December 3 2012

The Disability Epidemic: It's Sick

Charlotte Hays

There’s something particularly despicable about gaming the nation’s disability system, but an untold number of people are doing just that.

Michael Barone has a disheartening column on this development. Barone’s starting point is American Enterprise Institute scholar Nicholas Eberstadt’s new book, A Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic.

Disability insurance—DI—is part of the Social Security program and it used to be small and inexpensive. But now it is large and prohibitively expensive.

Compare the number of people on DI in 1960—around 455,000—to last year’s roster—8.6 million. The cost of the disability program is now $130 billion a year.

Barone recalls that once upon a time it was hard to get on DI:

Some four decades ago, when I was a law clerk to a federal judge, I had occasion to read briefs in cases appealing the denial of disability benefits. The Social Security Administration then seemed pretty strict in denying benefits in dubious cases. The courts were not much more openhanded.

But that has changed:

One reason is that the government seems to have gotten more openhanded with those claiming vague ailments. Eberstadt points out that in 1960, only one-fifth of disability benefits went to those with “mood disorders” and “musculoskeletal” problems. In 2011, nearly half of those on disability voiced such complaints.

“It is exceptionally difficult — for all practical purposes, impossible,” writes Eberstadt, “for a medical professional to disprove a patient’s claim that he or she is suffering from sad feelings or back pain.”

In other words, many people are gaming or defrauding the system. This includes not only disability recipients but health-care professionals, lawyers, and others who run ads promising to get you disability benefits.

Between 1996 and 2011, the private sector generated 8.8 million new jobs, and 4.1 million people entered the disability rolls.

The ratio of disability cases to new jobs has been even worse during the sluggish recovery from the 2007–09 recession. Between January 2010 and December 2011, there were 1,730,000 new jobs and 790,000 new people collecting disability.

This is not just a matter of laid-off workers in their 50s or early 60s qualifying for disability in the years before they become eligible for Social Security old-age benefits.

In 2011, 15 percent of disability recipients were in their 30s or early 40s. Concludes Eberstadt, “Collecting disability is an increasingly important profession in America these days.”

We can’t afford this—in more ways than one. First, we can’t afford the financial strain. And second, we can’t keep a republic going when such a large percentage of our citizens are willing to live by defrauding the rest of us. This is an issue that concerns both character and dollars.

I am from a small town in Mississippi—you would not believe the amount of money the federal government pours into our region. A huge amount of money goes to people on disability.

It is widely known which doctors will help somebody get on disability. Of course, they should be in jail. But as Barone points out, it is extremely difficult to disprove these claims. Character ultimately counts.

But of course the federal government has set up programs that corrupt through temptation. But it is the workers who must pay for this. Thomas Lifson deals with this in a piece entitled “Work Is For Suckers.” Maybe it is time for us workers to say we won’t be exploited anymore?

Instead of framing the recipients [of government largess] as the problem (and be accused of insensitivity or worse), we must focus on the people who work themselves hard in order to make ends meet, and how unfair it is to penalize them, so as to bring them an after tax standard of living worse than they could have enjoyed by taking advantage of the myriad dependency subsidies available.

Our culture now revolves around victims, and it long past time that the GOP exploited the favorite technique of the left. It is time to call hard working Americans an "endangered species."

"Tyler Durden" at Zerohedge has been writing about the crossover point at which income one might as well just take a permanent vacation and just collect benefits instead of rolling out of bed every morning and enduring wage slavery, as the left used to call it.

I’d rather see a moral rejuvenation that has people saying, “Disability? But I can work.” Failing that, we have to fight back and try to prevent those who would defraud us from doing so.

If, by the way, you are interested in a quick explanation of what we are facing, you can’t beat Eberstadt’s cartoon Youtube video, “How to Explain the Entitlements Crisis to an 8-Year-Old.”

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