Does the qualification process for disability benefits have you frustrated?It is always scary to represent people who are in serious need of social program benefits when the jungle drums start beating in conservative camps. Not ten short years ago, it happened here in California. The “Workers’ Compensation Crisis” was harshly dealt with by none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger, superhero from Hollywood. The result: a hundred year old benefit system for injured workers was demolished, and the insurance companies that underwrote the system made out like multinational oil companies on the savings.
Whether you are collecting Social Security Disability benefits or one of the millions of Americans who sleep better at night knowing this program exists, you have likely heard the negative buzz in the news surrounding this benefit. What once was considered by most as a humble safety net is now being called a “secret welfare system” and a “lazy man’s way out of work.”
Why is such an important program getting such a bad rap? It all started with a large article written for the National Public Radio by Chana Joffe-Walt. This article, entitled “Unfit For Work” (apps.npr.org/unfit- for-work) highlighted many abuses to the system. Ms. Joffe-Walt interviewed several Americans on SSD benefits and concluded that many of the disabilities people are collecting SSD for are not even considered work disabling. She focused on conditions involving back pain and mental illness. She noted that while some people consider a herniated disc to be “disabling”, others feel it’s just another part of getting older and work with these conditions into their 70s or 80s.
The heat really picked up when 60 Minutes aired a segment similarly critical of the system. According to them the SSD system is “ravaged by waste and fraud”. They blame these problems on the bad economy and claim that many people are wrongly turning to SSD for support when their unemployment benefits run out and they cannot find a job. According to the program, over 12 million Americans currently collect SSD benefits, which is a 20% rise in the last 6 years. The good folks at CBS cite an “independent audit” that was recently done by randomly selecting and reviewing the files of several SSD beneficiaries. The audit found that 25% of those getting benefits did not meet the legal requirements and should never have been approved. It found another 20% were questionable. This piece was so controversial, the Center for Economic and Policy Research have called it “bashing”. They noted that the 60 Minutes folks fail to acknowledge the fact that over 60% of people that apply for this benefit are denied. The LA Times also chimed in calling the 60 Minutes a ‘shameful attack on the disabled”. Her article provoked significant backlash from no less than eight former Social Security Administration Commissioners as being completely inaccurate (Google Social Security Disability & the NPR Controversy: “Unfit for Work”).
Here in California, the 2004 “reforms” of the Workers’ Compensation System resulted in a two year cap on temporary disability benefits. Many injured workers simply find themselves unable to return to work in this time period due to serious on the job injury. These changes forced people to apply for Social Security Disability.
In effect the California Legislature pushed this “cost of doing business” onto the Federal system. What is most distressing, is that both of these respected news sources fail to mention how important this social safety net is to so many Americans. Without it, some folks would be living under a bridge. Also, there was no mention of the fact that in most cases, people fight for years for these benefits and get little to no financial support during the process. Finally, they fail to note that financial benefits, when awarded, are meager at best (averaging around a thousand dollars a month). A very insightful article was recently put out by our professional organization, NOSSCR. This article is entitled Nine Facts That Prove Disability Insurance isn’t a Giant Boondoggle. Check it out: nosscr.org/ news/2013/10/nine-facts-prove-disability-insurance-isnt-giant-boondoggle.
It is no cake walk getting qualified for Social Security Disability. Claimants are put through a gamut of medical evaluations and asked to complete reams of paperwork that many of them simply do not understand. Not only does someone have to fit the very narrowly defined definitions of disability under the Federal Code of Regulations, they must have the medical evidence to fully back it all up. See for yourself. Please feel free to download or request a copy of our free book, The Social Security Disability Survival Manual available by calling 530-899-7178.