Thursday, January 15, 2015

Disability Fraud: Facts and GOP Fiction

Senator Rand Paul, while on a two-day tour through New Hampshire, engaged in a conversation about the viability of our safety net programs:

"The thing is, in all of these programs there’s always somebody who’s deserving. But everybody in this room knows somebody who is gaming the system. What I tell people is, if you look like me and you hop out of your truck, you shouldn’t be getting your disability check. Over half of the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts. Join the club."

Rand's comment comes as congressional Republicans are poised to cut the Social Security Disability Insurance program. He then qualified his comments by saying there are people who are legitimately disabled, but reiterated that there are also "malingers" who are essentially taking money from the people who are paraplegic and quadriplegic.

"We all know people who are horrifically disabled and can't work, but if you have able-bodied people taking the money then there's not enough money left for the people who are truly disabled."

Personally, I don't know anyone who is "horrifically disabled" and can't work — but it is the GOP who going to take money from them, not "malingerers". First the GOP was using their "divide and conquer" strategy to get Social Social retirees riled up against the disabled. Now it sounds like Rand Paul is using the same strategy to get the "most disabled" riled up against those with lesser disabilities.

As you may have already heard (unless you only read and watch Fox News), on their very first day at work, the new GOP Congress made a rule change for Social Security that would cut benefits for those on disability by 20%.

Arthur Delaney wrote a piece at the Huffington Post regarding a group of Democrats in the U.S. Senate who came out against the recently imposed rule that blocks Congress from shifting Social Security funds to prevent a cut to disability insurance next year. In a letter to Senator Mitch McConnell, they wrote, "It is cynical to try and pit retirees and beneficiaries with disabilities against each other, as the House Republican rule change attempts to do."

One reader at the Huffington Post had commented:

"Everyone I know on SSI not only DID NOT WORK FOR FORTY CONSECUTIVE MONTHS, but most never held a steady job at all. The abuse is UNREAL, the amount of people collecting for ADD, ADHD, BiPolar, when all had been drug abusers and alcoholics before are collecting in my area. And pretty much anyone who can live three years while waiting for the lawyers appeals. After three years they get it in Michigan. It's unreal!" (I'm guessing he's a Fox News viewer and associates with a lot of people who happen to be down on their luck.)

In another post I wrote (in 2013) I explained that SSI is not at all the same thing as Social Security disability:

SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) is an earned benefit that is funded by Social Security taxes paid for by workers with FICA taxes. Benefits are paid to people with physical and mental impairments that are severe enough to prevent them from working. These benefits are based on a person's work record, the same as regular retirement benefits. People in this program, because they were already part of the work force, tend to affect the labor-participation rate, more so than someone in the SSI program.

SSI (Supplemental Security Income) pays an unearned benefit to low-income people who are 65 or older and/or to adults who are disabled (based on the same definition used by SSDI). This program is only for people who have very limited income and assets. SSI is financed by general revenues that the Treasury Department collects to run the U.S. government. SSI benefits have never been tied to a person's work record.

At his website Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Tex.), who introduced a bill last year to combat disability fraud, said "Not one dime should be lost to fraud, waste, or abuse."

But the Washington Post reports that fraud appears limited to relatively few cases in the disability program:

"A report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office found that about 0.4 percent of disability beneficiaries were likely receiving improper payments, because they were working before or after they began receiving checks. Another report by Social Security's inspector general examined administrative law judges who were approving an unusually high proportion of disability applications and concluded that some of those approvals may have been mistaken. That group of beneficiaries also accounted for about 0.4 percent of all those receiving disability payments."

But even if those two studies weren't concurrent, and you totaled their findings, that would still be a total of only 0.8 percent — or 71,650 cases of suspected fraud — out of a total of 8,956,269 disabled workers; and that excludes children and widowers (Source: SSA). To put this into some perspective, 8/10ths of a penny is 0.08 percent of one dollar. Another way to look it is: of the 92.9 million working-age Americans "not in the labor force", just 9.6% are disabled workers receiving Social Security benefits — and many are Vets*. According to a study by Cornell University, as of 2012 there were 37,627,800 Americans of all ages who reported one or more disabilities.

(* I thought Fox News and the GOP supported our Vets, but in this article Fox News calls them "triple dippers". The GOP also wanted to cut their benefits with a change in calculating their COLAs.)

But Rep. Sam Johnson (like most Republicans) wants to talk about "fraud". So because the Republicans believe that "not one dime should be lost to fraud", they also believe that the other 99.92% of disabled workers should suffer a massive reduction in their monthly incomes. Does that reasoning sound sane? If Rep. Sam Johnson had a pimple on his nose, should we chop off his head?

So let's talk about fraud: The Government Accountability Office had estimated that Medicare loses nearly 10 percent annually to fraud — which we can partially attribute to Republican politicians such as Gov. Mitt Romney and Gov. Rick Scott — as well as to Big Pharma, doctors and hospitals (Read: Gain at the Price of Patient Pain by Big Pharma).

We also have massive fraud, waste and abuse in defense spending. Does Rep. Sam Johnson and the GOP believe we should cut defense spending by 20 percent? How much is lost to fraud, waste, or abuse in any private sector enterprise? How much fraud is there on Wall Street? I suspect (as a percentage of budgets) there's far more fraud, waste, or abuse in congressional allowances.

Rep. Sam Johnson also stated at his website, "Social Security’s complex application and disability determination process makes it nearly impossible for many claimants to apply without paid professional help." (OMG! It sounds as though he feels empathetic towards the needs of the disabled!)

Well actually, disability lawyers work on a contingency fee basis — and in most cases, the fee is limited to 25% of past due benefits. But yes, the lawyers get paid, but only if they win your case. And when they do, you can bet that (after years of anxiety, doubt, depression, fear and hardship) the claimants are VERY GRATEFUL (and may have saved a few lives.)

But despite what the Republicans have been saying, that's also one of the many reasons why it's so difficult to win a disability award. On Fox News Bill O'Reilly says, "So why has the disability rate increased more than 100 percent? I'll tell you why. It's a con. It's easy to put in a bogus disability claim."

If you back far enough, EVERYTHING has increased by 100%. And Mister O'Reilly doesn't differentiate between a "claim" and an actual "award". For example, by the end of 2013 there had been 2,640,000 "claims", but only 888,000 "awards". And they're actually declining. (Source: SSA).

And not everyone can file a disability claim. First, you must be disabled. Then medical evidence must be presented, not just by one's own doctor, but claimants are also sent to Social Social Security's own medical professionals for evaluations. Even AFTER someone's condition is confirmed, they'll most likely still be denied on their initial claim and will have to appeal (many times up to 3 years into their claim). And the judges can be very harsh with the claimants. I suspect that the Social Security Administration is deliberately trying to keep the number of awards low.

Anybody who has gone through the experience knows very well that pursuing a claim is not easy at all, and most people don't win their claims. That tells me that either the Republicans are very ignorant on the subject of disability, or they don't care at all about the truth or the facts, or they have been blatantly lying all along (or all of the aforementioned).

So what is Rep. Sam Johnson? I suspect that it is he who is the real fraud — just like the rest of the GOP (Read: History of the GOP's War on Social Security). The GOP gets their "facts" from partisan think tanks, such as the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, accommodating business lobbying groups such as the Business Roundtable and the Chamber of Commerce. Or GOP politicians will use anecdotal stories, misinformation, conspiracies, hyperbole and propaganda to create their own facts to make their case. But many times their "facts" are based on emotion, like when they get their talking points from wealthy talking heads such as Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity (who will say anything to keep their own taxes from going up) — and their hyperbole is not based on facts either. They are the real "fraud" — and Senator Rand Paul is also a frigging a-hole.

Plain and simple: the GOP would rather harm the disabled rather than tax the wealthy.

* NOTE: Just out of curiosity, while writing this post, I did a Google search and typed "Fox News Social Security disability". I found no articles about the GOP's rule change to defund disability. So I tried two more searches queries: "Fox News Social Security" and "Fox News disability" — and again, I found nothing (just the usual stuff about "fraud"). That led me to wonder how many disabled Republicans (who only read and watch Fox News) even know about this GOP rule change to cut their monthly incomes by 20%.

** FINAL NOTE: To report fraud, click here: — because no one wants fraud, but most of us don't want to eliminate or cut programs just because of fraud. Otherwise, nothing in human history would ever have existed. We can't allow a few bad apples to ruin something good for everyone else. We can't eliminate "government" entirely — and we don't necessarily need "less" government either, just "better" government" — because even capitalism requires government.  It's past time to eliminate the Social Security "cap", tax capital gains for Social Security and pass a Robin Hood Tax.

*** Disability Fraud (Links to GAO):


  1. I wonder...of all those malingerers that Rand Paul personally knows, are they Democrats or Republicans?

  2. Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) co-sponsored the rule amendment that puts the new restriction on the routine transfer of tax revenues between the traditional Social Security retirement trust fund and the Social Security disability program.

    Reed's father was a United States Army officer who served in World War II and the Korean War, and died in 1973 when Reed was two years old. (* Did he and/or his family receive Social Security survivors benefits?)

  3. Senator Paul’s latest attack on Social Security disability was only the latest salvo in a decades-long attempt by the Republicans to defund, destroy or privatize our Social Security system. But Paul’s attack on Social Security and disabled Americans wasn’t only heartless and offensive, it was also untrue.

    According to a report released in November by the Social Security Administration’s Inspector General, fraudulent Social Security Disability Insurance claims are exceedingly rare. Dean Baker wrote a great piece, and says fraud accounts for just 0.02% of all payments. He also notes:

    "It is also important to note that there are undoubtedly people who should be getting disability who have been wrongfully denied benefit. We could have workers dying of cancer or unable to work due a heart attack or stroke or other disability who an a judge somehow decided was not eligible. If we put more pressure on judges to turn down claims then there will be more people improperly denied benefits."

    And as Social Security Works Executive Director Alex Lawson noted recently, “America has one of the strictest disability standards in the developed world.”

    This wasn’t the first time Senator Paul has attacked Americans living with disabilities. In a 2010 interview, Senator Rand Paul said he supports abolishing the Americans with Disabilities Act – the landmark 1990 legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability – because it isn’t fair to business owners.

  4. New hearing on Disability

    On February 25, 2015 the Subcommittee on Social Security will hold a hearing on Disability (POSTED ON Feb 18, 2015)

    A list of witnesses will follow. Oral testimony at this hearing will be from invited witnesses only. However, any individual or organization may submit a written statement for consideration by the Committee and for inclusion in the printed record of the hearing.


    ATTACH your submission as a Word document, in compliance with the formatting requirements, by the close of business on Wednesday, March 11, 2015. For questions, or if you encounter technical problems, please call (202) 225-3625 or (202) 225-2610."

    Ways and Means:

    (* MY QUESTION: If the hearing is on Feb 25, they will still take comments until March 11 -- and do they really read the comments?)

    I got this info from a new post here: Disability Insurance: An Essential Part of Social Security (Posted Feb 24)

  5. Hopeful applicants should really be aware of things like this. Don't think that just because your injury may be internal that you can scam the SSI system system to get benefits. I know I guy who left his job, collected the SSI benefits, then started doing side work off the books. A private investigator videotaped the whole thing and now he is paying back everything and then some.