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Charles Lane Needs a Tutorial on Social Security Disability!

Posted in Social Security Disability

Poor Charles Lane!  The conservative Washington Post columnist’s recent Op-Ed Column on Social Security Disability policy has been getting shredded in both print and on the Internet.

This column is almost as bad as his tasteless column he wrote invoking his own imagined words for a victim of a horrendous shooting still in a coma – then Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

In that column, he lamented the fact that Congresswoman Gifford’s could not “speak normally“!  She was still in a coma Charles!!  Boy – this guy really doesn’t get “disability”!

The most recent rebuttal to Lane’s curiously wrong observations was Jeff DeLott’s excellent Letter to the Editor in Newsday  today. However, equally damning pieces can be found here, here and here.

How can you be so off base, Charles, to compare the Americans’ with Disabilities Act (which protects the rights of the disabled seeking and capable of some type of employment) to the Social Security Disability program (which simply seeks to protect those unable to work)? Perhaps you were writing your column on deadline late at night and all your synapses were not firing -because the comparison simply does not compute.

Well, anyway, here are my  two cents in reponse to Lane’s silly column:

The Real Facts about Social Security Disability

Charles Lane’s opinion piece on disability policy last week was both misleading and factually inaccurate. Unfortunately, he perpetuates a myth that too many Social Security disability recipients are malingerers enforcing their own “quasi-right not to work” (his words). Nothing could be further from the truth.

Lane states that “there’s no evidence that workers are substantially less healthy than they used to be.” Has Lane heard of America’s diabetes and obesity epidemics, and the increases in heart disease and cancer they have caused?

In addition, our workforce is now substantially older than any time in history due to baby boomers who are now in their fifties and sixties and more prone to disability. The aging baby boom generation, simply as a result of their greater numbers, is by far the largest cause of any increase in the Social Security disability program.

Another myth that Lane perpetuates is the false idea that in the current recession, workers magically turn to Social Security disability once their unemployment benefits run out. In New York, in order to be eligible for unemployment benefits, one must be “ready, willing and able” to work (emphasis on “able”).   One would have to believe that at about the same time as the expiration of ones unemployment benefits, the worker tragically suffers a career ending illness or injury making him now “disabled” and eligible for Social Security. This simply does not happen in real life.

When Social Security judges occasionally see the few remarkable transformations from able bodied to disabled at questionable points in time, it is my experience that they look closely at any secondary financial motivations there may be for claiming disability, and rule appropriately.

Finally, Lane’s idea that an average monthly Social Security disability benefit of $1,100 per month is a motivation for any Long Island resident to claim disability is laughable. New York’s minimum wage of $7.25 per hour pays more than this! The average Social Security monthly benefit would not pay the rent on the typical Long Island two bedroom apartment, much less all the other expenses of daily living. In my experience, Long Islanders can’t afford to be on Social Security disability unless they have to be.

The good news is that there is an easy fix to restore the Social Security disability trust fund to robust health. In the short term, since the Social Security retirement trust fund is not scheduled to start running out of money until 2033, we can simply move the excess in the retirement trust fund to the disability trust fund. Then our representatives in Washington must – just like President Reagan and Congress did in 1983 when Social Security was on the brink of collapse – tinker with the age, eligibility and contribution formulas. This may not be easy in the current climate – but it must be done. We cannot throw the baby out with the bath water.

Troy G. Rosasco, Esq.

*The writer is a Social Security disability lawyer in Ronkonkoma.