Thursday, May 02, 2013

TV station contacts me about investigating the rising cost of disability claims

Every once in a while, I get contacted by a newspaper or television person asking me to provide commentary on Social Security Disability. Frankly, I have no idea why...than the fact that they are simply looking to flesh out what is usually a story that amounts to little more than a hatchet job on the intentions and motivations of individuals who are seeking disability benefits.

I received once of those emails again last week. The request to contact me directly seemed innocent enough, but I've been down this road before and I pretty much know how it goes. 99 times out of 100 their "local investigative reporting" is focused on highlighting what they perceive as waste and fraud in the federal disability system and the aim of the article is to create or pile onto whatever negative feelings are held by the general public and their elected representatives regarding disability claimants.

It gets tiring, though it is hardly unexpected. The worst part is that I usually feel compelled to respond to them, at least by email because A) I don't think they have a single clue regarding the article they are reporting on and B) I think someone should given them a candid, detailed parcel of information that, hopefully, will contribute to their knowledge and which may result in more balanced reporting.

So, this is what I sent to Chris Nagus of KMOV tv news in St. Louis Missouri:


I am in North Carolina. I would be willing to speak with you but I don't know how helpful I would be. And if this is one of those articles focusing on the rise in disability claims while portraying the majority of them as fraudulent I may not have much to contribute.

Claims are rising for three reasons:

1. SSA is never provided with adequate resources to deal with backlogs. In the Social Security field offices, only one in three workers who retire or quit are being replaced. This has been the policy for quite some time. SSA will claim that they are getting more efficient, but in the end you still need a certain number of boots on the ground to get the work done or you fall behind. This is not the fault of SSA however. In the end, they work with the budget that Congress gives them.

2. Population demographics in this country are changing and fairly rapidly. 10,000 people a day are aging onto the retirement rolls. The country is getting older. But not everybody is lucky enough to get to retirement age or close to it in good health. An aging population means that increasingly more people will have injury and illness. For some of them, the functional limitations they have as a result of their condition will make it impossible to go back to whatever past work they did. However in the Social Security system, that is not enough to qualify for disability. At that point, SSA will consider your age, your level of education, and your level of job skills to determine if you have the ability to switch to some type of other work given the fact that you cannot go back to your past work. If you can't go back to your past work or switch to some type of other work, then you may qualify for disability.

But the process is not a cake walk. From start to finish, it may easily take you two or three years even if you have a good claim. And, of course, even if you get approved for disability, chances are you're receiving somewhere in the neighborhood of $1000 or less per month. Hardly a great life by monetary standards. When the Atty. Gen. of Utah recently stated in an interview that disability recipients get as much as $2700 per month, he simply did not know what he was talking about.

3. The recession has dislocated hundreds of thousands of American workers, many of whom do not have high levels of education or high levels of work skills that would've easily allowed them to transition to new types of employment. Have claims gone up considerably in this recession? Yes of course. But I think it is so dramatic this time because this recession is the worst downturn since the Great Depression and, as I said, it is coincidental with significant changes in population demographics.

As an aside, when they talk about raising the minimum retirement age for Social Security, I doubt they will get their intended effect. You may get delayed retirement claims, but in the end more people will simply file for disability. A lot of people in their mid 50s to early 60s are just falling apart, Sometimes due to the type of work they have done over the course of their lives.

Tim Moore

Now, Mr. Nagus wrote back back and explained that they were wondering if claimants were filing simply because they had lost a job. I was not surprised that that was his line of inquiry. As I said, most reporters are looking to create or stir controversy about the SSD and SSI benefit programs. At this point, after having received a reply from him, I was fairly certain about the direction his story was going in.

Here's the link to Mr. Nagus' story. I'll have more on this tomorrow: News 4 investigates rising cost of disability.

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