The Reality of Disability

Guest blogger, Suzanne L. Johnson, is an attorney and shareholder at McTeague Higbee who focuses much of her practice on Social Security Disability.

Over the weekend I heard a report on National Public Radio about Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) entitled:  “Unfit for Work: The startling rise of disability in America.”  The reporter Chana Joffe-Walt contributed fuel to a firestorm fed by inaccurate assumptions about the social security disability system; that disability benefits are awarded for the wrong reasons, or worse that in her words, “disability is a made up concept.” 

In fact, as a lawyer practicing in the disability field, I am often impressed with the amount of medical information one must be able to read and interpret in order to prepare a case for hearing before an Administrative Law Judge.  This Judge will look thoroughly at a claimant’s medical records for objective evidence of the claimant’s disability, including CT scans, MRI, and X-Ray results.  Federal law then defines what conditions need to be met in order to fit within a definition of disability.  Only claimants who have the most significant disabilities will be determined to be eligible for SSDI benefits.  Statistics tell us that only around 40 percent of those who apply for benefits are eventually approved, ensuring that only those who meet the strict requirements are found eligible.

There is not one cause of disability.  SSDI beneficiaries are diverse with significant health issues.  Some are terminally ill, with about one in five male SSDI beneficiaries and one in seven female SSDI beneficiaries dying within the first five years of receiving benefits.  Nearly 70% of SSDI beneficiaries in 2010 were age 50 or older and nearly 1 in 3 was age 60 or older.

With the increase in the baby boomers now aging and suffering more disabilities, there has naturally been a growth in benefits which have been awarded.  Our country’s social safety net benefits millions of American workers – who have paid into the system – and whose benefits prevent suffering and serious social and family burdens like homelessness brought on by foreclosures, evictions and bankruptcies.

I have never met an individual who, if there were a medical fix for their disability, would rather apply for SSDI than have their disability be healed and return to their normal life.  Social Security Disability Insurance program provides life-sustaining funds but does not provide days without pain or anxiety.

The Social Security Disability Insurance programs provide vital and much-needed economic security and access to health care for individuals whose impairments are so severe that they cannot work. 

Accident, illness or work injuries can happen to anyone.  That is why SSDI is a program that deserves to be protected, not attacked.

If you believe your rights have been violated, contact us.

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