Social Security Disability Insurance: Worthwhile or Wasteful?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Social Security (Flickr: sagesnow)

As the economic climate continues to suffer, the number of former workers seeking Social Security disability benefits has spiked.

Ten years ago, roughly five million disabled workers collected Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Today, more than eight million ex-workers do. And as the economic climate of America continues to suffer, the number of SSDI applications continues to rise. This year, they’re up 21 percent over last year.

But with the increased number of SSDI recipients and applicants come increased questions: Namely, what conditions qualify people for SSDI? Should it be harder or easier to collect? And is there a way to cut down on its annual $200 billion price tag while still providing for those who need it?

James Ledbetter has been covering this topic for Slate; he believes SSDI has become overly expensive, destructive, and out of control.

Paul Nolan also weighs in. An attorney who specializes in Social Security disability cases, he believes the process to collect SSDI is too burdensome for applicants.


James Ledbetter and Paul Nolan

Produced by:

Kristen Meinzer

Comments [5]

Joseph Pearl from Bakersfield, CA USA

Thanks for the Article. Very beneficial to my practice as a social security disability attorney.

Joseph S. Pearl
Bakersfield Disability Attorney

Feb. 28 2011 12:28 AM
dennis teel from seagoville texas

the comment that depression doesn't qualify one for ss disability is humorous.i've been getting ss total disability since 1981 as i am diagnosed with chronic anxieties and my cousin has been recieving total disability checks for twenty years due to bipolar(manic depression).from where does this poster get his/her info??

Feb. 22 2011 04:35 AM
Wendy Heckler, LMSW from Lubbock, Tx

I would like to take issue with a comment Mr. Ledbetter made on the topic of Disability benefits. He made the statement that most people receiving disability are receiving benefits due to mental illness, and he then the example of someone with depression who could take medications, get better and go back to work, which would be good for them. The fact of the matter is, that someone with a diagnosis of depression would not qualify for disability benefits. Only people with severe chronic mental illnesses, such as Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective disorder, mental retardation, traumatic brain injury etc. might qualify for disability benefits, IF they had a work history, which is unusual. Usually people with severe mental illness would be receiving SSI benefits. As the previous commentor pointed out, there is a common misconception/confusion between SSI and SSDI. Mr. Ledbetter perpetuates the myth that mental illness is not really a "real" disability, and that these people are somehow "gaming" the system. As a licensed mental health professional who works with people with chronic, severe mental illness, I can attest that it truly is a devasting condition that can affect a persons ability to take care of basic activities of daily living, let alone workplace demands.

Sep. 21 2010 06:52 PM
Joe Viola

John, you made a couple of statements this morning that were incorrect. Unfortunately, many people believe them to be true. What you probably received after your accident was SSI (Supplemental Security Income, a welfare program paid for out of general revenue), not SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance, paid from the SS Trust Funds). All Social Security checks used to be green, including SSDI. All SSI checks were yellow.
With SSDI, there was a six-month waiting period before you would receive a check. There is no such waiting period with SSI. At age 19, you probably did not have a sufficient work history in order to receive SSDI. As a welfare program, there is no work history requirement in order to receive benefits for SSI.
You also mentioned that Social Security benefit amounts are based on your most recent earnings record. That also is not true, it's based on your entire history of earnings after excluding your lowest five years of income. For most people, that mean 35 years of earnings are used in the calculation.
Unfortunately, you obviously believed and perpetuated two myths about the program. That does not help the public in making an informed opinion.
That's my takeaway.

Sep. 21 2010 12:26 PM
Rebecca Janes from Westport, MA

I am a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, and Substance abuse counselor- I have a private practice, and have worked in a methadone clinic in New Bedford, MA for 14 years. I have assisted clients applying for disability many times.
I see the need for the program, and unfortunately when people have devastated their lives through substance abuse with all the legal problems that usually accompany that lifestyle, it is often the only way to get the treatment they need to get back on track. I meet few heroin addicts who do not have serious mental health issues co-occurring-
But I also see the terrible fraud and abuse that occurs, and how much of our disability money ends up in the drug dealer's hands. I also understand (unlike the naiive hippie that i used to be) that providing an income to someone often has the effect of taking away motivation and purpose. I have come to believe that disability income should almost always require something from the person to either work on helping themselves or doing community service-and yes, taking regular supervised drug tests. If someone gets on disability for depression, that depression is only going to get worse sitting home watching reality tv. If health problems are caused(or at least exacerbated) by obesity and or smoking, then taxpayers deserve to see that the person is putting and effort into helping themselves.

Sep. 18 2010 02:23 PM

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