A reader writes:
As a disabled American, I have read with particular interest your commentary on Limbaugh's latest attack on the most vulnerable members of our society. Without citing any evidence, Limbaugh does not hesitate to assert that many, if not most, people receiving Social Security disability benefits are frauds who are freeloading on the taxpayers. You correctly point out, however, that Limbaugh has difficulty defending his position when confronted by a real human being living with a serious disability. Here's my story.
I was raised in the Bronx in a secure and loving family living in very modest economic conditions. Blessed with academic abilities and strongly influenced by my parents teaching me the value of hard work, I became the first member of my family to earn a college degree and then went on to earn a law degree. I did well enough in law school to be selected for the Law Review. I received an appointment as a law clerk at a federal circuit court of appeals, which led to my being hired by a major international law firm.
Before I reached my thirtieth birthday, I was earning a six-figure income. I worked very hard for my success. Seventy hour weeks under stressful conditions were the norm. Perhaps most importantly, I genuinely loved my chosen career at a firm that gave me the opportunity to work on challenging legal matters for both major corporations and indigent prison inmates. In my early thirties, my career was flourishing. My wife and I were approaching the closing of the purchase of our first home and eagerly anticipating the birth of our first child.
Then I began to notice that I was having difficulties with my body's coordination. I had been an above average athlete all my life, but now I was becoming clumsy with the simplest of tasks.
My doctor sent me to a specialist, who ordered a series of increasingly invasive tests. After a month of testing, my wife and I sat in the specialist's office. We held hands as we listened to the words no one ever wants to hear from a doctor, "I am very sorry to have to tell you that . . . ." What I learned was that I had a disease that was causing the neurons in my central nervous system to die slowly. There was no cure or even effective treatment. The disease would cause increasing disabilities and eventually death. Blessed with an incredibly brave wife, and supportive family members and friends, I knew I would not have to face the future alone.
I continued to work full time for almost two years, making the adjustments required by my failing health. When I could no longer work full time at my office, I continued to work as best I could from my home. Eventually, despite my best efforts, I came to the difficult realization that the state of my health would no longer allow me to meet my clients' needs. My application for Social Security disability benefits (and the vitally important Medicare coverage that goes with them) was approved.
I will not live long enough to collect Social Security retirement benefits. My disability benefits and Medicare coverage have allowed me to remain in my home without bankrupting my family.
While there may be cases of people fraudulently obtaining Social Security disability benefits, it is hard for me to believe that they are more than a very small percentage of the total claims. I am grateful that I live in a country that still believes in providing a system of social insurance for all its citizens. I paid my premiums into that system for more than a decade, and I do not believe I am a "freeloader" now that I have been forced to claim the benefits of that social insurance.
P.S. For those of us who are mainly confined to our homes, the internet is a tremendous gift of maintaining contact with the world. Thanks for all you do.
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