Social Security Bashing – Political Rhetoric to sway your vote

Okay, we have all seen it, not once, but repeatedly the news articles, reports and blogs about the evils of Social Security.  And if you haven’t seen it, here is a taste of some of the most recent disability bashing articles

Disability appeals a $1.4 billion business for lawyers

A “lawyer has incentive to do anything he can to get a ‘yes’ ” in disability cases, said Richard J. Pierce, a George Washington University law professor who testified before Congress this year. “They’re even trying to intercept people as they go into unemployment offices.”

Disability payouts draining Social Security

In 1957, payouts from the Social Security Disability Insurance program amounted to $57 million. By 2011 that amount skyrocketed to $128.9 billion.

As one former administrative law judge put it disability claims have become a “big business” with most claimants appearing with private lawyers in tow. The government program meanwhile isn’t represented by anyone.

One estimate shows the disability trustfund will run out in just 6 years, by 2018.

This is just one symptom of an overall drain on the Social Security program which includes the imbalance of too many retirees and too few workers, which will only increase in the coming years and the fact that in reality the Social Security “trustfund” is already empty and a serious  part of the nation’s deficit woes .

 

Now, I am not sure where these reporters are getting their facts (except from the same sources that are not giving accurate information to begin with) but they are far from the truth.

First, I know lots of Social Security lawyers.  I have never heard of them picking up clients at the unemployment office.  Does that mean no attorney ever has?  Of course not, but it is not a common practice AND Mr Pierce, law professor quoted in the record who’s bio at Georgetown does not mention him ever practicing in Social Security law obviously does not understand the difficulties claimants face when they are both applying for Social Security and collecting unemployment.  The judges don’t like it.  They think it smacks of double dipping (even when it is not).  Even more, not many of my clients are even eligible for unemployment.  WHY, because they QUIT their jobs due to being unable to perform the duties before they were fired.

 

And as for the rise in representation, let us just say that Social Security has not made the disability program the easiest to understand.  Whether anyone wants to believe it or not, the cards are stacked against many claimants.  How does anyone expect a claimant with an IQ bordering or under the intellectual disability level, a claimant severely depressed or anxious, or a claimant who is suffering so much pain that they cannot complete tasks to be able to properly represent themselves, including knowing the regulations, the law, the rules, how to cross examine expert witnesses, make sure all their medical records are there, understand what the definition of disability is they have to prove, making sure the jobs they performed are properly evaluated, and assist SSA in interpreting their medical records.  An average Social Security file, at the hearing level, contains 500-700 pages .  WHY don’t they want attorneys representing claimants?  Because unrepresented claimants lose their hearings at a much higher rate then those who are represented.

 

Yes, the number of people on the disability rolls has risen, but the percentage of people on disability of the total eligible has remained constant over the years.  WHY because the sheer number of people who are now eligible under Social Security disability has risen.  This is because more women work today, thus earning their quarters of coverage, federal employees, teachers and the clergy are now included in the program, and the baby boomer generation is not completely out of the disability age and on to retirement.  While those against the program continue to state that the numbers on the rolls have gone up, that the pay out has increased, they have also failed to tell you that the number of people eligible has gone up and the amount of money taken in has gone up.  Of course these numbers should rise.  The question we should look at is whether or not the percentage of those people eligible who are on the rolls has drastically changed and it has remained steady.

 

Congress sets aside a portion of your FICA taxes to pay for the disability program.  The disability program peaked back in 2003 when the largest portion of baby boomers moved into the prime disability age (50+).  This means that it is not expected for the cost of the disability program to increase but rather decrease as the remaining baby boomers move from disability to retirement.  And for all those thinking that disability payments are an easy way to make a living, your wrong.  The average disability payment is around $1100 a month.  IN that amount, the claimant must pay housing, food, utilities, and medical costs.  If the claimant is receiving medicare, the cost of that is subtracted off the top (currently around $100), then you have a part d plan (unknown costs), prescription costs (unknown amount), and any co pays or deductibles.  And because the claimant is Disabled they have higher then average medical costs and must maintain medical treatment in order to show their disability continues upon review.  Many that receive disability also end up filing for bankruptcy.

 

And to those that say it is easy to get disability only show how little they know about the program.  Claimants must provide medical records, in many cases years and years worth.  Those records are reviewed by Social Security employees, SOcial Security Attorneys, and ALJs.  Any Social Security Attorney can tell you that doctor’s statements are routinely discarded or downplayed in order to deny cases, that SSA will send a claimant to it’s own doctor to generate evidence to deny a case, that restrictions that were shoe ins for certain conditions even 5 years ago (for example no more than 2 hours of walking/standing in an 8 hour day for a person with xray evidence of bone on bone in the knee) are no longer being given (instead they are being put at light work with the ability to stand and walk for up to 6 hours each day).    And despite those sensational media reports, the average ALJ approval rate for 2011 was 58 percent, down from 63% in 2009 and from 72.3% in 1994.  In 2011, one ALJ had an approval rate as low as 12.7 percent and I worked in front of a judge who approved only 63 of 359 decisions for a whooping 17.7% approval rating in 2011.    Furthermore, more than three-quarters of all decisions favoring the disability claimant are made by state agencies before ever reaching an ALJ. In all, ALJ decisions comprise less than 25 percent of all SSDI awards.
That is not to say that the disability process is perfect, but there will always be the occasional person out to cheat the system.  And when a person is denied, they do not say oh well had head back to work.  They instead watch their conditions deteriorate more because they cannot afford treatment.  There is a reason that 1 in 5 men and 1 in 7 women die within 5 years of getting approved for disability benefits.  With an average wait (from initial app to hearing) of two or more years, those that are heading to hearing now have been out of the job market since 2010 and many since well before that.  I routinely have clients who have not worked since 2010, 2009, and before and not a single one of my clients would have chosen to have their conditions and go on disability rather than working.  There are always ways to make the system better, but gutting it, removing representation, and making it so only those who are so disabled they cannot do anything is not the solution.  As the courts have told us time and time again, Social Security’s definition of disability does not require the person to be so disabled that they cannot do anything .  It requires them to be unable to perform work duties or maintain a job.  Those two standards are a FAR cry apart.  But again and again, people who know very little about the process, have not worked in it and most definitely have not gone through it, continue to play politics attacking a vital program to help the most vulnerable in our society, the sick.
And those who do work in the process, who know and who have gone through it are responding.

Disability systems

Re: Aug. 5 article by Jeremy Schwartz, “Central Texas veterans face nation’s longest wait for VA disability claims.”

The Statesman article about the backlog of military disability claims reminds me that the civilian side is also scandalously backlogged.

Someone whom I care about has been slogging through the Social Security disability system for four years.

If they figure out how to fix the military side, maybe the same or similar remedies could help the civilian side.

Ritchie Mintz

Austin

Story fails to give full picture about Social Security

Regarding the Aug. 6 article, “Social Security now pays out less than retirees paid in,” aargh — another “half of the story” article.

Social Security/OASDI is insurance. OASDI stands for old age, survivors and disability insurance.

When it comes to telling people what they’ll “get” out of the system, these articles need to also discuss how much it would have cost them over their lifetimes to purchase survivors and disability insurance if they weren’t in this program.

I’m no actuary, but I’ll bet that the married couple mentioned in the article would have paid nearly as much, if not more, to buy survivors and disability coverage for 35 to 40 years from a “for-profit” private insurance company as they paid in total for all three coverages.

Enough with appealing to people’s cupidity already. If they’re going to keep picking on the best social program this country has ever seen/experienced, we should at least be entitled to “the rest of the story.”

Thomas P. Augustyn

Dallas

In Rebuttal / Disserving those on disability: The mentally ill need services; they are not ‘gaming the system’

As a spokesperson for people whose lives are affected by mental illness, I am writing in response to Dr. Marnin E. Fischbach’s Aug. 7 op-ed piece “Patients Are Gaming the Disability System — at High Cost to Themselves and Society.”

In my 27 years as a director of community-based mental-health case-management services and now as the director of a mental-health advocacy organization, I have never experienced the Social Security disability process that Dr. Fischbach described. I can honestly say I don’t know a single person with mental illness who was awarded disability benefits after one visit to a psychiatrist. A typical application process usually takes from 18 to 24 months. Two out of three initial applications are rejected.

Letter: Obscure causes of disability claims

In his op-ed “We need to rethink disability policy” [Opinion, Aug. 1], Charles Lane parrots conservative attacks on Social Security Disability Insurance.

Among other things, Lane wrote that SSD applications have increased because “laid off workers turn to disability when unemployment benefits run out.” Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, made the same offensive statement last year in the Newsday article “Soc. Sec. disability in peril” [News, Aug. 22]. The article discussed how the Social Security Disability program is in financial trouble as aging baby boomers and laid-off workers file large numbers of claims.

Lane concedes that some of the increase in applications is due to the aging of the population. One should expect disability claims to increase as more people near retirement age, since older workers are more likely to have medical problems that render them unable to work. However, Lane ignores the obvious: that applications have increased in large part because the population has grown. Furthermore, he overlooks that many laid-off workers were allowed to work with special accommodations, especially those who had developed good will with employers over many years.

The crux of Lane’s argument is that our Social Security Disability policy must change because it provides too much incentive for people not to work. He states that the average monthly benefit is $1,100, or $13,200 a year. According to the Dept. of Health and Human Services, the poverty level for a family of three is $19,090. It hardly seems that Social Security Disability policy is providing an incentive for people to feign that they are incapable of working.

Jeffrey Delott, Jericho

Editor’s note: The writer is a lawyer who handles disability claims

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