Monday, August 17, 2015

SSA - Picking Fights



Social Security is garnering more national attention these days. As a result the disability program’s problems will inevitably invite more discussion. Michael Hiltzik one of the most informed sources on SSA and SSA disability provides his typically cogent review here. He notes less funding for the agency has resulted in significant service problems. Paul Krugman also notes that the shortfall of disability funding projected for next year is imminently fixable. However with the onset of presidential race, congress has decided to ignore the fix.
The service problems are real:

Diminished staffing for both the retirement and disability program. Since 2000, the number of Social Security field offices fell to 1,245 from 1,350. Hours have been reduced. If you are applying for disability and require an Administrative Law Judge hearing, the national average is now over 500 days. SSA’s goal is 270 days, (Charles Halls' SSA Blog).  Despite alarmist rhetoric, SSA has one of the lowest rates of fraud among any government agency. In the last 5 years more people applying for disability have been denied than in the past. There is no confirmed commissioner of the disability program and even with committed employees, the agency has often has been plagued by a lack of vision and a bunker mentality. The president has admittedly had his hands full for the last 6 years. Still he has failed to make SSA an issue. In addition, were he to apply some of his recent unilateral moxie, a new commissioner for SSA disability and changes in the advisory board could have been implemented years ago. Change bunker mentality to an agency with strong leadership and SSA can do the job.

But not without funding. Most Americans pay into the program through payroll taxes. Once income is over 118 thousand, no payroll taxes are required. Minor tweaks requiring those who earn over 118 thousand dollars a year to pay the taxes would essentially solve the problem, for good. Congress has done this for the last 30+ years. The current Republican presidential candidates (Donald Trump is the exception), propose cutting SSA. Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have long advocated for an increase in benefits – which is both smart and fair.
Congress and the president, or the president elect can provide safety for the elderly and take care of the disabled if a consensus approach is adopted. It is really not complicated. But then politics can take even the most sacred governmental trust and turn it into a pitched battle.

Friday, January 23, 2015


 
 
Bias and Devastation -

Rhetoric and Disability in America

SSA statistics indicate that since 2008 over 2.5 million individuals annually have applied for disability benefits. Allowance rates were roughly 37 percent in 2009. It is noteworthy that the disability laws have not changed, yet allowance rates have dipped to 33 percent in 2013 and continued to decline in 2014. The result - each year over 100,000 additional claims and appeals are denied. This results in about 400 families a day receiving disability denials. Political pressure on adjudicators, lack of adequate staffing for SSA, Congressional ineptitude and less than active intervention by this Administration play a role. While there is pressure on adjudicators, SSA must work to check any lack of adherence to the law, as difficult as that is, it is the agency's role. There have been reviews by SSA of decisions (some of allowed cases) and some of outlier adjudicators. However, more emphasis has been placed on "fraud waste and abuse" when fraud by most reports remains around one percent.  SSA's charge may be hindered by another factor - public bias against the disabled. This recent Op Ed from the LA Times succinctly demonstrates many of the problems facing today's disability programs in our country.
 
Date Line January 21, 2015,

From the LA Times, an OP ED entitled Bias against the disabled is as American as apple pie
By Rourke L. O'Brien a postdoctoral fellow in population health at Harvard University.

On the first day of the 114th Congress, Republican lawmakers quickly lighted the fuse for a major battle over entitlements using an unlikely piece of leverage: the Social Security Disability Insurance program, which is expected to run out of money in late 2016..
“As we work to improve [disability] programs, we must not let the rhetoric of fraud, abuse and 'welfare queens' ... frame the conversation.” The fact that the SSDI trust fund is running dry is no surprise. Congress historically has authorized “reallocation” of dollars from the Social Security trust fund (which has enough money to last through 2034) to cover SSDI. Now, Republicans have made that once-routine maneuver — it has been done 11 times before — much more difficult, passing a rule stating that any reallocation must be accompanied by policies that improve the financial footing of Social Security.
The wording may be vague, but the intention is clear. And while many are right in surmising that it's a move to push an overhaul of Social Security retirement benefits, it also presents an opportunity for conservative lawmakers who have been calling for larger reforms in disability programs.
About $145 billion is spent annually through SSDI (payroll tax-funded insurance for disabled workers). An additional $40 billion is spent on disability benefits through the Supplemental Security Income program (means-tested cash assistance), which isn't directly on the chopping block, although we shouldn't be surprised if it is soon. If the price tag wasn't enough to put these programs in congressional crosshairs, recent media attention on how disability programs can be a disincentive to work, as well as on a few cases of fraud and abuse, certainly helped seal the deal.

It is important to understand why the rolls have grown before making any cavalier changes in policy to curb enrollment. Basic demographic shifts explain most of it. It's also critical that we appreciate the role these programs play in our postindustrial economy and our post-welfare-reform social safety net. But as we work to improve these programs, we must not let the rhetoric of fraud, abuse and “welfare queens” that accompanied the end of welfare as we know it in the 1990s frame the conversation.
Americans generally are skeptical of individuals who receive government benefits, biased to think that they are undeserving. It may be our unyielding belief in everyone's ability to bootstrap his or her way to success through hard work or just the way we esteem self-sufficiency. In the context of cash welfare, research shows that this bias leads us to assume all benefit recipients are lazy.

In the context of disability — where benefits are predicated on the existence of a qualifying health condition — our skepticism toward recipients of government assistance may influence the way we evaluate their health.And new evidence suggests that it does just that.

As part of a nationally representative survey I conducted, about 1,000 individuals were asked to read several vignettes, each describing an individual with a health condition such as chronic back pain, depression or symptoms consistent with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (for children).
Respondents were then asked to rate the severity of each condition and the degree to which they considered it “disabling.” Before reading the vignettes, the respondents had been randomly assigned to either a treatment or control group. After reading instructions for the study, those in the treatment group read an additional sentence noting that individuals with disabilities may be eligible for government benefits.

The result? Respondents primed with a reference to government assistance were less likely to consider the health conditions described as severe or disabling relative to the control group. Just hinting at the existence of government assistance was enough to change their evaluation of health conditions. What's more, in follow-up questions, respondents in the treatment group were more likely to blame the individual for her health condition.This study builds on earlier cross-national work on disability, which finds that Americans have a significantly higher threshold for what they consider disabling compared with their European counterparts.
In efforts to paint some of those applying for disability benefits as undeserving, we tend to question both the severity and the legitimacy of the qualifying health condition. We tell ourselves they don't deserve assistance because the condition just isn't that bad, and regardless, they are to blame for their health problems anyway.

Disability is a remarkably complex concept that involves the person's health, labor market conditions, adaptive technologies, discrimination and social welfare policy. What it means to be disabled has varied over time, along with changes in the nature of work and our understanding of health.
As we reexamine the role of disability programs in our social safety net, it is crucial to appreciate the multifaceted pathways that shape what it means to be disabled before crying fraud.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, July 10, 2014


 Working for the Disabled - Examining Darrell Issa’s Hubris

 

 
Or don’t you like to write letters. I do because  it’s such a swell way to keep from working and yet feel you’ve done something. – Ernest Hemingway

Darrell Issa, Chairman of the Committee and Oversight and Government Reform recently wrote Acting Social Security Acting Commissioner Carol Colvin a 5 page letter . His intentions may be swell, but his letter is not working for the disabled.
The letter demands SSA produce all documents and communications, referring or relating to actions, taken in response to the focused reviews [of Administrative Law Judges - ALJs] the agency has conducted since they were initiated in 2011. Focused reviews look at “specific issues.” The letter dated July 1, 2014 is ripe with inaccuracies.  The letter attacks Administrative Law Judges, but it is part of a campaign to cast dispersions on the disabled and SSA’s administration of the disability program.  Let’s look at the fabrications Issa et al are parlaying into the request. Issa writes “the agency allowed hundreds of ALJs to rubber-stamp applicants onto disability programs over the past decade, the nation now has an enormous number of people who are inappropriately on disability programs.”

“Hundreds of ALJs” – “inappropriately on disability” - Really? Where’s this documentation from? He cites “strong evidence” from  Senator Tom Coburn, Issa’s republican cohort who  had his staff pull about 300 disability cases last year - a completely non-statistical sample. Their “review” is puzzling because the staffers’ credentials for knowing what is a correct and incorrect SSA disability decision or even one that is flawed is suspicious. Coburn’s opinion of the disabled includes the statement that a claimant should be denied as long as they could do any job. This is not the law which requires consideration of age, education and work experience. We are sure some folks who are wheelchair bound or have had a triple bypass at age 60, might be able to accept tickets 8 hours a day, but when they have already met the medical and legal criteria for disability, discussion of jobs is moot. As Charles Hall said in his blog,

“Social Security isn't supposed to deny the claim of a retired coal miner because he can still be a nuclear physicist.”

Or a ticket taker.
As of this date, Coburn has not identified just who in his staff found the allegedly incorrect determinations and what their credentials were. But Issay didn’t just rely on his astute, global warming denying cohort; he went to the ultimate Sunday Night Science, Sixty Minutes.  On page 5. of his letter, Issa notes he is troubled by Colvin’s admission “that you have not watched the 60 Minutes story from last fall on significant problems with federal disability programs. We expect that all government officials in leadership positions are kept fully informed about key problems, particularly when that agency is charged with management of multi-billion dollar disability programs for our nation's most vulnerable citizens.”

Right, same goes for the chairman of a congressional committee who relies on a widely discredited TV show.  Last year Sixty Minutes featured a show with SSA claims employees who were suing the only claimant representative featured.  The Administrative Law Judge they interviewed was part of a law suit against SSA (since dismissed). No other ALJ who might have offered a counter opinion was allowed to speak and no other claimant representatives, despite scores of organizations that offered to do so. Of course, the producers of 60 minutes avoided contacting a disabled individual.
Media Matters noted the myths pushed by 60 Minutes had been repeatedly debunked by experts. What the show Issa cites failed to note was the vast majority of people applying for benefits are denied, the majority of appeals are also denied, and that award rates have actually fallen during the economic recession. In April, the Wall Street Journal called the claim that federal disability benefits were to blame for people leaving the labor force "exaggerated," explaining that disability was in fact the least common reason individuals left the workforce. Michael Hiltzik at the Los Angeles Times calls the Sixty Minutes story "shameful." Sixty Minutes apparently could not be bothered to present a more balanced picture of the disability program. The Center for Economic and Policy Research posted criticism of the Sixty Minutes show, stating it completely ignored comments from experts in the field and pointed out that fraud is in fact not rampant in the disability program.

Issa’s letter mainly attacks four Administrative Law Judges with high allowance rates. There was a dog and pony show on Capitol Hill last month with these four, but they were given virtually no chance to accurately defend themselves and republicans and democrats alike spewed unfounded accusations ranging from  sexual harassment to judicial malpractice. Congressman, one a dentist (who repeatedly referred to his medical expertise) wanted to know how a judge formulated a diagnosis. The hearing was more disgraceful than the alleged misconduct by the judges. One of the ALJs from New Mexico mounted a reasoned explanation for his allowance rate that involved demographics of his state and adherence to the law, - vocational grids that require a favorable decision in many instances. But Issa makes it clear in his letter, that judge should be fired. Here are the facts: the majority of ALJs follow the law and the statistical outliers are in the minority. Judges who deny 85-95% of cases were not dragged up on the hill by Issa and similarly slandered.
When Issa speaks of “evidence of widespread waste, mismanagement and abuse by ALJs in the disability determination and appeals process” – know he bases this on evidence such as manufactured reports by Coburn, and a widely discredited TV show. Widespread abuse and fraud are words often thrown around. Fact is there is virtually no fraud. The GAO Found That Error Rate In Improper Payments Of Social Security Benefits Is Negligible. Yes, improper payments of Social Security benefits that include Disability Insurance had an error rate of just 0.6 percent, [See Government Accountability Office report, 3/28/12].

Issa’s letter also asserts the trust fund's projected shortfall is around the corner. History tells a less dramatic story. Since Social Security was enacted, Congress has "reallocated" payroll tax revenues across the OASI and DI trust funds - about equally in both directions - some 11 times to account for demographic shifts. In 1994, the last time such reallocation occurred, SSA actuaries projected that similar action would next be required in 2016. They were right on target, [See an Open Letter from Former Commissioners of the Social Security Administration, 4/4/13]. Actually, things are looking better. SSA’s Advisory Board will soon issue a report and it is likely the next action required will be 2017.  
Nowhere in his letter does Issa acknowledge Congress’s role in refusing to budget enough funds for the disabled. Instead, Issa and Senator Coburn repeatedly talk about the disabled who don’t deserve any money. Coburn alleges that a third of disability claims are phony. No evidence for this number is provided but Coburn recently stated his staff – remember those experts who reviewed the 300 cases –are working to ferret out the "scalawags" who have bankrupted SSA and don’t deserve the money. Rather than wasting time and money having staffers write letters requesting old records, subpoenaing Administrative Law Judges for scorn and misstating the facts about what is failing to protect taxpayers and the truly disabled; Issa has the ability to take immediate action, and he should.

Here’s a suggestion and it doesn’t involve requesting all ALJ focused reviews since 2011. We do not have to start borrowing money to pay Social Security benefits once more money starts flowing out of the trust funds than comes in. The trust funds are still large and can support net outflows for decades. So, simply asking high income workers to pay FICA, the Social Security tax, on all their wages will solve the problem without raising the retirement age or cutting back on cost of living adjustments. Social Security payroll taxes only apply to the first $ 113,700 of a worker’s wages. Former SSA Commissioner Astrue in a February 2013 interview stated that “there’s some historic inevitability on at least some lifting of the (payroll tax) cap. I think that most politicians and I think most economists I’ve talked to generally think that that would have less of a negative impact on the economy than raising the rate itself.
Chairman Issa might get on board and suggest congress fund the SSA budget as requested (that will allow sufficient staff for Administrative Law Judges to review cases and for the claims workers in the field offices and the disability determination offices to accurately determine cases, and resolve his “ALJ production” concerns). And yes the GAO can provide real statistics for accuracy and credentials for those who review cases.

By 2016, a new president and congress will meet and adjust the payroll taxes resolving the real problem with SSA’s disability program. In the mean time, it is likely that Issa, Coburn and those out to undermine the disability program will continually bloviate and pressure the disabled and those who work with them. Writing demanding letters is a swell way to pass the time, but it does absolutely nothing to resolve the real problems SSA’s disability program faces.

One disabled individual who reviewed Issa’s letter later posted on the Internet, “I'm a person with a disability…. I find it remarkable that no detailed example was given of the alleged improperly placed applicants on disability." That’s because it appears facts about the disabled of America are simply not a priority for this Chairman. And that is the real Social Security Crises.
 
Thanks to Charles Hall's SSA Blog Social Security News for many of the above citations. 
 
 

 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Taking Down the Take Down – Facts Matter in Disability Discussion




We recently addressed the sensationalism and mischaracterizations offered by This American Life from WBEZ in their March 2013 broadcast Trends with Benefits.  Along with Media Matters, many individuals and groups who actually understand the disability program have steadily debunked the show’s assertions. To wit, Kathy Ruffing who has countered virtually every incorrect assertion the show so cavalierly alleged.  

Now, eight former SSA Commissioners have offered a take down. We could not agree more. And the entire statement is provided below. We would only offer a qualification and an additional note to the chorus. When the commissioners speak of the 17 percent of disabled who tried to work in 2007 with earnings generally very low (two-thirds of those who worked in 2007 earned less than $5,000 for the whole year) and mention only a small amount managed to earn enough to be self-sufficient to leave the DI and SSI programs;  a clarification is necessary.

We note that often simply returning to work  frequently removes or jeopardizes the benefits. TAL legitimately asked these questions at the end of their drama fest. Had they explored the need for real return to work protection and incentives, the show might have been relevant.  At present, if a beneficiary or recipient reports work - as they are required to do, it can begin a process of removal from benefits (often incorrectly, as SSA underpaid millions in 2012 alone). This is not due to the agency’s ire, although the front line workers must be weary at this point. There are many factors - a hiring freeze for SSA employees as workloads increase, staffing shortage etc.

Finally an additional note to the chorus.  When a show like This American Life attacks the program, perceptions can change the discussion.  For example, Ronald Regan as president changed the term “earned entitlements “to” entitlements” when addressing a gathering of business executives. That false moniker has held,  in relation to the majority of SSA benefits. After all, the very words entitlement and welfare appear in the constitution. Yet these facts did not make into the "6 months of research" TAL devoted to the take down job they attempted. All credit to the past Commissioners whose consensus takes down the take down TAL misguidedly attempted. Words matter and careless incorrect rhetoric has been countered in the past two weeks. We are all disabled eventually. Timing may change one's perspective. So too sloppy journalism. We applaud the response by these commissioners and others who have responded, standing up for the truth and for the most severely impaired amongst us, the disabled.


 April 4, 2013 
     As former Commissioners of the Social Security Administration (SSA), we write to express our significant concerns regarding a series recently aired on This American Life, All Things Considered, and National Public Radio stations across the U.S. ("Unfit for Work: The Startling Rise of Disability in America"). Our nation’s Social Security system serves as a vital lifeline for millions of individuals with severe disabilities. We feel compelled to share our unique insight into the Social Security system because we know firsthand the dangers of mischaracterizing the disability programs via sensational,anecdote-based media accounts, leaving vulnerable beneficiaries to pick up the pieces.           
     Approximately 1 in 5 of our fellow Americans live with disabilities, but only those with the most significant disabilities qualify for disability benefits under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Title II Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (DI) benefits and Title XVI Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits provide critical support to millions of Americans with the most severe disabilities, as well as their dependents and survivors. Disabled beneficiaries often report multiple impairments, and many have such poor health that they are terminally ill: about 1 in 5 male DI beneficiaries and 1 in 7 female DI beneficiaries die within 5 years of receiving benefits. Despite their impairments, many beneficiaries at tempt work using the work incentives under the Social Security Act, and some do work part-time. For example, research by Mathematica and SSA finds that about 17 percent of beneficiaries worked in 2007. However,their earnings are generally very low (two-thirds of those who worked in 2007 earned less than $5,000 for the whole year), and only a small share are able to earn enough to be self-sufficient and leave the DI and SSI programs each year. Without Social Security or SSI, the alternatives for many beneficiaries are simply unthinkable. 
     The statutory standard for approval is very strict, and was made even more so in 1996. To implement this strict standard, Social Security Administration (SSA) regulations, policies, and procedures require extensive documentation and medical evidence at all levels of the application process. Less than one-third of initial DI and SSI applications are approved, and only about 40 percent of adult DI and SSI applicants receive benefits even after all levels of appeal. As with adults, most children who apply are denied SSI, and only the most severely impaired qualify for benefits. 
     Managing the eligibility process for the disability system is a challenging task, and errors will always occur in any system of this size.But the SSA makes every effort to pay benefits to the right person in the right amount at the right time. When an individual applies for one of SSA’s disability programs, the agency has extensive systems in place to ensure accurate decisions, and the agency is home to many dedicated public servants who take their ongoing responsibility of the proper stewardship of the programs very seriously. Program integrity is critically important and adequate funds must be available to make continued progress in quality assurance and monitoring. In the face of annual appropriations that were far below what the President requested in Fiscal Year 2011 and Fiscal Year 2012, the agency has still continued to implement many new system improvements that protect taxpayers and live up to Americans’ commitment to protect the most vulnerable in our society. 
     It is true that DI has grown significantly in the past 30 years.The growth that we’ve seen was predicted by actuaries as early as 1994 and is mostly the result of two factors:baby boomers entering their high -disability years, and women entering the workforce in large numbers in the 1970s and 1980s so that more are now "insured" for DI based on their own prior contributions. The increase in the number of children receiving SSI benefits in the past decade is similarly explained by larger economic factors, namely the increase in the number of poor and low-income children. More than 1 in 5 U.S. children live in poverty today and some 44 percent live in low-income households. Since SSI is a means-tested program, more poor and low-income children mean more children with disabilities are financially eligible for benefits. Importantly, the share of low-income children who receive SSI benefits has remained constant at less than four percent. 
     Yet, the series aired on NPR sensationalizes this growth, as well as the DI trust fund’s projected shortfall. History tells a less dramatic story. Since Social Security was enacted, Congress has "reallocated" payroll tax revenues across the  OASI and DI trust funds–about equally in both directions – some 11 times to account for demographic shifts. In 1994, the last time such reallocation occurred, SSA actuaries projected that similar action would next be required in 2016. They were right on target. We are deeply concerned that the series “Unfit for Work” failed to tell the whole story and perpetuated dangerous myths about the Social Security disability programs and the people helped by this vital system. We fear that listeners may come away with an incorrect impression of the program — as opposed to an understanding of the program actually based on facts. 
     As former Commissioners of the agency, we could not sit on the sidelines and witness this one perspective on the disability programs threaten to pull the rug out from under millions of people with severe disabilities. Drastic changes to these programs would lead to drastic consequences for some of America's most vulnerable people. With the lives of so many vulnerable people at stake, it is vital that future reporting on the DI and SSI programs look at all parts of this important issue and take a balanced, careful look at how to preserve and strengthen these vital parts of our nation’s Social Security system. 
Sincerely, 

Kenneth S. Apfel 
Michael J. Astrue 
Jo Anne B. Barnhart 
Shirley S. Chater 
Herbert R. Doggette 
Louis D. Enoff 
Larry G. Massanari 
Lawrence H. Thompson





















Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Drama vs. Moral Perspective - Response to This American Life's Report on SSA Disability




On March 23, 2013,   This American Life broadcast a show about the disabled. It was an unfortunate endeavor, full of errors and did little to examine the program. The focus was more sensationalism and less responsible reporting. We offered the following response to the reporter and producer. Comments to This American Life may be sent to web@thislife.org.

Our comments are included below. We received a response thanking us for taking the time to write in and expressing sorrow that we were disappointed with the show.


Dear Ms. Joffe-Walt and Mr. Glass, 

As a long time listener and admirer of This American Life, I was extremely disappointed with your recent show, Trends with Benefits.  Having worked for SSA 23 years and then starting a solo practice as a claimant representative for disability clients for an additional 9 years, I have been on both sides of the program. I participated in President Clinton's Welfare reform, by contributing in policy groups. As a claimant representative, I have represented clients in 35 states at initial levels and through Administrate Law Judge hearings and Appeals council reviews. Like the overwhelming numbers of fellow representatives, I have never “sued” the government and found your treatment a sensational approach, from the outset title to the, hey wanna know a secret? introduction.  Equally puzzling that Ms. Chana Joffe-Walt spent 6 months “researching” the problem without mentioning such basics as the payroll contributions workers make (i.e., pay) for SSDI  disability insurance should they encounter a disability in addition to the SSI program. Since Congress holds hearings on disability, virtually monthly, real research would have disclosed the whole program is under constant scrutiny. People get cancer, develop Alzheimer’s, break ankles, and yes rupture multiple discs in their backs after toiling 30 years in construction jobs. Hardly the common back pain you inferred. I won’t even go into Ms. Joffe-Walt’s   query about what jobs remain for people “without hands.”

Rather than a balanced review, which is long overdue and would have been the high ground, the show focused on outliers -a small town in remote area, or a singing representatives or advocates who make millions of dollars. Advocate fees by the way are overwhelmingly paid for by the disabled individual - not “by the government” – and are limited to 25 percent of back due benefits with a limit of $6000, only if they win the case.  Nor was the fact that representatives pay “user fees” that is the right to have SSA send their fees directly if they obtain benefits for claimants. Most representatives do not sing jingles or wear cowboy hats. In addition, advocates are encouraged to include pro bono work. In my small firm, during the last 10 years I have maintained at least 10  percent pro bono case load because  disability includes everyone from chronic schizophrenics without housing  to CEOs who  paralyzed from a stroke, spend down their savings, lose their homes and have a great deal of difficulty finding help when they apply for benefits. In fact, the majority of people who lose homes do so after working and becoming disabled, thus unable to pay their mortgage and then ending up on the street with health declining. 

Fraud in SSA (one of the largest programs in the world) has always been comparatively low and has been studied excessively for the last 30 plus years. Additionally while SSA does make over payments, they also underpaid millions of dollars of benefits in 2012 alone .  This is due in part to the fact that the agency has had a diminished budget, is losing employees, and faced with increased workloads. How is that for a lead story? These are only a few of the observations I would offer.

Media Matters within a day of your broadcast came out with additional accurate, reality based factual retorts to the glossy statistic speed sheets that you both gasped about on the air.  Now you have backtracked on your Planet Monday site with multiple corrections. Then, on March 29, 2013, Ms. Joffe-Walt back tracked on NPR and leaned into advocacy and away from her sensationalism. A less than altruistic shift, but a start. Since the show prides itself on the accuracy of your reporting and in this show the charming love of numbers; perhaps you can spend another 6 months and contribute to reporting real answers to valid questions.

A hard look at the program could clearly improve efforts to get people back to work. However, most individuals who are eventually allowed and draw their 13 K a year are so ill they either die or cling to the meager existence left.  Of course, some disabled individuals could return to work, but that takes programs and the willingness to provide real rehabilitation with support as the beneficiary tries to return to work. That also means money from taxpayers and more programs. Having done this for 32 years, I can safely say most who come to me have done everything they can to keep the dignity that comes from working. 

Your question about what we do with this economy and those who are disabled is an important one. Too important for a skewed perspective composed in large part of  blatant  and erroneous exceptions (mom keeps kid home to “pull” 700 dollars, doctor who “makes” the disability decision )- omitting the DDSs – state agency examiners who make decisions and the extremely complex medical  and vocational criteria required to review claims and appeals, the Administrative Law Judges who make decisions, SSA’s oversight of attorneys and non-attorneys who are required to complete comprehensive testing and continuing education if they wish to practice and review direct pay etc. etc. Reporting on the disabled may increase your ratings at the expense of the most vulnerable amongst us. Indeed, WSJ and FOX diatribes about the “dramatic” growth of free loaders – inaccurate publicity, have decreased allowance rates in the last two years. One would hope the quality of TAL could accurately and substantively engage the reality that in hard times the weakest are easy to attack. They should be more than fodder for a sensational scoop.  This vast and complicated program should have the public interest. But without working for facts, you are just another drive by op- ed. The disabled and those involved in their lives deserve more. FDR’s vision for protecting the disabled remains as does the integrity of his advocacy echoed by Hubert Humphrey. Mr. Humphrey stated that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped. If This American Life wishes to report on the disabled, I respectfully suggest you keep such moral perspective and an accurate grasp of real facts in mind when you break your next dramatic story. 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The most significant legal appeal in nearly 2,500 years...



Judge Richard A. Posner  who has heard many an SSA appeal on the US 7th Judicial circuit, written extensively on multiple topics – including SSA disability - faces off with former U.S. Attorney Pat Fitzgerald and an esteemed cast tonight in Chicago Illinois. 

Together they will attempt to shed light on the age-old question: why must Athens, the birthplace of democracy, put to death a 70-year-old philosopher who exercised the fundamental right of freedom of speech? 

Yes, Socrates on trial again. You can view the line up here. 

We hope it will be eventually available in one format or another. For tonight, it is sold out.