How to Get the Respect You Deserve from the Legal System
by Charles Binder


from Vol. 8, No. 4, Fall 1995 issue of The CFIDS Chronicle

The CFIDS Association of America, Inc.
PO Box 220398, Charlotte NC 28222-0398
Copyright Restriction: Copyable with attribution


        Times are changing. The federal courts are beginning to believe that CFS can be disabling. But for those of us who care about people who suffer from CFS, we still have a long way to go.

        I recently gave a talk at a gathering of lawyers who practice SSD law. In my address, I proposed several red-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 CFS, 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 5 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 SSA routinely calls doctors to testify as "impartial" witnesses to explain unusual disorder to the administrative law judge. 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, etc. It makes you a better patient for your doctor and a better witness for your attorney.

        3. Ask your physicians to make their reports in a simple and straightforward form.

        Reports that look "slick" or "faddish" create credibility problems. Chiropractors frequently use fancy, colored 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 CFS clients is seeing a physician who is attentive and a good listener. That's good. My client feels she is 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 be when you are suffering from CFS. But you can never expect to get respect from other people, let alone the government and the legal system, if you don't respect yourself.

        Administrative law judges in the SS system are trained to follow acceptable medical proof of disability. As the medical profession more readily accepts CFS as a disabling disorder, the SS system and the courts in general will follow.

        The times really are changing. For the better. You can help the times change a little faster for yourself and for everyone who must deal with CFS by following these 5 simple rules.

from Vol. 8, No. 4, Fall 1995 issue of The CFIDS Chronicle

The CFIDS Association of America, Inc.
PO Box 220398, Charlotte NC 28222-0398
This text can be copied and used for educational purposes with attribution.