Thursday, March 28, 2013

The other side of the disability numbers

There's a lot of talk in the news media at the moment about the rise in the number of those drawing Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.  This four-part series at NPR gives detailed information about the problem.  It appears incontrovertible that many have turned to the SSDI program on the expiration of their welfare and/or unemployment benefits, because they see no other way of making ends meet.  I'm willing to accept that fraud is rampant in this program, based on my own experience of medical disability.

However, I'm very concerned that all SSDI recipients may be unfairly tarred with the 'fraud' brush.  That's simply not true.  There are many genuinely disabled people out there.  I don't draw SSDI benefits myself, but I understand the plight of many that do, because I was disabled after a work-related injury in 2004.  This led to several years of interaction with my employer, the health care system, Workers Compensation, and SSDI officials.  I was surprised, and somewhat taken aback, by widespread reactions that were initially negative, almost hostile.  In hindsight, I understand it was precisely because of the prevalence of fraud that they reacted in that way . . . but at the time, as a genuinely injured person, it was hard to comprehend, much less deal with on a daily basis.

This reaction of suspicion was revealed in many ways.

  • My employer initially denied that I'd been injured on the job at all, and referred me for criminal investigation on the grounds that I'd submitted a fraudulent Workers Compensation claim.  Fortunately, I was able to provide witness statements, so my claim was eventually recognized as genuine;  but it took almost half a year between the date of my injury, and the date of my first surgery to repair the damage.  That delay was caused exclusively by this suspicion, and I'm told it contributed materially to the failure of the surgeries to fully repair the damage.
  • After two surgeries I was still partially disabled, and permanently in pain.  My employer medically retired me, but I had to go through the whole rigmarole of proving - again - that I was genuinely disabled before being approved for a (not very large) disability pension.  I had to go to no less than five different specialists, undergoing tests ranging from physical examinations, to functional limitation tests, to MRI's, to X-rays, to intramuscular electromyography (which was very painful, and no fun at all!).  Some of the test results are still being disputed by the bureaucrats, because the tests took so long to complete that some of the official standards against which their results are measured changed during the process!  Suffice it to say that my disability was proved, with independent measurement of nerve response and other evidence to confirm that my descriptions of my symptoms and limitations were accurate.
  • Despite this evidence, even today, nine years after my disabling injury, and after multiple doctors and specialists have certified that my disability is permanent and will never improve, I still have to undergo an annual medical examination, to have a doctor certify that my condition is unchanged and that I'm still disabled.  It's as if the bureaucrats and administrators are unwilling to accept all those multiple certifications at face value.  I've sometimes protested about the waste of money involved in these annual examinations, none of which will reveal anything new (as the administrators must know, if they've read my bulging file).  However, every time I was stiffly informed that this was what the 'system' required, and there was no way to change it.  The fact that such unnecessary examinations wasted (and are still wasting) several hundred dollars every year is, apparently, neither here nor there . . .

It worries me that in the (justified) public outrage over the abuse of SSDI and other disability programs by those seeking to 'game the system', looking for handouts, those who are genuinely disabled will be looked upon with the same - and in their cases, unwarranted - suspicion.  They don't deserve that.  Too many of them (myself included) have had to endure months (in many cases, years) of tests, bureaucratic obstacles, and frustration before their injuries and resultant disabilities were recognized as genuine.  To have them called into question again by those who know nothing of their true situation is . . . well, at the very least, it's frustrating.  Personally, I find it infuriating!



Mark/GreyLocke said...

I am going through that problem myself. I have to go back to St. Louis to see THEIR doctors and submit to more testing. And they still haven't settled my work comp case. And it's been on going since 2004. Since my original injury I've herniated 2 more discs in my spine and my health has taken a general downward trajectory.

Some days I wonder if they are hoping I die before they are forced to pay me.

Phil K said...

Thirty years ago, the SSDI program was so hard to qualify for, you pretty much got disability from them for the last month of your life. Now there are law firms that advertise all night long for clients to represent for SSDI coverage. And they are successful a surprisingly high percentage of the time.

Peter - I would advise you also to be on the lookout for vans parked in your neighborhood that have blacked out windows. They might be filming you on behalf of the carrier. I can guarantee that the film sent in with their report will be edited quite inventively.

Tim D said...

Electromyography, I had that done while I was in the Army but never knew what it was called. I just knew that it is rather painful and finally proved that yes, my back is screwed up. Of course it took years of pushing to get to that point

Kansas Scout said...

Great post Peter. Needed saying.

Anonymous said...

This is Greshams law in action-
The bad drives out the good.

BobF said...

Peter, I have the same thoughts when my military retirement pay and VA disability pay are referrd to as "benefits." Regarding the latter, I use a TENS regularly and without Percocet and the muscle relaxer of the quarter I'm not sure what I would do, but oh, never mind, the compensation is a "benefit." Yeah, right.

Cybrludite said...

No arguments here. My best friend has a heart murmur so bad that the docs have been considering valve replacement since she was in her mid-twenties, and my current lady-friend is a survivor of Guillain-Barre. The hoops they have to metaphorically jump though tick me off to no end.