A reader writes:
I'm sure your reader is a qualified diagnostician who has examined both men throughly and concluded they are able to work. The thing is, there are lots of diabilities that don't "show", and they are usually talked about when it comes to handicapped parking spaces ... I know, I've been there.
I looked hale and hearty, but walking from the end of the parking lot to the store entrance was beyond my capabilities for months. I solved the problem by using cabs, which drop you right by the door. I limited it to once every two weeks, for the supermarket. Otherwise I did without. In the meantime I would take two walks everyday. An extra three houses was a major accomplishment. But look at me in the store, I was hale and hearty.
Your reader sees them going out fishing or hunting. He doesn't see them stopping for 20 minutes on the short walk to the dock or hunting blind. Or the biweekly visits to the doctor. Or the visits to the physical therapist ... who tells them to get out and walk more. It's very easy to see the neighbor take off for some fishing and say, "He could work!"
I’ve more experience than I care to with regard to people on Social Security Disability.
I personally know a person, age 30, who has received it because she has "gender identity issues" that have affected her ability to integrate socially into the workforce (that’s her claim; I can’t verify independently). But she works and collects wages under the table in addition to her disability compensation.
I also have two uncles in their late 50s, early 60s, who are on SSD, and they fill their days with hunting, fishing, berry picking in the summer, working under the table jobs (usually construction/carpentry work). A cousin, 50, diabetic, college educated quit the Post Office and got SSD when she no problems that kept her from working her job.
On the other hand, my wife, who is bipolar, has advanced lupus, severe crowd anxieties (we seldom go out in public, shop for groceries at odd hours when few people are there, and buy a lot of goods delivered via Amazon), and has chronic knee injuries and arthritis that often keep her on the ground floor of our two story. But she still managed to keep working as an architect until last year, when at the age of 40 she had a meltdown at the office when all of her afflictions came to a head. She sure could use the disability assistance, but has been denied three times now.
I was an unemployed IT engineer at the time. Lucky for me, I found a job (at about half my prior wages) shortly after she lost hers, but we are struggling to get by at one-third the combined wages we had three years ago.
Myself, I’ve got an inoperable spinal cord tumor (in that it’s too entangled to remove, but surgery has lessened its debilitating effects) and resultant damage that has qualified me for SSD, but I’ve chosen to remain in the work force for my own sanity. Fortunately, my job skills don’t need much physical labor and I have the employer flexibility I need to work around my issues.
Sadly, most of the people I’ve known on SSD use the safety net as a hammock, and I’ve known way to many who really do deserve it, but often give up in frustration.
Of course there are people who game the system. But without percentages, it means nothing.
Every time disability benefits have been restricted, judges have restored them after face-to-face meetings with those affected. I know someone with a degenerative neurological condition who is severely disabled (can't walk or write, has vision problems, etc). Twice in the past 30 years (in moments of austerity) her disability services were slated to be cut pending review. She was forced to go to distressing and (for her) exhausting lengths - endless calls with social workers, finding a pro bono lawyer, paying for transporation to court - to retain her benefits, even though a single glance revealed how severely disabled she was. While I'm sure the arduous process rooted out shirkers, what the truly disabled were put through was shameful.
In an era when those who brought down our financial system get multi-million dollar salaries and bonuses, when the wealthy pay the lowest taxes in 50 years, when there are huge tax breaks for corporations with billions in profits, it blows my mind to see teachers, the poor, and those with disabilities attacked.
Explicit fraud should never be tolerated, and the Obama administration efforts to root out Medicare fraud are necessary and admirable. However, when there are gray areas (instances where abuse seems obvious but can be difficult to prove), percentages matter. When the percentage in the gray area is relatively small, the moral and financial costs of rooting out abuse far exceed any benefits to society.
The flip side of that coin is that, in order to make sure all the truly disabled are taken care of, the rules have to be written loose enough for a certain amount of abuse to slip through. So, if you're going to have a safety net that actually catches all the truly needy, you're going to have to put up with catching some who aren't. So, anecdotal evidence that there is some abuse might actually be evidence that the system is working.
Your reader wrote, "There is no way anyone could collect a SS disability check if they had a spouse worth millions, as your reader states, unless there was fraud involved." Not true.
There are two different Social Security programs. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is poverty based - basicallyfor older adults and people with disabilities who are poor. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is the program you get if you (or your parent or spouse) have paid into for a number of years (generally ten) through payroll taxes, and the amount of your past earnings determines the amount of your monthly check. Since SSDI is a disability insurance program not a poverty program, it doesn't matter whether you or your spouse have unearned income or assets that make you a millionaire - your check is not based on your family wealth. It's based on whether you meet Social Security's definition of disabled. (That definition requires that your disability prevent you from having EARNED income above a certain level - but UNEARNED income, from investments, for example, doesn't matter.)
That said, a fraud might be taking place if those two guys' doctors falsified medical records so they would be found disabled. Hard to believe it would that easy. In my work I'm dealing with people who are denied a disability determination despite having severe medical conditions.
I suspect there is some confusion of Social Security Disability and disability benefits through the Veterans' Administration. $2500 a month to a guy whose only decision is whether to hunt or fish on a given day is believable through the VA's disability system. I work in a large defense agency and have a number of co-workers who are active outdoorsmen while collecting large disability checks from the VA. I don't know what their qualifying disabilities are; one is visibly handicapped, the others have no obvious outward signs of disability. I don't make any judgement on the VA system based on my lay observations, but I have noticed confusion between the two types of disability benefit.
The VA benefit rates are here (note that a 100% rating is not the same as 100% disabled).