USA Today Editorial: Opposing view: Disability Benefits Remains a Vital Lifeline

USA Today Editorial: Opposing view: Disability Benefits Remains a Vital Lifeline by Charles Martin

Social Security Disability Insurance remains a vital lifeline for citizens who once held full-time jobs but have become too ill or injured to work. It is a time-honored expression of our nation’s commitment to help care for those who must stop working due to illness or injury.

While any large government program will have problems — and Social Security is no exception — we should work on fixing the problems and not join the current rush to condemn an entire system because of rare instances of abuse or mounting political pressures to cut federal spending.

As an attorney who has spent more than 34 years helping thousands of Social Security applicants, let me be clear that getting disability approval is harder than ever. Undocumented pain, alcoholism and drug abuse have been disqualified. Mental retardation and HIV standards are tougher. Diabetes and obesity are no longer distinct disabilities. Illegal immigrants are now disqualified. Applicants must now present objective medical evidence of disability. This is no rubber-stamp process.

Moreover, it is a misrepresentation to claim that there is a surge in unemployed applicants looking to get on the public dole. Applications have increased due to social, medical and economic mega-trends (such as more insured women and aged workers).

Yes, today’s Social Security Disability Insurance system is huge, complex, costly and certainly imperfect. But it deserves to be improved, not scorned. Claimants’ representatives play an important role by discouraging frivolous applications and assisting those who can prove disability navigate a daunting and often confusing bureaucracy.

The road to restoring Social Security to full health is not to conduct a witch hunt for the rare but inevitable undeserving claimants or deficient judges, but through sensible measures such as giving more help to people with disabilities who want to work, giving employers incentives to hire them, and upgrading the gathering and delivery of medical treatment and information.

Tough times can bring out the best in people. Let’s not let our frustration over a lousy economy cause us to turn on those who are most in need. Let’s improve a system that reflects the true spirit of American compassion.

Charles Martin, a Decatur, Ga.-based attorney, is president of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives.

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