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Social Security Disability Do's and Don'ts -- Posted on Sunday, February 27 2011
I recently assembled the following information sheet to give to our disability clients when we first undertake representation.

DO’s & DON’Ts TO HELP YOUR DISABILITY CASE

1. DON’T send any paperwork back to the Social Security Administration, Vocational Rehabilitation, or Disability Determination Services without first checking with my office. In general, I want everything to come through my office so that I can make sure you don’t accidently give information that can be used against you and so that I can keep a copy of everything.

2. DON’T talk on the telephone to anyone from the Social Security Administration, Vocational Rehabilitation, or Disability Determination Services unless my office has authorized it.

3. DON’T file for Unemployment Compensation, and tell me immediately if you have received Unemployment since you filed for Disability. Certain judges will not approve your disability case if you have received Unemployment Compensation.

4. DON’T work and earn too much. You can work while pursuing a claim for Disability, but generally, you cannot earn more than $1,000 per month gross (before taxes) for calendar 2011.

5. DO see a doctor regularly and enlist the doctor’s support for your disability case. You must have good medical evidence to support your claim. In most cases, you will need to have a doctor complete a Medical Source Statement to support your case. Obviously, in order to be willing to do that for you, the doctor needs to be familiar with you and your conditions.

6. DO keep a calendar of your doctor’s appointments, etc. This will make it easier for you to provide me the information we need to prepare your case for a hearing.

7. DO keep a journal of how you feel on a daily basis, in order to document pain, depression, fatigue, seizures, etc. Remember, when deciding whether or not you are disabled, the judge is not as much concerned with your diagnosis, as how that diagnosed condition affects your ability to work on a regular basis. A daily journal can help fill in the gaps of how you feel between the doctor’s visits. Keep it “real”. Even people with chronic daily pain usually have some days that are better than others. In other words, the judge is not likely to believe a journal that reports pain that is 10 out of 10, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.

8. DO stay out of trouble. Arrest and/or imprisonment can hurt your chances of being approved for disability.

9. DO avoid the vices: smoking, drugs and alcohol abuse. Depending on your health conditions, your continuing to engage in these activities can be held against you.

10. DO keep me advised of your current contact information (address and telephone number). There will be times when I need to talk with you on short notice, particularly when we are preparing your case for a hearing.

11. DO stay patient. Each person’s case is different, but in general, it takes about 4-6 months to receive a decision on an Initial Application; another 4-6 months to receive a decision on a Request for Reconsideration; and 1 year for a case to be scheduled for a Hearing. Rest assured I do everything I can to speed up the processing of your claim.

12. DO call the office if you have any questions. When there is activity on your case or I need information from you, someone from my office will contact you. I certainly welcome the opportunity to keep you advised of the status of your case, but please limit such calls to no more than once every few weeks.

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Interesting News for Family Court Pro Se Litigants -- Posted on Saturday, February 5 2011
Although I have scaled back my Family Court practice, I thought this was worth passing along. It appears Newberry County will be the site for a Pilot Program designed to help Pro Se (unrepresented) Family Court litigants. I'll post more information as it becomes available.

This is the text of an Order issued by the Supreme Court of South Carolina.

***

The Supreme Court of South Carolina

Re: Newberry County Self-Help Center Pilot Program

ORDER

Pursuant to the provisions of S.C. Const. Art. V § 4, I find that the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission has petitioned the Supreme Court of South Carolina to create a pilot program establishing a self-help center at the Newberry County Courthouse. This self-help center will be administered by the Access to Justice Commission with the assistance of the Newberry County Clerk of Court staff and volunteer lawyers to provide basic legal information and court-approved, self-help resources to the public. The attached “Guidelines for the Operation of Self-Help Centers in South Carolina Courts” are approved and will provide general guidelines for the operation of the self-help center.

It is ORDERED that a pilot program creating a self-help center administered by the Access to Justice Commission with the assistance of the Newberry County Clerk of Court staff and volunteer lawyers be established in Newberry County for a period of two-years beginning March 1, 2011. The Access to Justice Commission shall provide a report to the Supreme Court of South Carolina at the end of the pilot period that evaluates the pilot program’s effectiveness and recommends further action.

IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/Jean Hoefer Toal
Jean Hoefer Toal, Chief Justice

Columbia, South Carolina
February 2, 2011

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More About Online Postings -- Posted on Thursday, September 2 2010
A while back, I wrote regarding the perils of FaceBook and MySpace postings, particularly in a family court context. Now, I expand this warning to cover a few more situations.

Don’t “friend” your supervisor or employer and then post negative comments about this individual, the company, or your job in general. This is not conducive to a long-term employment situation. Enough said.

In the context of a Social Security Disability case, I have now had a Disability Examiner request information regarding whether a client has a FaceBook page. I fail to see how this information request is pertinent to the issue of disability. This appears to be just one more avenue for the government to deny meritorious disability claims.

So now, even more than ever, watch what you post online. There appears to be no end to how this information can come back to haunt you.

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Smoking and the Inability to Afford Healthcare -- Posted on Saturday, July 10 2010
Affordable access to healthcare is a nationwide problem, far beyond the scope of my abilities to remedy. For most applicants for Social Security Disability, it is a major struggle to afford seeing a doctor or purchasing their prescribed medicines.

Recently, the cigarette tax in South Carolina increased by 50 cents per pack. My understanding is that most brands are now between $5 and $6 per pack. In rough numbers, a half pack a day habit costs about $80 per month.

This post is not a condemnation of smokers. There’s enough of that going on. I understand smoking is incredibly addictive. My point is that as cigarette prices are increasing, applicants for Social Security Disability who continue to smoke and then claim they cannot afford healthcare run a great risk of being found either not believable or not compliant with medical treatment.

Certainly, the same argument could be made regarding other “non-essential” household expenditures (e.g., alcohol, cable or satellite television, internet access, and/or pets), which the claimant chose to pay instead of paying for healthcare. While this may not necessarily be a fair line of questioning, a claimant has to be aware it exists and act accordingly.

P.S. My apologies for not having posted in a really long time. I shall try to do better at posting more regularly. Please check back from time to time. Who knows? I might actually write something useful to you.

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Be Careful What You Post Online - You Never Know Who May Read It -- Posted on Monday, December 22 2008
Although I most frequently post about Social Security Disability matters, I've observed a few things over this past year about which I wanted to comment and caution. This primarily applies to domestic actions, but I'm sure has other applications as well.

The social networking websites MySpace and FaceBook are great ways of "networking", i.e, making new friends and/or keeping in touch with old friends. That said, we need to be careful about what we post on such sites.

For example, I recently handled an action for Adoption (by a step-parent) and Termination of Parental Rights (of the birth father). Without going into too much detail, one of the ways we located the birth father, learned of his activities, etc., was through his and his new wife's postings on the internet, including MySpace pages.

Likewise, many of us post on boards or forums for a particular special interest. Like the social networking pages, these are great ways of communicating with people who may have similar hobbies or occupations.

Recently, I heard about a woman posting "OT" i.e., "off-topic" on such a board. This woman was writing regarding her marital troubles. While she may have intended to write to enlist advice or solicit emotional support from her fellow forum members, she strayed into accounts of her conversations with her lawyer, their strategy, etc. If she and her husband were already having marital difficulties, it's not out of the question that he might check out the boards which he knows she frequents and learn this information. Not a good idea.

I wish you a very safe, happy, and healthy holiday season.

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The Importance of Journals and Calendars to Social Security Disability Claims -- Posted on Wednesday, September 3 2008
Many Social Security Disability claimants have conditions like seizures, chronic headaches, fibromyalgia, arthritis, etc. where they may have chronic, recurrent problems so frequently that seeking medical treatment every time there are symptoms is impractical and/or cost prohibitive. For many such claimants, the best theory for approval of the disability application is that the claimant has such frequent problems, that maintaining fulltime employment is not feasible.

In order to better document the impact such conditions have on the claimant’s ability to work, it is very useful if the claimant has kept a contemporaneous or “real time” journal or other record of when the problems occur. For example, a “Headache Journal” which documents when a chronic migraine sufferer has a headache, how long it lasts, the medications required to break the headache, etc. can be a source of credible information regarding the condition. The same is true for the other conditions listed above, as well.

Since many disability claims take years to be approved, these records of the how, when and where of the effects of a health problem on the daily life of an individual can be invaluable for establishing the history. Otherwise, it can prove very difficult to remember details after a period of time has passed.

Likewise, claimants should keep a calendar or other accurate listing of all medical treatment received, including date, provider, and condition for which treatment was sought. As with details about the conditions themselves, the particulars of medical treatment, especially when there are a number of different doctors or hospitals, can fade with time. A claimant can make the attorney’s job much easier by keeping good records.

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