In the Arena

Reform Social Security Disability

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Back during the presidential campaign, Mitt Romney tried to make the argument that President Obama was soft on welfare reform. He missed the target. Welfare abuse has shifted to Social Security Disability.

Chuck Lane has a very good column about this new form of abuse in the Washington Post today. The Clinton welfare reform—Temporary Aid to Needy Families—remains what it was: a humane way to move people from dependency to work. But a great many people have done an end-run around the system, checking into Social Security Disability—which has no work requirement—and never checking out.

Now, to be sure, there are workers who fit the program’s inevitable intent: older workers who suffer serious injuries and need support until they reach the age of eligibility for social security. There are others whose medical or mental disabilities make them clearly unable to work. But the government has gotten sloppy about admissions. Remember, a good chunk of people receiving welfare simply disappeared when the work requirement was added. The reason? They already had full-time jobs in the black or grey markets. It took a while, but a great many of those folks finally figured out there was another scam to be had—social security disability.

An argument can be made that it was humane to expand the SSD acceptance rate after the housing crash of 2008. There were no jobs to be had. But we are in recovery now—and scamming the system is never a good idea. The neighbors inevitably figure out who is gaming the system. The stories grow and become exaggerated—I’ve heard specific tales of abuse  all over America on my road trips. Faith in the federal government is shattered as a result.

And so, the system needs to be reformed. It needs to be prioritized, just as the VA disability system does. The 55-year-old construction who hurt his back has my sympathy—I’d be in favor of lowering the eligibility age for both Medicare and Social Security a few years in such cases. But there are plenty of non-back-breaking jobs that construction worker can hold in the interim.

Indeed, in all but the most severe cases, there are public service jobs that can be done as a way of paying back—and a way of culling the scam artists. All too often, the scammers find support on the left from people who believe that free enterprise is inherently unfair and the “victims,” even the unworthy poor,  deserve any help they can get. That sort of thinking is insidious and morally deficient.

Once again, those of us who believe in government activism—who believe in universal health care, infrastructure development, a much better system of education and helping the truly needy—have a responsibility to make sure that the government we have is clean and efficient.

165 comments
ShallonHardman
ShallonHardman

I am amazed that SSDI can have and issue with fraud. I have Young onset Parkinson's Disease, can't get out of bed, or get dressed without some help, and fall flat on my face when my leg doesn't listen to my brain. I just applied for SSDI 3 months ago, but the percentages and my age are not in my favor. 65% of initial applications are denied (3-5 months for a decision), 75% denied at the reconsideration stage (6months-1year), 60% approved at the first appeals hearing (average 461 days to get a hearing) and this is in front of a judge with full medical records, witnesses, etc.. After that, another appeal, and to federal court where only 2% or less are approved. You usually don't find scammers this committed. Hell, I am already well on my way to being burried in debt and homeless before I get to see a penny. Just because someone has a hobby, or takes a vacation doesn't mean that they aren't disabled. There are people missing limbs who are restoring cars, and running marathons, should their disability benefits be taken away. Maybe the guy with the car hobby has someone else doing the work, you don't know. I wish everyone would stop speculating and think they know things about peoples lives, when YOU DON'T know crap. There are a few people who manage to milk the system, but there aren't nearly as many as there are people screaming fraud. Trust me, those of us who are impaired would much rather have perfectly working bodies and work. Filing for SSDI is degrading and makes me feel like a lesser human being, reading a lot of these posts make it worse. To know that there are gonna be people out there running their mouths about me and the fact that I get SSDI in my 30's, and those people don't know me, or my situation, makes me just that much more jaded and cynical than I was yesterday. Thank you very much.

JusticeTime
JusticeTime

Here is a blog from someone collecting SSDI: 

"I am going to have a 9 inch rear that I have narrowed for my 64 Comet. I do not have the 8 out so I will need to get the specs to double check the speed shop. I see that others say that the rear is 58 inches wide and the perches are 43-1/4 inches center to center. Can anyone confirm this? I also need to know the degree angle to weld on the perches. Does anyone know this for sure?" 

This individual claimed fine and gross motor challenges as well as cognitive disability as a result of a stroke (that wouldn't allow him to do math).  As soon as the SSDI  came across, this individual started rebuilding a classic car, riding a bike, etc.  It's all documented and yet the SSDI fraud hotline never has a live person to answer.  Monthly online forms are sent - who knows if they are reviewed.  Our tax dollars have funded recreation for three years now.  

Enjoy this America.  We built this system.  Ignoring it just allows it to continue.

MaryHashman
MaryHashman

I am a social worker in a Community Action office and where I see the most abuse of the Social Security System is with children on the program who are clearly not disabled. The uptick in "Autism" is partially due to the fact it is a reason for your child to receive (ultimately the parent receives) around 710 dollar a month check, I have one client who is a RN nurse (but she has a bad back) with two autistic sons and a disabled husband. They receive large chunks of money from SS each month yet they are here for every freebie we have. Our agency pays their bills and rent at times meanwhile they vacation in Florida and its all on the "up and up".  The only thing wrong with the "Autistic" children is Mom has them brainwashed they are disabled. The oldest can drive a car and play on an adult baseball team and sell things on Ebay but he can't work.

KimE2013
KimE2013

People do fraud disability.....i know hundreds. Dont be so nieve..out of everyone I know on ssdi.......not one is truly disabled.......a fool can see this

dk66343
dk66343

I will tell you that being awarded SSDI is a monumental task. If you don't have a severe impairment, forget it. Age is the real deal breaker in SSDI cases. Around 70% of initial applications are denied. After that, you apply for reconsideration...that has an 80% denial rate. So, after being denied 2 times and 8 months later without any income, you apply to have an administrative law judge hear your case. This is where a person actually listens to your case along with all the medical information...these cases are approved at a rate from 35-90%. If you are over 50 or 55, you have a much greater chance of winning. I look at it like this: If you have a severe impairment and you have paid into the system for 30-35 years, and you can't do the job you've done all those years...you deserve SSDI. Trying to change careers at 50-55 is mentally difficult and the person would not be very successful with their impairment as well as being discriminated against for being older and hurt.

rbrock
rbrock

The Government, along with Millionaires like Mitt Romney, are forgetting is they have sent all the JOBS overseas, and therefore, leave our AMERICAN peasants  with no further alternatives, than to turn to either welfare or disability. He and those like him have raised their own salaries and retirement benefits which cost us the tax payers, to which he fails to remember, there are no jobs in the US to be filled by real AMERICANS, because of the LIBERAL Government of which we have...they have completely forgotten the ...WE THE PEOPLE...part of their being elected...

MarkHolland
MarkHolland

These sorts articles are meaningless. The devil is in the details and the details vary in each and every case. To be more specific, "the construction worker who hurt his back" might have muscle strain or he might have spinal stenosis or end-stage degenerative disk disease. In the former case yes, he could perform many tasks again, perhaps even constructions. In the latter cases, well, gain, it depends on severity but he might be truly disabled.

dreamedadream
dreamedadream

How many people do we think are defrauding the Welfare Disability program? 

You haven't offered any evidence or any statistics to support this ridiculously inflammatory piece of junk writing. There would have to be a LOT of people committing this scam for it to be affecting the economy in a real way. The economy is in the toilet because there's not enough jobs to go around, not because of huge numbers of welfare fraudsters. 

When there's not enough jobs, a few people will always find a way to defraud the system in order to survive.  They should be stopped, but they aren't hugely affecting the economy; I think from memory the percentage of fraudulent welfare claims is reported to be around 1.5%. It could be lower, but that's not much. Even if we imagine that there are double the numbers of scammers that remain undetected, that would still be 3% of recipients.

So the real problem with 'the economy', is that many people don't have jobs, or are underemployed. Not that a few dishonest people are stealing welfare payments. 

White and blue collar jobs  are being taken offshore, automated, or simply re-organised and reshuffled into extinction. The average american worker is much, much more productive than he or she was 30 years ago. Yet his or her wages haven't increased to match the increased productivity. This means that fewer workers are doing all the work. All the work that's left, after automation and re-location.  

That's the problem.




WayneSmith1
WayneSmith1

Let's remember the SSD program was signed into law circa 1973 by that arch-liberal bastion of communism--President Richard Nixon. During what i believe was the presidency of GHW Bush, there was a court decision that drug addiction and alcoholism were for the first time to be considered disabilities for purposes of receiving money. prior to this, no chance. Many people on this program have legitimate reasons to be so--the only ones scamming the system are the crackheads, and cutting them offwould save money while preserving the program for the truly disabled. DO NOT LUMP PEOPLE TOGETHER AS A GENERIC PROFILE OR STEREOTYPE--which is exactly what  Joe Klein is doing here. Klein would be shocked to learn that "disabled" can mean a great many separate conditions, which he would never concede. And Joe? Being a professional pundit is in NO way working an actual job--try a steel mill job like all the men in my family did. Take a year off from punditry and actually work fast food or a janitor job, get the true-life experience you as of now totally lack. And I realize drug addicts also come in many forms and are not generic--but addiction has been well-proven to be treatable in a way other conditions may not be.

MichaelApostolakis
MichaelApostolakis

Hello, I am on SSDI. Not by choice mind you! I worked very hard since age 14 when I landed my first gig as custodial help through EOC. A program designed to provide employment to poverty stricken teenagers. I continued working for the next 30 years. I had 3 full time jobs.  Then 29 years later I was told that I could not get hip replacements via surgery because of a previous heart attack that destroyed my heart.  I am still willing to have the surgery to correct my damaged hips. The orthopedic surgeon refuses to operate because of the risk. I made great money as a Registered Respiratory therapist. I started as a "trainee" then put myself through school.  I worked almost 20 years at my last job. Sometimes working 50-60 hours a week. I liked helping people breathe. Again the money was good at $32 an hour. For me the disability program is working as it should. I am upset to hear that the program is being abused! With the program's tough screening process I do not see how it can be. I suppose though if you hire a good enough attorney, you can achieve most anything in court? My take on that is if you have that kind of money? Why do you need disability? People need to understand that they are not getting by with anything! When they reach the pearly gates chances are they may be denied! Abuse of this program will hurt future generations to come. They will hate you for that! Just my take. 

Dancingpenguins
Dancingpenguins

Joe,

A guy who can't find work, may be able to get social security disability. Our federal government is hostile toward providing welfare to men. Social Security disability may be the only way for many who are unable to find work to make a living. You may wish to consider how awful our economy is for many. Our fearless leader seems intent on having government run everything. For every job added since 2009, the U.S. government has spent nearly $300,000 in stimulus. Most of the jobs added have been minimum / low wage jobs that won't pay $300,000 in a decade. Maybe you can talk to Obama about improving the economy, and not being so business hostile. 

AllenStairs
AllenStairs

@NickKristof I've been reading real experts on this topic. Joe Klein is not one of them. There's a lot of bad info/arguments out there.

JackKennedy1
JackKennedy1

A building can't hurt its back. This is time mag. Could we perhaps proofread a bit better.

Leftcoastrocky
Leftcoastrocky

Let's start first by enacting a job growth program, such as by investing heavily in infrastructure, R&D and education.  As unemployment/underemployment comes down, fraudulent disability claims will come down.  Then it is an excellent time to crack down.

sonsofaureus
sonsofaureus

Urging of government vigilance against fraudulent  disability claims is not an attack on the disabled.  Actually, it's advocacy for the truly disabled, as fraudulent claims cast aspersions on all who receive disability payments.

I don't think there is any question that people without better options are using the Social Security Disability as their welfare form of choice.  If disability will pay you about $13,000/year with free health care without working, then for some people, it's better than the no-other-options job that pays $15,000/year without health care that they have to work for.  I think the operative question when evaluating claims for fraudulence is - if there was a job that would pay these folks $50,000/year within their skill set, would they still claim to be disabled? 

Studies show that the number of people on disability doubled since the 90s, (with about half the claims citing those two reasons as reason for disability) while no study shows that the overall health of the American people has declined since that time period.

The big mistake seems to be when Congress allowed depression and back pain as valid reasons to apply for disability in the 90s without adequate thought given to how to approve or deny these claims. These are common conditions that a lot of working people have and work through, but can also be disabling.  So if there is a big grey area - who decides whose condition is severe enough to receive SSD?  Courts and doctors can be said to be involved, but it's really the people who have these conditions themselves who decide to pursue these claims.  It depends on your state, but if you keep at it, you'll probably get it.

To the people whose only options are working at McDonald's for minimum wage,  maybe not working for nearly the same money is attractive, especially if the filtering system is so porous that it's become an honor system.  And once such a person is on disability, why would they go back to a McDona'ld's job that's not steady, might pay less than disability if they don't get the hours, and will the rigamarole to get back on disability even more difficult?  The problem then becomes that a disability safety net is functioning as a welfare system - there is no incentive to get back to work/find more training, etc.

There are 14 million people receiving disability payments, along with the medi-Care that comes with it, costing 200 billion dollars a yearr.  There were 7 million people on it 20 years ago.  This is a program that's 3 times the size of the VA.  The actually disabled can be outraged at the suggestion and will point out all the other wasteful government expenditures, but that's too much money to be given out without some scrutiny. 

I understand that any overhaul of the screening process will put legitimately disabled people under scrutiny also.  But examination will bear out the truth of their disability, and the legitimacy of their claim will be recognized.

And to those who would cast aspersions on the medical professionals - they have guidelines they have to follow also.  If someone keeps coming to the doctor's office claiming back pain and asks them to support their disability claim, on what basis are they supposed to refuse?  And since when did doctors become gatekeepers to welfare?

aztecian
aztecian

this b.s.  you're hating on people that need ss.  you have no data to back up your statements. 

Ovalle2016
Ovalle2016

We need child support enforcement reform.

Too many deadbeat dads drag down the economic system. Dads that don't pay child support have even more children that they know they won't be forced to support.

Time to take child support out of the states hands and put it in the federal government's hands so that deadbeats don't move from state to state. Withhold tax refunds on deadbeats.

StephenB.Crowley
StephenB.Crowley

You tried to be balanced, I'll admit - but in all you contributed

to negative stereotypes of all disabled people who don't have

visually apparent impairment.  And that includes a sizable number

of war veterans. 

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

WTF is "malformed content"? Tried to post a comment with a link to Swampland, is it self hating?

larissa_j
larissa_j

Actually, when you talk about the disabled getting hired on, I don't think you have any idea. Employers don't want to hire people who are disabled if it means they have to provide any sort of accommodations  For example, if you have someone who suffers from a chronic painful neurological disorder and it means they'll frequently miss work? No employer on earth is going to hire them because no employer wants to deal with that many sick days and let's not even start about the ramps and such.

You want to get people who can work off disability?  Knock some employers around. Oh wait... they'd have to start employing American's who aren't disabled too. Good luck

jim.satterfield
jim.satterfield

Mr. Klein, your example of the 55 year old construction worker ignores one very, very pertinent fact. Age discrimination in employment is pervasive in this country when it comes to good jobs. Jobs as the greeter at Wal-Mart don't count.

gysgt213
gysgt213

The approval rate for Social Security disability (SSDI) and SSI claims varies, depending on the level at which claims are reviewed. Cases heard by administrative law judges (ALJs) have a significantly higher rate of approval than cases that are decided at the application and reconsideration levels (in most states, reconsideration is the first level of appeal, a paper review). For instance, more than half of disability applicants who appeal and attend a hearing with an ALJ are approved for benefits, while only about 35% of applications are approved at the initial application level and only 10% of applicants are approved at the reconsideration level.

Of course, these approval rates are based on an average of everyone who applies for disability benefits. Many people who apply for benefits have impairments but are not yet unable to work, while others are seriously disabled. If you have a severe impairment or medical condition, you have a better chance of winning your claim.

Where a claim is reviewed also has an influencing effect on approval rates. Disability Determination Services, or DDS offices in various states, have differing rates of approvals, just as hearing offices in different states have differing rates of approvals.

What accounts for such differences in an allegedly objective system? Primarily the fact that the system is not as objective as the Social Security Administration might claim. While the rules governing Social Security disability cases are the same in every state (SSDI and SSI are federal programs), the disability determinations are made by people - either claims examiners at DDS or ALJs at hearing offices. Decision making based on a "human reading" of a claimant's medical records is, inherently and unavoidably, a subjective process.

It is also true, as well, that some judges are simply more open to approving cases, while other judges deny cases substantially more often than they approve them. Learn about how to improve your chances of getting disability benefits.

To find your state's approval rates for the initial disability application and on appeal, see our state disability resource pages


http://www.disabilitysecrets.com/disability-approval-rate.html

KennyCampbellJr
KennyCampbellJr

I feel you. I'm a t-7 paraplegic and I hate relying on a check from the government and would love to have a tax paying job that could provide the money needed for medical equipment and everything that I need in a months time!

larissa_j
larissa_j

@KimE2013 You're trying to troll but you're soo.. well, stupid that you can't even do it properly.

correction123
correction123

@dk66343 

You summed it up nicely, I was one of those fortunate people who happened to be 54 years old that lived through a horrific beating when I was a corrections officer in the state prison system. I was beaten so badly I never mentally recovered from the injuries that happened to me granted I don't show no signs physically of ever been beaten but the mental impact of the surprise attack was devastating to me mentally. After the first two months I was having tremors and couldn't be around people for more than half an hour if I forced myself longer I would get deathly sick later my doctor and my state caseworker told me to see a Psychologist you see I never knew what PTSD meant let alone ever believing it was a disorder I used to crank on people who claimed such nonsense! Now that I experience it every waking moment in my life I guess I will have to eat goat! My lawyer and my doctor and my job representative for retraining told me no one is going to hire you because of your age factor and being diagnosed with PTSD which scares some uniformed people because of all the killings that have happened and last but not popular in a dying job economy! Maybe SSDI saw the same crystal ball!

JusticeTime
JusticeTime

@dk66343 I know someone who was awarded with two doctor's notes after an attorney jumped in.  Some people deserve it.  Some people are gaming the system.  Those gaming the system need to be shut down.

KimE2013
KimE2013

I personally know waaaaay too many people frauding social security. One man born with a bad eye, who has worked his whole life, now receives ssdi. Another Gentleman claims mental dissability, cooperates with social Security and is Seen by their physicians and pretends to be crazy and receives ssdi...he also works at the day labor 5-6 days per week and laughs at having deceived the social security admin.....and the list goes on and on.....

larissa_j
larissa_j

@sonsofaureus Oh, and I'm neither on disability nor one of those baby boomers. I am disabled though and I am damn tired of seeing the disabled demonized over and over again in these articles.

larissa_j
larissa_j

@sonsofaureus  Just a little FYI regarding those "numbers". You might want to double check when the baby boomers started hitting their "golden years" and started suffering the ailments that go with them and then back off on the concept that there's a sudden upsurge in fraudulent disability "cuz." One of the biggest reasons disability is up is because a large population of Americans is getting old enough to need disability but not quite old enough to get social security for being "old."

larissa_j
larissa_j

@StephenB.Crowley  It's the same old same old. If you can't "see" the disability? The person doesn't really have a disability and therefore THEY CAN WORK.  It's an unfair assumption for those of us who suffer from neurological disabilities and for those who suffer from mental/psychological disabilities. 

Everyone's an internet doctor nowadays. 

larissa_j
larissa_j

@Paul,nnto you screwed up the validation probably by backing up and deleting an @ or the link you posted had something the php didn't like. 

S_Deemer
S_Deemer

@gysgt213 : Thank you for an objective, non-polemical comment. A rare even in the swamp.

larissa_j
larissa_j

@gysgt213  "Cases heard by administrative law judges (ALJs) have a significantly higher rate of approval"

Which is ridiculous, a waste of time and money and places a significant financial burden on those who are really disabled.  The amount of time it takes to go through the appeals process is ridiculous. 

dreamedadream
dreamedadream

@KimE2013 So how many people do you know doing this? Who are you hanging out with? If that one man has a bad eye and now can't work, is that because he's defrauding the system? Or is it because of information that you don't have. Or perhaps you know one bad bunch of people who are deadbeats... Dodgy people sometimes do flock together. But it doesn't mean they are representative of the whole population.

 You say the list goes on... But who are these people? Are you sure that I would come to the same conclusion you have come to about them not deserving Disability?

 I agree, the man who is laughing about defrauding Disability sounds like a jerk, and a criminal.

But if your friend was laughing about having defrauded the Bank, you would say: that bank needs to tighten security, or change its security system. But you wouldn't say, we need to cut back on Banking services because 1% of users have found a way to defraud the Banking system. 

 That's ridiculous. Fraud is a security issue, not evidence that welfare needs to be cut back. If people steal from your store, you get better security. You don't stop supplying deserving customers.

 Also, how many people do you think actively pretend to be crazy? It sounds quite involved. 

 If a man is defrauding SSDI because he is working at day labour 5-6 days a week, he's probably NOT doing it on the books or paying taxes, which means the day labour guys are doing the wrong thing and employing him illegally.

 Illegal labour is actually a problem which costs taxpayers WAY more money than SSDI fraud. Yet you're not complaining about that. You're only targeting the one man, not the whole company that's engaged in fraud.

A bit biased, don't you think?

sonsofaureus
sonsofaureus

@larissa_j @sonsofaureus That's a great point.  I'm not saying that all disability claims since 1990 are fraud - only that it bears a closer examination.  Especially because the current SSD seems susceptible to abuse (not that all who apply are abusing it) and societal trends might be conducive to that. The number of children receiving disability payments have also gone from 300k in 1990 to 1.2 million in 2010 also, a four fold rise in 20 years.   That might be just coincidental too - a trend following the rise of diagnosis of disabilities like ADHD and autism in children.  The number of applications for disability also rise and fall with the unemployment rate - the graphs correlate pretty closely.  I don't know how the aging of the baby boomers explains that.  

If the percentage of fraudulent SSDI recipients remains the same, when the recipient numbers doubled, the approved fraudulent claims have to have doubled as well.  I don't feel like it demonizes the people too disabled to work to suggest that we look for those who can work but don't.  I also don't see how the article demonized the disabled over and over either.

If you look up "how to get disability" on youtube, there are hundreds of videos put up by lawyers on strategies to get SSD - factors that help your case and needing to get them on paper.  While that's not problematic in and of itself, it does illustrate that the process of application is often litigious.  Once in the courts, it's as much a matter of whose lawyer argues better, as it is the merit of the claim.  

That probably also means the only people getting approvals on initial applications are clearly too disabled to work, everything else that's less obvious getting passed on to the courts.  I don't think it's unreasonable to assume that in there somewhere will be people who exaggerate the severity of their medical conditions for the purpose of receiving SSDI.  These videos also state - disability lawyers can get up to  $6000 a pop, denied applicants don't have to pay anything.  Can you say this system isn't inviting to someone with nothing to lose to give it a shot?

I don't think anybody would begrudge the disabled their social safety net.  You still have to wonder why the approval or denial is so often decided in the courts - perhaps because the determination of being too disabled to work is so subjective?  In that case, periodic re-examination of these subjective decisions seems like a due diligence on Social Security's part.  

larissa_j
larissa_j

@sonsofaureus @larissa_j 

A couple things.

1. Regarding those that can work but don't. This is a tricky situation.  On one hand you have people like myself who would work if only given the chance but the problem is that employers don't want to hire us because we require special accommodations either in the form of telecommuting, special hours,  or days off.  In IT, web design, software development, graphic design, etc these are not so much a problem in getting the job done and yet employers still balk. Why? I'd guess it's because they can't micro-manage an employee by breathing down their neck at the office. Plus, they still just don't want to hire someone "with problems" when they can hire someone "without problems." Never mind that I will put in 50-60 hours a week from home.  They just won't do it.  So the onus in getting the disabled who can work "to work" is as much on the employers as it is on the "people who can work."  

2. You're right, determination IS subjective. I don't have one of those "automatically" approved disabilities.  If I want disability I have to get a hearing and I would probably have to hire a lawyer. In the past I've always shied away from this because I didn't like the option. It just feels sleazy but since I continue to come up against employer refusal to hire? I just might have to do it. (My only other option is lie about my disability during an interview and that's just not ethical)  The government "admits" I'm disabled but their reason for not granting disability is that my education, work experience and skill set are "too high" for me to not find work.  They won't take my frequent sick days, pain level, patient history, and actual diagnosis into account. 

-now before a bunch of people think "I'm whining"? I'm not.  This is how it is for people who operate in the grey area of disabled but not on the auto-approve list and educated/skilled.  We really want to work. We have worked and some of us made a lot of money when we worked but when the economy went sideways? We were the first to go and companies do not want us on their books.  The last thing I want is to get disability when I could be making so much more as a developer.