Tom Margenau is a retired Social Security Administration employee who writes a syndicated column about retirement and disability benefits. He always has excellent information, writes in an easy-to-understand style, and has an extensive knowledge of his subject matter. I really enjoy his columns in my local newspaper.
His latest was on the subject of Social Security disability benefits, specifically a response to people who think we can balance the federal budget if we just get rid of the fraud in this system.
As someone who has worked twenty years with Social Security disability claimants I can tell you there is very little fraud involved. We see many times more people wrongfully denied than people with marginal cases who are awarded benefits.
Here are excerpts from Mr. Margenau’s most recent article. You can read more after the break, and I highly recommend it
Can we please stop bashing people getting Social Security disability benefits? After I offered my fact sheet that cleared up myths and misunderstanding associated with the financial operations of the Social Security program, and provided some proposals for reforming the system to prepare for the onslaught of baby-boomer retirees, I can’t tell you how many e-mails I got from readers that went something like this: “I’ll tell you how we can fix Social Security. We can greatly reduce or even eliminate benefits paid to people getting disability. We all know that if we cut their government checks, most of these deadbeats would go out and get a job the next day!”
That is total poppycock on a number of different levels. And I’ll use today’s column to explain why.
First, I’m always puzzled why so many people simply assume that most folks getting disability benefits are pulling a fast one over on the rest of us. I suppose they think that these men and women have figured out slick ways to scam the system to get something they aren’t due. What’s with that? Some former colleagues have speculated that there is an undercurrent of jealousy involved. I find that hard to believe. Why would you be jealous of someone who has cancer or kidney disease or mental illness?
However, I’ve got to admit that on a lesser level, I’ve felt this myself. There have been times when I’ve pulled into a crowded grocery store parking lot and had trouble finding a space. Then I saw someone getting out of a car parked in the “handicapped” section right next to the front door. And I muttered under my breath: “That person sure doesn’t look disabled to me!” Thankfully, I quickly rise above such petty thinking and realize I’m wrong. I wouldn’t want to trade places with any one of those folks parked in the handicapped spaces.
But getting a handicapped sticker for your car is one thing. Getting Social Security disability benefits is an entirely different matter. Please dear readers, believe me: As someone who worked with the disability program for many years, I know you have to be really severely disabled to qualify for benefits. Of course, I’m not naive enough to think that out of the millions of Social Security disability beneficiaries, there aren’t a few bad apples in that big barrel that are getting benefits they don’t deserve. But I assure you their numbers are few and far between.
The Social Security disability program is universally recognized as one of the most difficult programs to qualify for. You simply don’t get benefits if you have a bad back or a bum knee. You must have a severe physical or mental impairment that is expected to keep you out of work for at least 12 months — or a condition that is terminal.
Many of you wrote to complain about “drug addicts and alcoholics” getting benefits. Let me clear up that myth. You DO NOT get Social Security disability benefits simply because you are an addict or alcoholic.
Having explained how truly difficult it is to qualify for Social Security disability benefits, I can tell you from experience that everyone seems to know someone (a brother-in-law, a neighbor, that guy in the handicapped parking space) whom they believe is getting such benefits fraudulently. But no one seems to do anything about it but gripe and complain. If you’re one of those who knows someone you believe is getting Social Security disability benefits they are not due, I challenge you to turn that person in. Call the Social Security fraud hotline at 800-269-0271. Or go online at www.socialsecurity.gov and click on “Reporting Fraud” right on their homepage. Your report can be anonymous.
I can also tell you from experience that 99 percent of you will not do this. That tells me two things. First: people will believe what they want to believe. They think that government is corrupt and inefficient, so they want to believe there are a bunch of deadbeats who snookered the bureaucrats and are ripping off the Social Security system. But the lack of fraud reporting also tells me that deep down these folks know it’s not true.
And now on to my second reason why the allegation that reducing Social Security disability benefits would help “save Social Security” is pure poppycock.
We could eliminate the entire Social Security disability program tomorrow, and it would have ZERO impact on the long-range problems facing the Social Security program. Those problems have everything to do with aging baby boomers retiring in record numbers over the next 20 years or so. They have nothing to do with alleged disability deadbeats.
Besides, the Social Security disability program is funded separately from the retirement program. And it faces its own long-range problems. As all we baby boomers get older, many of our bodies are breaking down before we reach retirement age, and we are filing for disability benefits thousands of times each day. That’s severely straining the disability trust fund, which is financed by about one-half of 1 percent of the Social Security payroll tax. This wasn’t a tax carved out of the retirement program. It was added to the payroll tax in 1956 specifically to pay for disability benefits.
So please readers, stop bellyaching about your disabled neighbor and brother-in-law. They’re not ripping you off. They are getting benefits they have worked and paid for; benefits that probably took them a long time to get; and benefits that wouldn’t be paid to them without all kinds of medical evidence to back their claims.
I think a big part of the problem is that we don’t want to face the facts about the difficult choices we’ll have to make to keep Social Security solvent for the next several generations. Instead of supporting real reform — like raising the retirement age or increasing payroll taxes — we find it easier to claim that cutting disability benefits will solve all our problems.
If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Tom Margenau and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.