Huffington Post blogger Joanne Bamberger took issue today with the term "fiscal cliff," seeming to attribute the term to a right-wing conspiracy. A better phrase than "fiscal cliff" might be "fiscal sword," as politicians do what they always do in times of budget crunch-slash at the obvious. Raising the entitlement age for social security benefits and Medicare is basic and easy to understand. But the giant bureaucracies that administer government largesse are a hard target. One example is the Social Security Disability program, a cumbersome and time-consuming tangle of rules and regulations. That Social Security Disability reform is elusive is evident in arguments presented in a 2009 New York Times article titled "The Disability Mess."
How much is paid out each year in Social Security Disability claims?
Social Security Administration Commissioner Michael Astrue testified about that in May to a Senate Finance Committee. SSA paid out $128 billion in insured disability claims and $52.4 billion in Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability claims. An average wait time for a hearing, as of April, was 354 days. This is an improvement, says Astrue, over an all-time high of 532 days in August 2008.
What is the federal definition of disability?
For adults, there is both a duration and severity of illness test to be met and an inability caused by a medical condition to do "substantial gainful activity." At minimum, a medical condition must be of a severity which would keep a worker from working for a period of a year or cause the worker's death, as Social Security regulations indicate. The process of determining what is "substantial gainful activity" is daunting as some "disabled" work "off the books."
Aren't disability determinations a matter of fact and medical records?
Disability regulations are subject to interpretation, especially when work is involved. Many disabled people work at a capacity equivalent to a non-disabled person. The level of severity of a medical problem is also a subjective factor and the opinions of medical personnel can vary.
What legal recourse does a person have if a disability claim is denied?
A denied claimant would first file a reconsideration, the first level in an extensive appeal process. Beyond that, a claimant may request a hearing before an administrative law judge. Failing at the hearing level, a claimant may bring the case to civil court. Claimants typically hire attorneys to appeal beyond the first level of appeal. The process can take years and cost the taxpayer plenty.
What does social security disability program provide for a disabled person?
The Social Security Disability program provides payment to the disabled worker and qualifying family members (mainly children). A family maximum benefit dollar amount is determined by taking 85 percent of an indexed average (AIME) of the worker's wages, according to SSA. The Supplemental Security Income Disability program pays a flat rate combination of benefits (state Medicaid, federal payment, state payment) to the disabled individual.
Where are disability determinations made?
Disability claims are taken in Social Security field offices and sent to state disability examiners (DDS) for decisions. The federal government pays the full cost of state development and decision making. Whether allowed or denied, claims are sent back to the field offices for implementation. The process of handoffs consumes time.
Aren't some disability cases terminated when the beneficiary recovers?
Social Security has a process of Continuing Disability Review (CDR) but claims, once paid, are rarely terminated under this process. A November Inspector General's report for a five-year study period states that 93,500 disability claims were terminated under the process but continued to receive benefits for several months.
Anthony Ventre is a freelance writer who has written for newspapers and online publications. He is a Yahoo! contributor in news, commentary, and financial writing.
- Physical Disabilities
- Politics & Government
- Social Security Disability
- Supplemental Security Income