For some very strange reason, since the government shutdown started, it seems like there is an increase in the number of people who want to ridicule Social Security’s disability programs. One woman on Facebook said something about how disabled people get something like $15/hour1 to just sit on their butts and do nothing. Then, of course, there was the lovely report last night on 60 Minutes by Steve Kroft.
The ridicule from ignorant trolls on the Internet is nothing new. There are a lot of people out there who make snap judgments about people on disability. After last night’s report, it feels like there will be even more. I’ve already seen people cite that story and talk about how so many people on disability are just on it because it’s easy to get and because they’re lazy. I’ve already seen people suggest that anyone with depression just “take a pill” and, of course, they’re quick to say that they get depressed too but they still work. (Or with Fibromyalgia and Back Pain, they will say that they get aches and pains, too, and that they don’t sit around whining about it.)2 It’s easy for them to judge people that they don’t know, so maybe we, the disabled, should let them get to know about what went in to our being on disability.
When I applied, I can’t say that it was extraordinarily hard for me to get benefits. I was approved within just a few months of submitting my application online. It didn’t get denied. I did have to go see an internal medicine doctor and a psychologist that were picked by the government. I also had to have X-rays done, ordered by the doctor and requested by the Social Security Administration.3 I had to do some phone interviews, where the person from SSA asked if I had any illnesses that I wasn’t mentioning or doctors that I had forgotten about. They wanted to know everything. I gave them permission to get files from every single doctor that I’ve ever seen. Once they had all of that information, I was surprised at how quickly it was accepted. Admittedly, this was before the economy really went kaput, so they probably didn’t have the same influx. Still, it amazed me. I didn’t even know that I had been accepted until I went in to do an interview at the SSA office. This was when I was asked how much money I had in assets, which was important because I receive SSI. The worker that I talked to told me that it was important for me to never have more than $2000 in assets or I would lose my benefits. The weird thing about that was that when my check came (for the months that had passed since I applied), it was high enough (I think it was about $1500) that it would have caused my assets too be too high, so I had to go spend it quickly–something that I was advised to do by that worker.
A few years ago, I temporarily lost my SSI benefits because they had the wrong information about the assets in their system. It was a bit difficult to get them back, but I did. In the time that I’ve been on disability, I have gotten forms from SSA to fill out, to let them know how my health is doing and allow them to check up on my records. Since then, my health has gotten worse, and that’s what they always figure out. And that’s why, after almost 10 years, I’m still receiving benefits.
My mother also didn’t have a hard time getting disability, unless you consider that before she applied, she had been regularly seeing 14 doctors down in Birmingham. She wasn’t doctor-shopping or any of those awful things that people associate with the disabled. She was seeing a team of doctors to try to regain the level of physical health that she had just a few months earlier. She didn’t have to go to any government doctors because the reports from the ones she had already seen were enough for the determination.
My father, on the other hand, had a very difficult time getting it. He had to get a lawyer because his was initially denied. At his hearing, it was stated in his file from the Mental Health Center that he could not work. This is not a file from anyone who gets rich off people going on disability. I would guess that people who work for the MHC actually get paid less for the time that they bill with people on Medicare and Medicaid than they do for people who have private insurance or who self-pay.
I’ve known other people who have applied and been denied. There’s a woman who I was in group therapy with who has nearly died from heart failure. She can’t work and most of her time is spent trying to keep her from going back to the hospital in heart failure. When she tried to get her records sent to SSA, they told her that they didn’t need or want them. Every time she tried to get a doctor to send any records, the doctor would refuse and refer her to a different doctor, who would also refuse. She can’t be around anyone who is sick or it could mess with her heart. She can’t walk from one side of the room to the other without getting winded. She has a low quality of life and is in debt up to her eyeballs. And, even with an attorney, she can’t get disability.
I don’t deny that there are people on disability that shouldn’t be, but I’m doubtful that it is as big of a problem as most people seem to think. The thing that some folks don’t realize is that, even if there are numerous people gaming the system, that doesn’t mean that the rest of us need to be treated like criminals. They’ll say that they don’t judge people who are legitimately disabled or that they have no problem with those people getting money, but then they’ll end up making some comment about how someone doesn’t “deserve” to use a handicap spot or how someone that they know has “more problems” and still works or something else that is used as a way to shame people getting assistance. And they seem forget that they aren’t the only ones with this kind of attitude–that the disabled end up having to justify their checks and their illnesses to strangers and to people they know. When you point this out, they’ll question you about how you’re getting defensive; because being alarmed by ignorance is apparently the first sign that you’re lying about your condition.
Life sucked for a lot of people on disability before last night; after, it’s worse. So, thank you, CBS, for making more people have to prove that they aren’t frauds for being sick.
After adding my annual SSI, SSDI, and Food Stamps amounts for this year, the amount I came up with was $0.85/hour. Even if I add in the student loans that are deferred because of my lack of income, the amount is $3.37/hour. ↩
These were the most memorable X-rays I’ve ever had because my knee’s subluxation was making it difficult for the tech to get a proper view. ↩