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Simplify standards for Social Security disability claims

Cut short disability's cruel waiting game | July 18, editorial

Simplify standards for disability claims I am an attorney in St. Petersburg, practicing almost exclusively in the area of Social Security. I am one of the co-founders of the Social Security section of the St. Petersburg Bar Association and former chairman of that group. Although I applaud your editorial and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor's involvement, there are certain things that I think need to be brought to light.

The first is that mere money is not going to solve the problem. Yes, more judges are needed, and more staff people throughout the system — from the local offices all the way to the Appeals Council in Falls Church, Va. However, perhaps just as important, there must be a change in the regulatory scheme. There is simply no way that decisions can be rendered within 15 days, even with more judges or more staff.

I would favor simplifying what needs to be legally proved and decreasing the number of issues that have to be reviewed. If an individual has what would now be known as a severe impairment (that is a severe anomaly either mentally or physically that would have more than a minimal effect upon work), and the individual's treating doctor supports that position such that the individual would not be able to return to work for profit eight hours a day, five days a week (or an equivalent work schedule), then — absent any indication of fraud — benefits should be awarded. With such a standard, the number of cases could be adjudicated much more quickly. In addition, with such a relatively simple standard to follow, there should be more benefits put in the hands of needy people more quickly, which would also cut down on the number of appeals. Currently, the hearing office in Tampa is the one that is hearing numerous issues that could and should have been decided at a lower level.

This leads to my second point. Currently the state of Florida supposedly is attempting to help make a determination as to disability. I believe what the state does is totally worthless. It prolongs the period for adjudication and is used by some judges to try to impeach or detract from the opinion of the treating physician. Claims that should have been decided at this early level with an award of benefits are usually not done. I, for instance, had a person who was on the list to have a heart transplant and was required to go to a hearing and, when his case came up for review several years later, had to do the exact same thing. The adjudicators for the state are not lawyers and do not have the ability to understand the totality of the law such that an accurate decision can be made.

My third point also follows along the same lines. When an individual is denied by a federal administrative law judge, the appeal is to the Appeals Council in Virginia. Currently very few cases decided by the Appeals Council result in an immediate award of benefits. Frequently the Appeals Council will just rubber-stamp an unfavorable decision by a federal administrative law judge. This leads to the clogging of the U.S. District Court.

Therefore, if one truly wants to reform the system, yes, more personnel at all levels. But also there should be fundamental change to the standard to be used and to the appellate system.

I hope you will continue to watch this matter. It affects the lives of thousands of people in the Tampa Bay area.

Roger W. Plata, Esq., St. Petersburg

The reign of Sheriff Joe | July 30, Other views

Sheriff gives voters what they want

The Washington Post editorial regarding Maricopa County Sheriff Joseph Arpaio was a disservice to an outstanding and professional law enforcement officer.

Sheriff Arpaio is responding to the Arizona constituency that has elected, and re-elected him, numerous times. In fact he will be the sheriff of Maricopa County for as long as he chooses to serve because he is responding to the will of the people.

His efforts in combatting the illegal alien problem were initiated due to a dysfunctional federal immigration policy, which shows no sign of improvement in the immediate future.

The sheriff is dealing with a monumental issue that can be compared to a war. I am certain he truly regrets the arrest of anyone who has legitimate status, but ironically these occasions do happen.

Sheriff Arpaio has spent a lifelong career in law enforcement. Prior to being elected sheriff of Maricopa County he served a full career as a federal narcotics agent with the U.S. Department of Justice, and his individual accomplishments were legendary.

Sheriff Arpaio takes his sworn duty to uphold the law seriously, and that's what he does!

Vernon D. Meyer, Hudson

Show some respect | July 30, letter

A right to not pledge

I was deeply disturbed after reading the letter regarding the refusal by some people to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Most disturbing is the suggestion by the letter writer that a person lacks patriotism if one does not recite the pledge. The offer for someone to "go live somewhere else" practically defeats the intent of the rights granted to us by the U.S. Constitution, the relevant one here being freedom of speech and expression (most importantly, political expression).

It is very American to choose not to recite the pledge, and we have the right to make this choice. It is not as though this refusal makes these dissenters any less American or less patriotic. In fact, it is the Americans who tell people to go live elsewhere, when they exercise their right of political expression that I find un-American and unpatriotic.

Stacey Kroto, Pinellas Park

Show some respect | July 30, letter

We can disagree, and stay

The letter writer's attitude regarding the student who refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance is typical of most Americans' mind-set on this issue.

Swearing an oath to a flag, an inanimate object is, last I checked, a mild form of idolatry. If it were a pledge to the actual United States of America and a student was refusing to stand, then I wold understand her anger.

But what is even more shocking is her attitude toward those who don't agree with her: "Go live someplace else. You don't deserve our privileges."

Actually, refusing to stand for the pledge is a right, not a privilege. And the letter writer has forgotten what makes this the best nation in the world: If you don't agree with something, you don't have to leave. If someone refuses to stand for the pledge, while I may not agree with that person, I would fight for their right to dissent, which is what makes America so great.

Anthony Taylor, Tampa

God got in the way | July 30, letter

It's a good country

The letter writer, responding to the July 26 editorial, Don't force pledge, talks about the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and asks, "Which God? Whose God? An American God? A foreign God?" Answer: D. All of the above.

God is in reference to a deity. A deity is something divine in nature, supremely great, good. Very pleasing or attractive. That is the great aspect of this verse and country. They can have different meanings to different individuals.

Is there nothing in this great country that this person can find that is good, or at least pleasing to stand for? If not, then this person should search for and find such a place — hopefully far from here.

Basically it is just a show of pride and respect. But with schools no longer able to teach any sense of morality, I guess it is useless to expect students to understand pride or respect.

Brian Locker, Hudson

At church, hate kindles heroism | July 29

Thank the NRA

Of course this is a tragic story, of the unemployed man accused of killing two people at a Unitarian church in Knoxville, Tenn.

However, in the interest of finding a "silver lining to every cloud," one has to thank the NRA, their minions of loyal members and our "bought and paid for" legislators for protecting Jim Adkisson's "God-given" right to own the shotgun he used to kill those two people and injure five more!

After all, can you imagine his frustration had he been able to arm himself only with a baseball bat and a steak knife against those liberal do-gooders!

Bob Lindskog, Palm Harbor

Common sense lacking in dog's death | July 26, letters

Following protocol

The outpouring of sympathy and anger toward the poor police officer who lost her companion and fellow officer through no fault of her own is irony at its best.

All over Pinellas County, especially to the south, are dogs in back yards living extremely substandard lives. They are often without water or shelter and are frequently part of puppy mills. Florida statutes tie the hands of animal control officers, who can do little about these situations.

Outrage would be appropriate here, but I disagree with those who think the death of her dog is the officer's fault. She was following protocol. But people who mistreat their dogs aren't even following their consciences, and little or nothing is being done to ameliorate the sadness of these dogs' lives.

Robin Sterling, St. Petersburg,

Common sense lacking in dog's death | July 26, letters

What about the children?

I was totally surprised at the number of responses to your story about the death of the police dog. Every year, in the summer, thoughtless people leave children in cars and the heat buildup in the vehicle results in the death of the child. I have never seen as many letters to the editor about this as I read about the death of the dog. Am I missing something here?

Betty Mack, Sun City Center

Gore's home has gotten more green | July 28, letter

Deductible expenses

In his letter defending Al Gore against critics of his energy usage, the writer lists the enormously expensive energy retrofitting Gore has had done to his huge, 80-year-old patrician mansion in Tennessee. He then goes on to pointedly remind us that "the critics conveniently overlook the fact that the Gores' home is also their place of business, complete with offices for staff and other personnel, IT infrastructure, etc." Those points are well taken.

He then closes his letter by saying, "Al Gore is way ahead of the game" and challenges us by asking, "Can you say the same for yourselves?"

I confess my embarrassment because I cannot. However, if I, like multimillionaire Al Gore, owned a mansion of equal value, and if my building also included businesses offices, I would have done precisely as did Gore. After all, I would be secure in the knowledge that my competent CPA would take meticulous advantage of the many write-offs available for the improvement of business properties. I would love to see an audited copy of the accounting for the Gore mansion's retrofitting and annual operating costs.

Anthony J. Wickel, Clearwater

Hang up cell phones, cancer researcher says July 24, story

Try some skepticism

Anyone with an appreciation for science must have raised an eyebrow after reading this story. While your paper did a good job in balancing the issue, the story was self-defeating. The first problem is the source, the director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, who bases his claim on unpublished data from an unknown study.

The second problem is Ronald Herberman's call to action: People should stop using cell phones, especially children, regardless of the lack of evidence in a link between cell phone use and cancer.

The third problem is Herberman's culprit, electromagnetic radiation, which encompasses all radiation, not just the microwaves used by cell phones. Radio and microwaves travel in long frequencies that pass harmlessly through the body. If cell phones picked up gamma rays, we'd need to worry.

A point to ponder is whether newspapers should be more critical of stories based on incredible science, alarmist claims or political agendas. Science is a foundation of an educated society, and newspapers must serve as watchdogs for its misuse and misrepresentation, not to mention its ever-shrinking presence in our media-connected lives.

Kurt Loft, Tampa

Game of hardball follows tourney | July 28, story

A sad lesson

The parents and leaders of the Citrus Park softball program for 13- to 14-year-old girls should be ashamed. I am an outside observer, just a parent with children in youth sports, but this appears to be an example of the worst in athletic integrity.

What a sad lesson they are teaching their children. First, Citrus Park "fails" to have enough players for a regular season game against Palma Ceia. How does this happen with a top-quality program? And then it tries to use a technicality triggered by this failure to overturn Palma Ceia's legitimate victory over Citrus Park in the district title game?

If this is the story, it is reprehensible, and we say three cheers to Palma Ceia. And a Bronx cheer to the parents of Citrus Park.

Daniel Plager, Tampa

Finding calm in nature's clamor | July 27

Intriguing character

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Jeff Klinkenberg's profile of Tad Staples. It was great to read about someone with a disability in a more positive light. Staples is not sitting at home doing nothing; he is trying to make a life for himself. I love the fact that he is embracing his passion for thunder and is not shy about letting us know about it. Even though he had a difficult childhood, this does not prevent him from trying to become independent.

I also loved Klinkenberg's writing style. By using so many descriptions, the article was entertaining and informative. He showed compassion by describing how Staples lives and the difficulties he has in his life. I particularly liked his last line: "In Thunderman's heaven, nobody hangs up on you because you're different."

Thank you for an insightful look at an intriguing man.

Lainie Smajovits, St. Petersburg

Simplify standards for Social Security disability claims 08/01/08 [Last modified: Sunday, August 3, 2008 11:31am]
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