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Social Security Disability - Busting the Myths

May 1, 2020

If you have applied for disability, you’ll probably hear a lot from your family and friends about Social Security’s two programs for disabled Americans - Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (“SSDI”) and Supplemental Security Income benefits (“SSI”). But much of what you hear may not be correct - about how easy it is or other myths concerning disability is misleading. Since the best way to dispel the myths is with facts, we’ll discuss some of the common myths:

Myth #1: There are huge numbers of people who are on disability benefits.

Fact: FALSE. As of 2019, there were 8.5 million Americans receiving SSDI benefits, out of a total US population of over 326 million. This represents about 2.6% of the US population, including territories. As of 2019, there were an additional 6.9 million Americans receiving SSI benefits, representing about 2.1% of the US population. Thus, only about 4.7% of the total US population receives either SSDI or SSI benefits.

Myth #2: It is easy to get on disability. Lots of people get benefits who don’t deserve it.

Fact: FALSE: It has been estimated that over 57 million Americans suffer from some form of disability. As noted above, between SSDI and SSI, only about 15.4% of the population receive disability benefits, so many people have some level of disability, but do not receive benefits. An international economic group (“OECD”) found the U.S. system (along with those of Canada, Japan, and South Korea) as having “the most stringent eligibility criteria for a full disability benefit, including the most rigid reference to all jobs available in the labor market.”

As for people receiving benefits who should not be, the Social Security Administration is very proactive in pursuing cases of fraud, and the Administration’s estimates the rate of fraud at well under 1% of the total claims.

Myth #3: Immigrants are draining Social Security benefits.

Facts: FALSE: In answering this, we must first distinguish between legal immigrants and undocumented immigrants. As for legal immigrants, those with a “green card” who are permitted to work in the US, can obtain a Social Security number, and are paying into Social Security out of their paychecks - just as US citizens do. They only become entitled to benefits when they have paid into the system for a sufficient period of time, as with US citizens. Actually, since legal immigrants tend to be younger than the US average, they tend to pay into Social Security for a longer period before drawing benefits, and thus are a financial benefit to the system, not a detriment.

As for undocumented immigrants, they have no path to citizenship and cannot obtain a Social Security number, and are not eligible for SSDI benefits. Often these workers will work under a false Social Security number, meaning that they pay into the system but can never receive benefits-they are therefore providing a financial windfall to Social Security.

As for SSI benefits, undocumented immigrants are ineligible for those benefits as well, excepting a small number of those who are granted asylum or refugee status in the US (per SSA figures, these claims average about 6,000 per year, a tiny fraction of the total refugees and asylees).

Social Security Process: My Doctor Told Me to File for Disability, Why Did Social Security Deny My Claim?? When applying for Social Security disability benefits, the strongest weapon in your toolbox is the support of the doctors that treat your medical conditions. Oftentimes, claimants believe that this, alone, is sufficient to establish they are entitled to disability benefits. This is not the case. [It’s a good start however.].

Historically the Social Security Administration previously gave priority ("deference") and weight to the opinions of your treating physicians. However, in March 2017, the Social Security Administration jettisoned this deference, known as the Treating Physician Rule instead deciding that all medical opinions - even from Social Security's physicians that never examine you - will be evaluated based upon persuasiveness, that is the general supportability and consistency, of these opinions with the medical record as a whole. We think this undermines the important relationship between you and your doctor.

As you may know, in this day and age, not giving special treatment to your own doctor’s opinion, may seem counter-intuitive. We find it causes delays, leads to confusion, and is disrespectful to the medical profession. Your personal 'Dr. Fauci' takes the time to write a letter on your behalf, and yet the opinions are minimized. Your doctor is in the best position to know your limitations and your work abilities. Their opinion / your doctor is the individual who knows your medical situation best. Their reports need not be given absolute authority, but it is far better than a consultant from the Social Security Administration who has known you for 15 minutes and must render an opinion on your complex health issues.

If you have an opinion, pro or con, let Andrew Saul, the Commissioner of Social Security know or share your opinion on SSA's Facebook page. Mr. Saul has expressed a focus towards making sure Social Security recipients aren’t being scammed.

In an interview with AARP, Mr. Saul, an Ivy League Business Graduate who President Trump appointed for a six year term, seemed to focus not on best evidence but on toughening up disability standards. Entitled: Changing Eligibility Requirements for Disability Benefits, he says “[ w]e have to modernize our disability operation. Some of our regulations are 40 years, 50 years outdated. We had a workforce 50 years ago that was very different than it is today: many more manual tasks, much more hard labor, for example, many more mining jobs, much more manufacturing. Today, it's much more office work. Also, don't forget, health care has completely changed in the last 50 years. Fortunately, some diseases that effect a lot of people today, 50 years ago, if you were diagnosed with that disease, you were finished. Today, a lot of productive people have had serious strokes, heart attacks, cancer. Very, very life-threatening diseases. Today, we have medicine that has really cured the problems and allowed people to go on with very successful lives.

It's important that the disability plan services those people that really are in need of it, and that are really in bad shape. But it's also important that the plan reflects the current state of the workforce and health care. I think it's our duty to be sure that, so that these plans survive, they are up to date and run properly.”

I believe that eligibility requirements should be fair and they should represent a person who's really disabled and should be available for the benefits. That's why the laws were passed in the beginning. Unfair claims should not proceed. We will make these things fair and they will represent health care today and represent the labor force today."

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