Re: On Disability

by Veronique de Rugy

Following up on Jonah’s post about disability, it is worth noting that the latest Trustees’ Report data showed that the Social Security trust fund for disability insurance (DI) will be insolvent by 2016 — two years earlier than was predicted last year. The new report will come out in the a few weeks, and I doubt we will see much improvement there. For years it has been clear that this program is highly dysfunctional and isn’t financially sound. Here is a chart demonstrating that more people depend on disability benefits and for longer period of time:

This is a common trend in other government programs. Interestingly, the main reason for DI termination is that people reach full retirement age and begin collecting normal Social Security benefits. Only 4 percent of the terminations are due to improvement in people’s medical condition — which could be a potential place for some reform — and only 6 percent is due to people going back to work. 

A few months ago, Senator Coburn had a report called “Social Security Disability Programs: Improving the Quality of Benefit Award Decisions.” The report explains that the program’s process for deciding who is disabled is so bad it could be that as many as 25 percent of the decisions made are the wrong ones. Who wouldn’t be in favor of putting an end to that problem? The increase in the number of beneficiaries and the decrease in termination rate puts a tremendous stress on the agency’s resources and personnel. As a result, disabled Americans are waiting longer and longer before receiving the benefits they deserve. Many now wait as long as two years before having their application finalized. This system isn’t working and it should obviously be reformed. 

One a related note, The Economist recently had a story about the incredible lines and waiting periods veterans have to put up with before receiving benefits. While eligibility standards have been expanded, which explains part of the stress on the system, the real problem is a broken bureaucracy. Here is what it means on the ground for those waiting:

A grim result of this bottleneck is that in the past fiscal year over $400m in retroactive benefits was paid to family members of veterans who died waiting. One such veteran was Scott Eiswert, a National Guardsman who returned from Iraq in 2005. Tortured by nightmares of roadside bombs and fallen comrades, Eiswert took to drink. When the doctors at the VA at last found time to see him they diagnosed him with PTSD. But the VA rejected his disability claims, on the ground that his condition could not be tied to specific incidents from his service. In 2008, after learning that his unit was going back to Iraq, he took his own life.

About 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are thought to suffer from PTSD, though many do not report their problems. Instead they try to dose themselves. A VA study found that veterans suffering from PTSD or depression were about four times more likely to have drug or drink problems. Too many end up in the same desperate place as Eiswert. The VA reported that, on average, 22 veterans committed suicide each day in 2010. Last year more active-duty soldiers took their own lives than were killed in combat.

There is more here

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