Grand debates ignore the difficulties those waiting for benefits endure

Many discussions of the Social Security Disability Insurance program focus on the grand issues. Questions of the long-term financial survival of the program and the debates in Congress over how to protect the program from fraud or waste occupy much of the debate.

None of those issues are minor, and they all require an effective response, but many of the claims and accusations are overstated, in some cases, to distort understanding and divert attention from the real problems many disabled Americans face every day.

The important fact to keep in mind when discussing SSD is that the overwhelming majority of recipients are disabled by work-ending impairments. They vary from injuries to the spine, back, legs, arms and muscles of their body that make many activities painful or impossible, to those diagnosed with cancers or other life-threatening illnesses that are likely to kill them within months.

These individuals are not “faking” their injuries to avoid work. Many would do anything to trade places with a healthy person and return to their occupation. But they have no choice. SSD is often described as “lifeline” and a program of last resort, enabling them to manage an existence that is anything but extravagant, but much preferable to becoming homeless.

SSD serves millions of Americans

Dollar amounts are often used to describe the incidents of fraud because they may be eye-catching. However, the size of the program can be deceiving and while a $100,000 or a $10 million figure is large, the overall program has expenses above $135 billion because it serves 11 million individuals.

Two reports in newspapers from around the country describe the difficulties of people obtaining SSD benefits. One is from the Iron Range in northern Minnesota and the other from Ohio. Of course, a similar story could be written about disabled workers here in Knoxville or eastern Tennessee. The name and locations may change, but the struggles are the same.

SSD makes the difference

A woman described the 14 surgeries on her arm, caused by a seemingly minor incident where she dropped a box. Nevertheless, a box slipping from her hands resulted in a torn muscle that destroyed her tendon, and cost her her job. With SSD and a part-time job, she is able to get by.

Out of work after heart attack

Similarly, a man from Ohio spent a lifetime working in the construction industry. One day, chest pains sent him to the hospital. It was a heart attack and it meant the end of that work for him after triple-bypass surgery. He is still waiting for a hearing in his case.

For those who work in occupations involving hard, physical labor, such as mining, construction or logging, one injury or illness can leave an individual unable to return to work and there may be very few desk jobs available that they would be capable of doing.


Sadly, that word describes both the SSD system and many of the applicants for benefits. The application process can be long and difficult, and it is designed to be this way in an effort to prevent fraud.

However, budget cuts to the Social Security Administration and the large number of appeals that result from staffing shortages have led to backlogs for hearings and frustrated and demoralized disabled workers. They may wait many months or years in order to finally obtain a hearing and their benefits.

The level of funding for administrative law judges within the agency may be subject to grand debates, but the bottom line is the real cost is borne by the disabled who are forced to wait for hearings.

An attorney can help

For any applicant, the better you understand the process and the requirements of that process for medical documentation and other evidence of your impairment and how it renders you unable to work, the better you can prepare.

The assistance of legal professionals, such as the attorneys at the Disability Advantage Group, can help to ensure your application is detailed and complete. A well-documented application that fully supports your impairments is the best way to obtain a quick approval of your benefits and prevent being trapped by the systems delays.