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The Dignity of Social Security

Social Security has received some bad press recently with many calling Social Security the “new welfare.” Many argue that the system supports those who could work, but choose not to. The myths being perpetrated by the opponents of the Social Security system are unfounded and this unfair characterization simply adds insult to injury for the disabled worker. Social Security disability benefits are an essential form of income for many Americans who want to work, but cannot due to severe medical impairments.

In its simplest terms, Social security is a social insurance system that steps in and helps the disabled worker under certain conditions. It is a rather simple proposition in which workers contribute to a joint fund that will someday be used for their own retirement benefit and disability payments should they become disabled. This system has bipartisan roots. The original Social Security Act was signed into law in 1935 by a Democrat, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The amendments to the Social Security Act which created the disability system were signed into law in 1954 by a Republican, President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Social Security Disability Claim Statistics

The number of Social Security disability applications has increased significantly since 2001 when 1,498,559 people applied. As of 2015, that number had skyrocketed to 2,412,267 (actually a decrease from 2010 when the most Social Security disability applications reached 2,935,798) according to Selected Data from Social Security’s Disability Program.

However, although more people file Social Security disability claims today than they did 15 years ago, the rate of approval has actually decreased. In 2001, the Social Security Administration approved 46.13 percent of claims. In 2015, that percentage dipped to 32.16. Consequently, the number of Social Security disability recipients has not increased nearly as dramatically as has the number of Social Security disability applications.

Why Are We Seeing More Social Security Disability Claims?

One of the biggest questions that many are asking is why there has been a surge in the number of Social Security disability applications. Review of a number of demographic factors reveals the answer, including:

  • An Aging Baby Boomer Population – As the baby boomer generation ages, more baby boomers are eligible for disability pay based on their long record of working under Social Security. Quite naturally, more disabilities that are common with age are presenting themselves, leading to an increase in applications
  • More Working Women – Prior to the 1970s, it was less common for women to work outside the home. As more women accumulate years working under Social Security, more are eligible to apply for Social Security disability benefits.
  • Higher Rates of Disabling Conditions – While we would like to believe that disabling conditions are on the decline, the prevalence of many diseases like heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and cancer is actually increasing. In fact, Medical News Today reports that the World Health Organization (WHO) expects cancer rates to increase by 75 percent by 2030.

The Devastating Effects of Disabilities

The dignity of work is more than a mere contribution to the economy; it is an individual’s way of interacting with, contributing to, and participating in society. The ability to earn an income to provide for yourself and your family is what some people would consider to be a fundamental right. For many people, the ability to work is a defining characteristic of their life. When a worker is unable to continue participating in the economy through no fault of their own, the effects are often both emotionally and financially devastating.

This hit home recently when a client was reduced to tears at a Social Security hearing when he was asked how he felt about not working. He had been the breadwinner in his family for 40 years. He had started working, like many other eastern North Carolinians, in the fields at the age of 14. Now, with advanced diabetes and a heart condition, it was an accomplishment for him to leave the house. He could not get the medical treatment he needed because he had no insurance and was now asking the government, to which he had paid taxes for nearly half a century, to help him out in his time of need.

Many people feel ashamed that they have to rely on federal benefits, or that they are no longer the breadwinners for their family. Clearly, there should be no shame in being disabled. Moreover, when you have worked, followed the rules, and paid into a system, you deserve to benefit from that system in the event that you are severely disabled. Social Security in the United States is a bipartisan program that we can be proud of and Congress needs to act to fund the system. This system is a reflection of our values and our appreciation for an individual’s contributions to society through his work efforts.

Social Security Disability Benefits

A Social Security Disability Benefits publication, published by the Social Security Administration, provides helpful and accurate information regarding who can apply for benefits, how to apply for benefits, and how benefits are paid. According to this publication, studies show that a 20 year old has a 1-in-4 chance of becoming disabled before reaching full retirement age. Having access to disability benefits is an important option that all people should be aware of, even if they are young.

There are two Social Security disability benefit programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Both are designed for those who cannot work because they have a medical condition that is disabling, and that is expected to last for at least 12 months or result in death. Further, both provide monthly cash benefits.

Generally, in order to qualify for SSDI, you need to have worked and paid into the Social Security system long enough to be “insured” under the system. You also need to have a qualifying disability in order to receive benefits. When SSD claims are denied – and majority of claims are initially denied – applicants have the right to appeal the decision and request a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). Many applicants go on to receive the benefits they deserve after moving through the appeals process.

Is Social Security Welfare?

Social Security disability is not “welfare” in that it does not provide money for those who are able to work. However, it can improve the welfare of those who truly need it. If you are a disabled individual who is unable to work and have questions about applying for Social Security disability benefits, or are appealing a denied Social Security disability claim, our experienced North Carolina disability attorneys want to meet with you. Contact our offices today and request a free case consultation to discuss your needs in more detail and learn how we can help you with your claim.

About the Author

David E. Vtipil
David Vtipil is an attorney at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks and concentrates his law practice in injuries due to negligence, social security disability, and workers' comp. David E. Vtipil was selected by his peers for inclusion in the 21st Edition of The Best Lawyers in America in the field of Workers’ Compensation Law.

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