying for disability benefits is a complicated process, and most people are denied the first time. While hiring legal counsel is not a requirement, some people find that having a lawyer ensures they navigate the process correctly and reduces the stress caused by mountains of paperwork. In my experience, there are 10 questions you should ask a lawyer before hiring him or her for your disability case:

  1. What level of experience does this attorney have with Social Security Disability? You want to know how long the attorney has been helping people with disabilities. If he or she is Board Certified in Social Security Law, that’s a huge plus. Ask how many hearings he or she handles per month. Be careful of working with any attorney who handles more than 30 cases per month because he or she may not be able to spend the time you need on your case.
  1. Will this attorney help fill out your Social Security forms? The attorney or legal assistant should help you with this. They can’t make up the answers for you, but you should not be responsible for filling out the appeals, reports and other forms Social Security sends you. If the attorney tells you to apply on your own for benefits and call back if or when you get your denial letter, then smile and say, “OK,” but keep looking for an attorney.
  1. Will this attorney order your medical records? Having all the medical records available for the judge is crucial to your case. If you are responsible for gathering your own medical records, keep looking.
  1. Is this attorney familiar with the judges and staff at your hearing office? It helps to know the quirks and preferences of the other people who will be there for your hearing, especially the judge. There is turnover among the Social Security staff (including judges), but an attorney should be familiar with most of the people there.
  1. How does this attorney handle your questions or updates about your case? Who do you talk to? This is mainly to see if your communication style matches with the attorney. Some people like to talk over the phone, some like to email. Some want an attorney who answers his own phone, and some want an attorney who has legal assistants who help.
  1. How much does this attorney charge? What if you don’t win? Social Security regulates how attorneys get paid, and as a result, they usually charge the same: 25 percent of past due benefits. However, some attorneys require reimbursement for case expenses even if you don’t win. This might not be a deal killer, but it is something you should be aware of before signing a contract.
  1. How will this attorney help prepare you for the hearing? Will you be able to meet in person (and not just the day of the hearing)? You should be able to meet with your attorney several days before your hearing. Sometimes circumstances make it difficult to meet face-to-face, but doing your hearing preparation meeting over the phone should be your decision. And it should not be done by an assistant or paralegal.
  1. Where is this attorney located? All else being equal, you should go with a local attorney. This might be difficult if you live in a rural area, but find someone who is near your hearing office.
  1. Will this attorney prepare a written memorandum or brief for the judge to review prior to the hearing? This written statement from the attorney is very helpful. First, it shows that your attorney has spent time reviewing your case and preparing a legal theory for the judge. Second, it gives the judge a chance to consider the case prior to the hearing. Finally, it can also be a request for an On The Record (OTR) decision. OTR decisions are rare, but sometimes the judge will grant a claim without hearing testimony from any witnesses.
  1. Is this attorney familiar with your particular health problems? No attorney can know everything about every medical condition, but you should get a feel for how knowledgeable an attorney is on your conditions. If your health problems are uncommon, your attorney should be willing to get familiar with the symptoms and treatment of your particular conditions.

In the end, the most important thing your attorney can do for your case is give you peace of mind. You should look for someone who will help you with this burden. Many people are overly concerned about win percentage or the length of the process. Nobody can guarantee an outcome, and there aren’t many ways a person qualifies to have his or her case expedited.

What you should be most concerned with is finding someone you can trust. You want someone who will take care of your case so you don’t have to worry. If you don’t like the attorney, keep looking until you find someone you like.

About the Guest Blogger

Samuel Packard is a San Antonio Social Security lawyer who has handled more than a thousand disability cases. He is board certified by the National Board of Social Security Disability Advocacy. Samuel and his brother, Michael, own The Packard Law Firm and continue to help people with disabilities get the disability benefits they need.

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January20,2015

Section 508: A Program with Heart

A photo of Helen Chamberlain.

By Guest Bloggers Helen Chamberlain, Program Director of Section 508, and the General Services Administration Team

A Growing Need

More than 60 million Americans are classified as having a disability; about 19 percent of the total population. More than 50 percent of those Americans with disabilities are in their working years (ages 18-64).(Census)

The federal government is the largest employer of Americans with disabilities and with that comes the responsibility of ensuring equal access to opportunities and information as put forth in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. With our world and workforce becoming increasingly virtual, we rely more and more on technology to ensure those with disabilities are woven seamlessly into the rapidly diversifying fabric of our labor force.

The Section 508 program is at the forefront of this effort, ensuring that agencies are informed about and have access to technology that makes it possible for people with disabilities to not only do their jobs, but also excel at them. As the chief advocate and coordinator for Section 508 implementation, the General Services Administration’s (GSA) Office of Government-wide Policy (OGP) provides accessibility solutions to eliminate barriers for people with disabilities. People like Rita.  Read More about Section 508: A Program with Heart

January14,2015

The Power of Sports

A photo of Kirk M. Bauer, the executive director of Disabled Sports USA

By Guest Blogger Kirk Bauer, Executive Director of Disabled Sports USA

I lost my left leg above the knee to a grenade during an ambush in the Mekong Delta serving in the 9th Infantry Division in Vietnam in 1969.

After returning to California from Vietnam and enduring seven surgeries in six months, it was hard to imagine I could ever have a good quality of life. Fortunately, during my hospitalization at Letterman Army Medical Center, I was lucky enough to be introduced to Jim Winthers, a fellow Army veteran who served in the 10th Mountain Division in World War II. He taught me to ski with one leg, along with a handful of other Vietnam veterans who had recently become amputees.

When we first met and Jim suggested I try skiing, I thought he was crazy, but I agreed to go with him just to get out of the hospital. From the first moment he took me out on the slopes, I was hooked and I was motivated to see what other challenges I could take on.

Skiing taught me that I could have a great life.

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January09,2015

Celebrating 25 Years of the Americans with Disabilities Act: What Will You Do?

A photo of President George Bush signing into law the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 on the South Lawn of the White House. L to R, sitting: Evan Kemp, Chairman, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Justin Dart, Chairman, President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. L to R, standing: Rev. Harold Wilke and Swift Parrino, Chairperson, National Council on Disability, 07/26/1990.

By Guest Blogger Katherine Schneider, Ph.D., Author and Retired Clinical Psychologist

This July, the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will occur. Access has improved for the 19 percent of us who have disabilities because of the ADA.1 It is still a work in progress and involves much negotiating for access in many situations. But if we don’t celebrate how far we’ve come, it’s easy to get discouraged. So what will you do?

So far, I’ve started working on a display for my university’s library, nudged the local Aging and Disability Resource Center to have an open house and get the county board to pass a resolution, and started working on an art contest with the theme of “What Does Access Mean to You?”

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