Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Misleading the Nation on Social Security Disability - Exposing the Attacks and the Myths

As a member of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR), I welcome today’s op-ed, entitled Distorting the Truth about Disability Insurance, which appears in the Hill’s Congressional Blog. 

Charles Martin, the current president of the NOSSCR, and Debra Shifrin the vice president, penned the article. Both are practicing representatives and, just like me happen to work with Disability Insurance claimants. I am excerpting from the article because I want to add some comments of my own. The pundits attacking the disability program have been going at it for close to a year in the Wall Street Journal and other national and local publications and websites. Moreover, there is much speculation that a "grand compromise" will be forged after the presidential election and disability beneficiaries and recipients will lose benefits. This is targeting the weakest in society. For example, the article discusses a delivery truck driver who started having back pain in his 30s, and now might be unable to sit or even move by his 60s. This is an important point for disability and retirement. The notion that the retirement age could be moved upward to 68, 70 or later basically ignores those who work all their life in manual labor, such as construction or other physically demanding jobs and do not have enough skilled job history, or develop  arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular disease and yes, mental illness before age 66. Are these folks supposed to go broke until they are 70? The article mentions the homeless and as a representative for claimants, I can attest to individuals who worked all their lives and sustained a stroke or an infection or catastrophic injury and lost everything paying for their medical costs. In the last two years, several of my clients died or committed suicide due to mental illness in claims that were protracted or denied incorrectly. Most representatives who have practiced for a while have the same experiences. SSA is not demonized in the article and justifiably so as some in Congress have succeeded in stopping SSA from hiring new employees and frozen the wages of current SSA workers. There are also threats that furloughs will be in place next year for many SSA components. Furloughs simply move the work inefficiently to the future and end up forcing over time and delayed claim processing. The work does not disappear because SSA employees are advised they cannot return to their jobs for weeks or months. Furloughs are penny wise and pound-foolish. Currently SSA workloads are so high that many on line employees are taxed beyond their ability to adequately provide the multitude of services SSA is charged with handling. Finally, to those who say that it is easy to lie your way on to the disability rolls and just want a hand out, I say there is no basis in reality for such comments. As someone who has worked with SSA Disability claims for over 30 years and continues to represent claimants, I know how stringent the requirements are for disability and how minimal fraud is in this agency. The facts discussed in this piece, support my opinion. 

With those comments as a preface, here are some excerpts; 
This week is the 56th anniversary of the creation of disability benefits for the most vulnerable members of our society, but this achievement isn't being celebrated by everyone…... some pundits have hyped the coincidence that [in June 2012 ]more people began collecting Social Security Disability Insurance than there were jobs created in the United States. They do this to create the impression the economy is weak and the government is giving away free money. Yes, government reports show that the economy created 80,000 jobs in June, while 85,000 workers enrolled in the Social Security Disability Insurance program. But comparing these figures is extremely misleading. Disability beneficiary numbers are rising due to factors that were set in motion many years ago. First, “Baby Boomers”— Americans born post World War II, between 1946 and 1964 - are reaching the age where injury, illness, or disease more frequently knocks them out of the workforce. As Boomers’ ages increase, so do their medical problems. For example: a delivery truck driver who started having back pain in his 30s, might be unable to sit or even move by his 60s. This leaves him unable to work and therefore eligible for (Social Security Disability benefits). 
Another major factor is that there are more women in the workforce now than ever before, and thus more women are qualified for disability benefits. In 1970, less than 40 percent of women were insured for disability; in 2010, that number was almost 70 percent. And just like men, women too suffer from debilitating health conditions that keep them from being able to hold down a job. Steve Goss, the chief actuary of the Social Security Administration testified about these trends before the United States Congress just a few months ago. Even though this information is publicly available, nearly every article pretending that there is a link between June's job numbers and disability claims ignores the facts. 
A member of Congress recently stated that disability benefits constitute, “a form of slavery.” The Op- Ed notes this is misguided and disrespectful.
....disability benefits protect the most vulnerable members of our society, who have no other options.
As Claimant Representatives, many people come to us for help to collect Disability Insurance. The Op- Ed notes when they arrive they have a mailing address. 
But by the time the daunting claims process is completed, which in 2012 averaged 111 days, many of these folks are living in homeless shelters or worse. Disability claimants are not living large on the government dole. In fact, most claim disability benefits only when everything else they try fails to provide the minimal support disability benefits offer. 
Folks applying for disability in my experience would rather be healthy and working as productive members of society. And to collect Social Security disability insurance benefits claimants had to be employed for years. For SSI the same very tight standard to meet medical disability applies.
The fact is, these folks want to work, and it is just not possible for them. We understand this is a political season and that politics will infect every debate in Washington – including those regarding programs like disability insurance. But the facts must be known. Disability benefits have been growing due to an aging population and changing workforce demographics. While we support finding tools to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse in SSDI -- which accounts for less than one percent of spending -- we all must insist that Washington do the right thing and protect our most vulnerable members of society. It is wrong to use them as pawns in a political drama by promulgating misleading facts about people with disabilities. 
We will keep the facts coming. For more SSA disability information, visit the NOSSCR  website

No comments: