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By Scott B. Elkind, Esq.

On January 14, 2015, prospective presidential candidate, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky), made the following off-the-cuff statement about the Social Security Disability Program:

What I tell people is if you look like me and you hop out of your truck, you shouldn’t be getting a disability check. Over half of the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts – join the club. Who doesn’t get a little anxious for work and their back hurts? Everybody over 40 has back pain.

These comments were addressed in great particularity in Glenn Kessler’s “The Fact Checker” column dated 1/25/15 in the Washington Post. Mr. Kessler’s grade on this remark by Senator Paul was three out of five “Pinocchios” for truthfulness. That was very generous of him when you consider the thorough indictment rendered which included:

  • The main reason for the increase in benefit beneficiaries is due to the increased age of the “Baby Boomer” generation
  • Another reason is the entry of women into the workforce and their qualification to receive benefits
  • The Great Recession has turned many people out from jobs which has resulted in increased numbers of recipients
  • In no case is the increase in disability recipients the result of “scammers” or “malingerers”
  • 27.7% of beneficiaries are disabled due to musculoskeletal ailments which comprises a wide array of medical conditions and is not solely due to bad backs
  • 14% of beneficiaries are disabled due to mental illness, another category which covers a myriad of illnesses and not just anxiety
  • The combined total of these categories is only 41.7% and there is no evidence that all the cases are somehow due to “malingeriing”

These facts reveal that Senator Paul should give a lot more thought to his words before making sweeping comments.

What needs to be taken from this is the following: The lack of any great backlash at Senator Paul for making such a distorted statement reveals that there is substantial support in this country to curtail disability payments. Even in casual conversations I have heard people state that there are too many people “ripping off the disability system” that are perfectly capable of working. Further, The Wall Street Journal has been on an active campaign for the past few years with one conservative author after another assailing the disability program for being too generous and being in drastic need of reform.

The fact remains that the disability program has not been substantially modified in 35 years and does not take into account greater longevity, workplace accommodations, automation in the workplace, increased use of technology as opposed to physical labor, etc. So, demanding change is not unreasonable and the changes will only create greater restrictions on disability allowances.

Here is the problem with this scenario: If you change the criteria, you will cause potentially hundreds of thousands of current recipients to lose their benefits. Such an adverse result will clog the system with more cases than it could ever manage and lead to very unjust results. Even is a claimant is restored to benefits, it will be a wait of more than two years. Most persons on disability do not have even a month of reserve money on which to live. So, unless this is carefully planned and executed, the suffering will be immense.

Further, there will be a great hurt to the expectations of those who paid into the system for many years when they are told that their predecessors were entitled to benefits for the same age and illness, yet they are not.

No matter what the touching of the infamous “third rail of politics,” the Social Security Program, is imminent and promises to be a political brawl.

Posted in General Disability Issues | Tagged , , , |


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