Monday, January 14, 2008

Social Security Disability and the CBS Evening News

Like many, I tuned in to the CBS evening news to see the type of coverage they would display for their broadcast article on the social security disability system.

I can't say that I was extremely disappointed, because I didn't really expect this "two-month investigative work" to reveal any more to the general public about the failings of the federal system than did the New York times article that ran a few weeks ago. And, true to form, in most respects it didn't.

It disclosed the total number of pending cases nationwide, the fact that two-thirds of initial claims are denied, the fact that most reconsiderations are likewise denied, and it also mentioned the hideous wait times for disability hearings.

I did learn one statistic that I had not heard before and it was very distressing to hear. From 2006 to 2007, more than 16,000 disability claimants died while waiting on a pending case. More than once, I've spoken to family members of a claimant, only to learn that they had died while their case was stalled at one level in the system. But, I have to admit, I was a little taken aback by the number.

One thing about the CBS article I did not like at all: In the lead-up to the beginning of the broadcast and right before the article began, CBS producers ran footage of individuals in wheelchairs.

My wife (also a former disability examiner) and I were perplexed at this. Individuals who are wheelchair bound are an automatic allowance for disability. That doesn't mean that any claimant who uses a wheelchair voluntarily will automatically be approved. But, if a claimant's treating physician puts them in a wheelchair or directs the patient to use a cane for all ambulation, that claimant will be approved.

Why did CBS use wheelchair footage? I suppose they didn't think their audience could relate to the issue unless they showed that type of imagery. Either that, or after "two months of investigation", they still managed to remain clueless about how the social security disability system really works.

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