Solving the 'Disability Impossibility' With Social Security

It’s expected Congress will continue getting negative feedback about the president’s proposed $64 billion in cuts to the Social Security disability program from constituents. Trump’s cruel and unusual budget affects those who can least afford it… America’s underrepresented disabled population.

Every member of Congress regularly gets complaints about their constituent’s obvious disability claims being denied by the Social Security agency and stuck in appeal. I believe it doesn’t have to be this way — the approval of legitimate disability claims without up to three years of appeals, the extra burden of tens of thousands of unnecessary cases on the federal judiciary, overworked agency physicians who add further delays, and finally, an antiquated medical record sharing process that’s unusable for the poor.

The current agency strategy of hoping that disability applicants will move abroad, die or somehow “magically disappear” before granting benefits has proven distasteful, ineffective and detrimental to both the economy and our moral standards as a civilized democracy. The agency’s own statistics cite that disability beneficiaries are more than three times as likely to die in a year as other people the same age. No other democratic country remotely approaching the U.S.’ prosperity allows their disabled to become bankrupt, homeless and lose their independence — all through no fault of their own.

The situation has become so hopelessly broken that it’s not sarcasm to explore whether the disability program itself could still be effective and continue with Trump’s budget and these existing issues. In a March 2017 report by Social Security’s oversight body, the suggestion was made to re-assess the (currently 85 percent) goal for denials to determine whether it should be further increased! The agency and the president aren’t the only who share disdain for America’s disabled, otherwise, this tragedy would’ve been fixed decades ago by one of the two subcommittees (one in the House and one in the Senate) tasked with oversight of Social Security in Congress.

Having 800,000 to 1.2 million disabled Americans each year (on average) waiting on unnecessary disability appeals declaring bankruptcy and losing their homes adversely affects the economy. If the agency didn’t have a management directive to deny so many disability applications, the problem could be solved almost overnight. The National Agree Rate is the cryptic name the agency uses for the denial focus area. Even if one is indifferent towards the disabled community, I believe it’s financially in the nation’s best interest to ensure they don’t wait three years to receive benefits they’ve contributed towards throughout their working careers.

Did you know 1 in 6 men (and 1 in 7 women) tragically die on average within 5 years of claiming disability benefits? Since many are working longer and are 55 (or over) when they apply but not eligible for retirement, Trump’s budget cuts are especially cruel. Nobody in America should have to worry about bankruptcy or becoming homeless because they couldn’t work and applied for disability benefits.

Congress should tell the president that cuts to disability aren’t acceptable; that being disabled is a bipartisan and human issue — one which cannot accept any further tragedies without total collapse. Next, passing the Eastman Disability Reform Act of 2017 would allow for a drastic reduction in disability appeals and wait times. Regardless of partisan divisions regarding the funding of Social Security itself, a bipartisan resolution for an issue affecting so many is difficult to ignore.

Fixing the disability approval process would also salvage an otherwise lackluster year for Congress and instead make it historically significant. The meltdown of the Better Care Reconciliation Act, coupled with Trump’s unprecedented planned cuts for funding the disability program have set the stage, at long last, for ending the disdain the Social Security Agency has for the disabled.

I believe fixing the “disability impossibility” is the most important Social Security reform opportunity in its history, eclipsing even the much needed 1984 expansion of access to the program. It shouldn’t be easier to get asylum or citizenship in a foreign country than Social Security disability is in America. We must ensure our future generations don’t simply accept this decades-old calamity as part of being disabled in America.

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Thinkstock photo by Zimmy TWS.

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