Yes that’s what Tom Coburn senator from Oklahoma thought he brought to 60 Minutes when he exposed an intricate fraud network along the West Virginia Kentucky boarder involving a prominent local disability attorney, a sympathetic judge and roughly 5 doctors signing already made up paperwork. That’s what he envisioned bringing to, should be outraged, American citizens when he had in tow two disability judges, workers at that well known law firm stating people, at least in this area, were applying for disability benefits after their unemployment checks ran out; speaking about their town, which has an unusually high number of people on disability, how on the day disability checks are issued you avoid the pharmacy, avoid Wal-Mart, avoid grocery stores, restaurants because of the crowds. Coburn highlighting the billions of dollars paid out to by the federal government in attorney’s fees, how much a disability claimant will cost the American tax payer in lifetime benefits, almost jumping up and down about the lack of Washington oversight, lack of monitoring and people painted as taking advantage of the system because they can. Calling what he found not by any means an isolated incident, rather indicative of what the reporter Steve Kroft relayed are common thoughts regarding the program; nicknamed a secret welfare system and a thriving disability industrial complex. While the federal disability program looks to be the first American entitlement program that could run out of money in part thanks to fraud, waste and abuse, implications as to why Coburn was appearing on the Sunday news show. But aside from 2 of the testifying 4 witnesses in a senate hearing against the West Virginia lawyer and judge filing their false claims lawsuit under a whistleblowers act allowing them to get a portion of recovered funds, coupled with the description given by those same former employees about the goings on in their region, the senator really shows us the hidden face of manufactured disability initiated by how we allow employers to operate. Simultaneously shooting himself in the foot even admitting some of it was due to a bad economy, a lack of system to help that, going so far as to say that is something congress ought to have a conversation about; however, not before spending the other twelve and a half minutes painting the majority of disability recipients as users.
The first real problem with Coburn’s position goes back to 60 Minutes depiction of federal disability, conceived as a small program in the 1950’s meant to help those unable to work via injury or illness. His mentality remains operational under a half century old model when we have people who would not have survived their medical conditions in the 1950’s to live to adulthood much less need disability stipends to survive on because they cannot work, will never work due developmental delay, severe physical incapacitation or who would have been aborted on a doctor’s recommendation once their condition was discovered; others would have been placed in state institutions still costing taxpayers money. Here are people who receive SSI (supplemental security income), also paid out of the federal disability fund; ironically not mentioned as part of the “money drain” out of the program, money utilized for good reason. Here likewise is an answer to where all those disabled people came from; added to the 6 year increase explained by the social security administration as more aging baby boomers, not just a bad economy, are the staggering increase in Autism diagnoses, the high rate at which autism spectrum disorder sufferers lack education, job skills, independent living skills despite specialized therapies and treatments. Simultaneously medical advancements have moved drastically in 60 years, but so have the job responsibilities attached to the most basic jobs. And while things like the ADA (American’s with disabilities act) have made access to community and employment greater, combined with assistive electronics, advances in prosthetic limbs, education tailored to various disorders, advents of group homes, assisted living and life skills training all leading to better quality of life, more independence for those with a disability. There are still huge gaps in the job market, gaps forcing people who would be more than willing to work into collecting a check to live. Mental health conditions are a prime example; one would think tallying all the recent tragedies paring mental instability, mental illness and guns, our senator would be happy to see persons with such problems be able to live and function independent of worrying about them shooting up a mall or a Starbucks because they could not handle the stress associated with part time work in said environment. Famous, glaring person proving this point, former congressman Jessie Jackson Jr. hospitalized for bipolar disorder; hospitalized again after attempting to return to work against doctor recommendation. Now certainly there are other avenues of employment for him; however, the moral is not to too quickly dismiss mental illness as grounds for a disability claim.
Looking solely at those who petition their doctors, the SSA to be declared disabled due to a physical injury, progression of a disease, somehow debilitating ailment, where a partially injured person in the 1950’s, ‘60’s 70’s even early 80’s could get a sedentary job placing books in boxes, answering phones, stuffing envelopes, sorting items, not so today. Today once sedentary jobs in secretarial, clerical work can require lifting of 20-60 pounds, a driving license, one Midwest ad wanted someone who could set up displays, translating to bending, reaching, possibly climbing, another to show apartments, which could entail large amounts of walking, maneuvering up and down stairs possibly without handrails, things typically prohibited by doctors in dealing with severe back, neck injuries, can be difficult if not impossible concerning various forms and severities of arthritis. One ad went so far as to want someone who could operate a forklift plus clerical skills. Persons with repetitive stress, joint and muscle problems cannot go out and work even part time minimum wage jobs aggravating their tendentious, exacerbating their carpal tunnel, pinched nerves, neck issues particularly when those job mandate cross training; a Barnes & Nobel including café wants people who can shelve books, make coffee, cashier, not just work the information desk or sit at a checkout ringing up merchandise. Movie theaters, multi venue establishments want far more than someone to work a ticket window, usher tearing tickets as people find their show. Determining what you can do in the employment market similarly depends on your diagnosis, how your symptoms manifest themselves; people with MS, ALS, Parkinson’s disease, different types cerebral palsy can and do experience trouble getting/keeping a job, endure workplace torment because one day they can see, do not need help performing a task, the next day they do. Jobs, hours you work may be dictated less by desire to work and more by cumulative effects working may have on your body, stamina, pain quotient, weakness, fatigue; you may not be able to stand, reach, bend walk back and forth showing items to customers, shelving materials or working a hotel front desk, then go home and be capable of doing dishes, laundry, vacuum or mop floors, take out trash. At the end of a 20 hour work week the person may be in pain that never completely goes away because they are doing too much.
Dovetailing into right into tackling the senator’s interpretational of statute on disability: if there is a job you can perform in the economy then you are ineligible to for social security disability; legitimately disabled persons reacting quick to point out the arduous task of finding those jobs. Complicating their ability to obtain employment after injury, diagnosis of disease, being forced to quit, being fired from a previous job, long wait lists and finance based priority holds operating in agencies like vocational rehabilitation, lack of knowledge or referral access to job placement agencies, if you are lucky enough to have one that specializes in helping those with disabilities, work related injury in your city, town. Said agencies having the most notorious track records for incompetence, misinformation, inability to help clients produce adequate résumés, satisfactory interview answers, who regardless of their purpose, fail to understand the complexity of their clients’ employment struggle, do not possess abilities, knowledge beyond getting someone a job vs. opportunities to retrain them for a career, open the door to a previously un-pursued dream. Yes the female judge brought in to give her view on questionable disability cases did say if you’re over 40 it’s not hard to find an ailment, but never mentioned is that, between 2007-2009, the beginning of that 20% increase in applications, saw employers at their most unwilling to hire able bodied workers, discriminating against, some still to this day, the long term unemployed, weeding out candidates on walking gate, condition of teeth, type of eye glasses worn, creating daunting job descriptions hardly anyone could fulfill. On top of those job market realities, in this recession economy particularly, employers are several times more likely to refuse job training even when subsidized by an entity like VR, are the first to turn away candidates who can only perform parts of a job, a person in a wheelchair, using a special stool to work at a cashier station for instance, cancel internships, specialized work programs in dietary, dishwashing, maintenance designed to give those with disabilities, those with prior injuries practical work experience, retraining. A type 1 diabetic may be disallowed a driving license because of fluctuation in blood sugar that can lead to accidents; a type 2 diabetic taking insulin is no longer allowed to drive a city bus in at least one Midwestern state. He did not file a disability claim just changed jobs to dispatching and driving a cab; still, he did lose job security, income certainty and health insurance. Epileptics must be at minimum 6 months seizure free before reclaiming their license and are often seen as a liability in the workplace. A driver’s license that can affect something as lowly as the ability to deliver pizza to a career in event planning, being a personal assistant, home health aide, any job requiring you drive, showing how major to minimally significant changes in medical status can drastically affect employment prospects. Concurrently standard job training and retraining programs are the first things to be cut; right next to riders defunding planned parenthood, public broadcasting, removing gray wolves from the endangered species list. Apparently Mr. Watchdog hasn’t been paying attention to entire budgets in the last 2-3 years.
Next Coburn is a walking contradiction in that he begins primarily blaming the shady lawyers, fraudulent doctors, too lenient judges for the “gaming” the system” and ends up placing almost all the blame on disability applicants alone; wrongly leading viewers to believe every person, the majority of persons approved for disability A- utilized the services of an attorney, B- used a fraudulent one, C- did so knowingly in order to pull a fast one on Uncle Sam. Instead, forgotten by this public official, and now segment watchers, is why lawyers were brought into the process at all. They were brought in because only a lawyer can file all the proper paperwork on appeal to make sure someone gets a completely fair chance at what they may be entitled to; nonetheless there are individuals who did file, appeal, do all their own paperwork, individuals who yes have a primary care physician, specialist treating whatever they have, but in reference to their claim only see SSA appointed doctors who do very minimal exams and may or may not delve deeply enough to discover the scope of a claimant’s problem. Thus finding individuals non-disabled solely so social security has to pay out zero monies, or who were legitimately awarded disability because there issues, combination thereof, were deemed profound enough to warrant it; he himself saying, in the Steve Kroft interview, we ought to ere on the side of a person being disabled. Disability lawyers, law firms specializing in only that are significantly important, because focusing on this section of law alone allows them to know it well vs. another specialty or a more general practice who could lose a client’s case for lack of knowledge. Equally dismissed is the fact all disability claims for SSDI (social security disability insurance) are denied on the first attempt to weed out individuals only looking for another form of welfare, a quick income solution so they can be lazy, not work. Secondly underscoring SSDI is not welfare, is not just another way to easily get something for nothing; you only receive SSDI if you have worked in your lifetime and the allotment you receive is commiserate with the wages you earned. The only exceptions to this are child benefits given to a determined disabled child, spousal, survivor benefits given after an SSDI recipients death to dependent children, surviving spouse again paid for out of wages they earned while living and working. Additionally not said is that a designated disabled child or spouse is automatically switched for SSI to SSDI by the SSA when the SSDI claimant is approved. Scrutinizing people filing, they may have attempted to file, sought out a lawyer to try and get disability on advice from friends, may have been directed there by an advocacy agency, sans their competence, and are using the free unless you are awarded type lawyer because they have little to no money, forget the gargantuan costs of stellar, beyond reproach legal representation. Leaving us with more people than originally thought who filed because they genuinely believed they had a legitimate, legal reason to do so.
It can easily go the other way too disability claims denied for people who were profoundly injured on their jobs, suffering chronic pain due to ruptured, slipped disks often from manual labor, lifting patients in hospitals, beyond meeting the minimum wage, gainful employment requirement, case reviews, later denials of people with overwhelming issues like terminally ill lupus. An older person told due to his advanced age, 55, he did not qualify for retraining; all commenter stories responding to the 60 Minutes article/video. Subsequently there are claims submitted apart from those made to the social security administration, such was the instance of a man who arguably could be called the hero of Ron Paul and likeminded thinkers who believe people should be responsible for their own retirement not social security, Medicare; he took out a disability insurance plan and after breaking is neck filed a claim. He was originally declared disabled by the company and the SSA, received checks regularly and went about providing for his family until said company hired a private detective who took surveillance video of the man getting in and out of his car, supposedly bending and reaching, sitting to read a magazine at a book store, walking unaided though a mall and, here’s the kicker, eating a taco chip. His by all appearances reputable, above board lawyer accurately pointed out his client’s ability to consume a taco chip, many of them proved nothing; though the company asserted it meant he could perform sedentary jobs, findings backed up by public comment on many such individuals speaking to the simplicity of data entry as a job option. However the man’s ability to get in and out of a car, consume foods, walk short distances was never in question. Nor bending and reaching to do daily activity vs. the repetitive nature required for a job; nearly identical conclusions uncovered by Good Morning America found the company placed too much weight on video surveillance in cutting off clients benefits, so ruled federal courts. Explaining the discrepancy between the P.I. shot video and the GMA footage one where you see him using a walker, wheelchair one not, goes back to the earlier explored ideas; distance and terrain also playing into how you do something, if you need a mobility aid. The man reported vision issues due to medication he now takes, terrible headaches, short term memory problems; like scenarios 2 paragraphs above, vision issues potentially rendering him unable to drive, less able to simply show up for work. Confronting public viewpoints that it doesn’t take much to sit and do data entry, there is at least one, again Midwestern, clerical job hub that does not take anyone who types less than 80 words per minute, and while the standard for clerical employment is 35 words per minute, many need people who can do 50, highly unlikely for the middle aged man on GMA. Other data entry type positions mandate 20/20 vision in both eyes due to using certain systems with no front, screen enlargement capabilities. Public opinion also highlights comments by a podiatrist who said they were reluctant to fill out disability forms for people with foot problems when diet and exercise could reduce or eliminate them; unanswered is what if the first time you see the patient is when they are 50, 100 plus pounds overweight, are on the verge of, or have already lost their job. Should they meet with a nutritionist, begin a workout regimen, it will be anywhere between 6 months and 2 years before they can achieve a healthy weight; what are they supposed to do in the meantime? To say nothing of the damage could already be done. Luckily for the man profiled, despite a lost appeal, an almost return to court had his benefits reinstated after the GMA report, though the company attributed it to new information given by his lawyer.
Swept under the rug, completely left out of 60 Minutes’ story or Coburn’s findings are any non-fraud related sources of waste within parts of the federal disability insurance program, say misapplied funds; example millions paid to dead people not because a scamming relative, opportunistic neighbor or caregiver failing to report them as deceased in order to take the money, but people on the social security death rolls, entered into the system as dead still receiving benefits chalked up to human error. A new report, out of the social security administration, found it paid 1.3 billon to people who worked too much to qualify for their disability allotment any longer; again not necessarily due to people working under the table knowingly, willfully being deceitful about their income but misunderstanding what they need to report, miscalculating their actual income. Possibilities complicated exponentially by trial work periods, duration of part time, pay by the job, pay by services rendered type work; perhaps we should all challenge the esteemed senator to sit down with a benefits specialist and see how much he understands at the interaction’s completion. Better, put together a test group encompassing citizens from all income brackets below 1 million dollars, all employment sectors, walks of life and see how much they truly can comprehend. Worse there are the very diligent about reporting necessary information only for it not to be properly assimilated; demonstrated by one person who called asking a question or to confirm information, who was asked basic tracking, security questions date of birth, social security number, address only for personnel to ask if the latter was a P.O. box because they had down a residence that was 3 addresses ago and 8-10 years old despite them reporting each change and receiving all relevant correspondence from SSA. Further ignored are adjacent, widely known origins of government fund mismanagement, dollars that could easily go to shore up the disability insurance fund, pay down the national debt, several brought to the attention of news organizations, congressional members handling budget hearings by Coburn himself including but not limited, his directive the home owner tax credit only apply to one home and capped at 500,000, exposing high income celebrity individuals getting subsidies, buying huge chunks of land extraordinarily cheap agreeing to raise bees on the property, loan it to an organic farmer, another using an award from the national endowment of the arts to write off gabling debt, no one checking that the address given on applications for farm subsidies is an actual farm vs. city apartment. Millionaires benefiting from education subsidies, childcare tax credits even home heating assistance are a drop in the bucket of needless government waste. ABC news has found still more in the last 2-3 years; lavish lifestyles given to top U.S. generals in the form of hundreds of thousand dollar homes, harrowing travel expenses, jets, top chefs, to name one.
By all means disbar and arrest shyster lawyers, dismantle unscrupulous disability firms, by all means remove and arrest the dubious judge, strip of their medical license and arrest doctors milling out paperwork as part of a larger scheme. But when you have initiated that clean up, clean your own house too; stop issuing checks to dead people because the SSA can’t put a dent in their clerical errors, stop overpaying people because the trial work periods, income amounts, their unique circumstances make it so incomprehensible to know what and when they need to report. At the same time get a competent mix of people and technology to ensure reported material is entered into the system and appropriate action taken instead of the automatic knee jerk assumption people are scamming something meant to help; by all means overhaul the system to make sure only the deserving get it. Yet, before accusing applicants of gaming said system under the guise of pinning over its potential bankruptcy in order to expose lazy, stupid persons you believe unwilling to work, misrepresenting the problem, work to end the other government waste you have found mandating a portion of it be allocated to the federal disability insurance fund. Halt defunding aimed at standard job training funneling other wasted funds there. And when you’ve jumpstarted that change, overhaul the employment system to end discrimination against the long term unemployed, lack of positions for persons who could do something in the economy if it were not for extremely bloated job descriptions, appoint people to facilitate cooperation between employers and job placement agencies all, but especially those charged with helping injured, disabled and workers in need of retraining enter for the first time or reenter the employment market by reinstating specialized training programs meant specifically for these people. Scrutinize and revamp job placement on the whole paying particular attention to those catering to the disabled, raising the standard for this branch of employees alongside strengthening standards for job training particularly here to actually give skills employers want, avoid things that are too basic. Because as any of these systems stand now, oh for shame if disability is propping up some of the poorest areas of the country when and where there are no jobs to get, no real economy, god forbid people there be able to buy their groceries, toiletries, cleaning products, pay for their medication that could keep them from getting worse, costing taxpayers more, grab a bite to eat from a cheap restaurant on the way home. And if you are tempted to think disabled people are just a scam remember this is the same senator who went after the NSF (national science foundation) for wasted research money spent on a Jell-O wrestling contest done on researchers own time and no research money proven to have been spent on the entertainment.