A recent article in the Washington Post has raised concerns about the ability of the Social Security Administration (SSA) to keep up with increasing demands by applicants for its disability benefits. According to the Post, applications rose an alarming 21% from 2008 to 2009. This rise has been attributed to everything from the troubled economy to the aging Baby Boom generation. The online magazine Slate states that there are more than nine million Americans receiving around $180 billion a year in Social Security disability benefits, if you count disabled workers of all ages and disabled adult offspring.
Regardless of the cause in the increase in applicants and the amount of benefits paid, lawmakers and commentators worry about the strain the increase has placed on the Social Security system. All agree that at the very least the lag time between applying for disability benefits and the actual granting of those benefits has increased.
While grudgingly admitting that the process for applying for Social Security disability benefits is cumbersome and lengthy, that the approval rate has never topped 50%, that many applicants must wade through a confusing appeals process, and that the benefits received at the end of the day are modest, there are those who view disability applicants as secret welfare recipients. "Over the last few decades, a program that was designed to help a relatively small group of people who were fatally sick or permanently unable to work has evolved into a backdoor welfare program in which a huge number of people are paid not to get jobs," says James Ledbetter in his September 13, 2010 post for Slate.
Of course, disability attorneys know better. They know their clients have real issues and real medical conditions that prevent them from working. They know their clients have paid into the Social Security system for decades and that they are simply asking for a return on their investment now that they need help.
One Social Security advocate with a non profit agency that represents Social Security applicants commented on the Washington Post article, reminding readers that "The standard for both SSDI and SSI is that one is unable to engage in ANY job that exists in substantial numbers for more than 12 months or that the condition will end in death....[I]n almost every initial claim I see denied, the reviewing officials say the claimant can be a ticket taker, laundry folder or unarmed security guard....[T]he current wait for the initial application decision [is] more than 6 months. I have had 5 clients die after they went before a judge but before they saw any money....Think 55 year old with a high school education, bulging disc disease, asthma, pitting edema in the legs and significant bipolar disorder. Perhaps they cannot be an unarmed security guard."
This advocate's comments underline the need for most people who apply for disability benefits to have the assistance of a professional who knows and understands the application process, such as a Social Security disability attorney or a non-profit agency that specializes in Social Security disability claims.
The hostility of some commentators to the surge in Social Security disability applications may simply be fear that the system will collapse under the weight of the need. However, it also mirrors a complete lack of understanding of the health issues that applicants deal with on a daily basis, the stringent tests an applicant must overcome to receive aid, and the fact that the labyrinth that is the Social Security disability benefits application process is not one that anyone would take if they had a choice in the matter.