Yippee! The gu’ment’s givin’ away free cheese!

Happy cartoon cheese manI recall an episode of Roseanne, in which Dan loses his job, and Roseanne is worried.  Dan’s trying to keep her from freaking out, and says, ‘don’t worry, baby.’   Roseanne asks, ‘so … ‘don’t worry’, like you’ve got another job? or … ‘don’t worry … the government’s giving away free cheese?’

Don’t worry, the government’s giving away free cheese.    Yes, Roseanne, proceed to freaking out.   Freaking out is warranted.

There is no greater cause for worry than knowing your basic subsistence is not under your own control, but that you are at the whim of a huge bureaucracy for which you Take a number - ticket dispenserare … a number.   A suspicious, conniving little number.

The Social Security Administration administers extremely important programs.   Generally it does a pretty good job of it, but the process is extremely difficult, time-consuming, and intrusive for the people going through it.

When a person is unable to work, unable to support him or herself, the wait is interminable.   Often in the range of two to three years – and that is an optimistic timeline.  That is the timeline when a claimant is granted benefits on the first application and winning at the Administrative Hearing level.

The wait could be much, much longer if a person loses and has to appeal to the Appeals Council, and then to federal court.   The length of time for those types of cases is difficult to estimate.

And the time … it’s not easy time.   My observations of the people going through this system are that they are seriously suffering.   And the people at Social Security can get pretty impatient with claimants.   They can be pretty terse, impatient and grumpy.

It’s a bit like … well, you’ve had the pleasure of visiting your state’s DMV – you know what I’m talking about.    Doing time at the DMV makes for excellent stand-up fodder, right?   There is a funny little website called DMV America with a post there called Growing Old At The DMV that makes the point.

But imagine you’re not going to the DMV to get your driver’s license renewed, or plates for your car, but you’re going because you need to have your basic, essential needs met:  food … shelter ….   The Disability DMV is what stands between you and sleeping on a park bench.

group of people waiting in line, back viewThe wait will not be a morning, will not extend into a tedious afternoon – it will be years – sometimes years and … years and … years.  During which time you will be cast about on an indescribably tumultuous sea of poverty and uncertainty.  You will be on the begging end of every relationship in your life.  You are likely to lose everything – your home, your pride … your children.

When it’s your turn at the Disability DMV, you’ll be given forms to fill out on which you must tell the Social Security Administration what exactly is wrong with you – under penalty of perjury.

Have you ever had to tell someone exactly what is wrong with you?  Have you ever had to Blamewrite it down?  

Not only do I avoid telling someone what is wrong with me, I generally avoid even thinking about what is wrong with me.  It is painful.  And sharing your foibles and vulnerabilities is … intimate.  But in the context of an application for Social Security disability benefits, you are having that intimacy with a bureaucracy.

When you’re a claimant of disability benefits you will be asked to …

    • describe what you do from the time you wake up until going to bed;
    • reveal who you live with;
    • explain whether you care for anyone, such as spouses, children, or pets;
    • explain whether you are being cared for by others, and if so, how;
    • reveal whether you can read, write, do simple math, drive a car;
    • describe the problems you have dressing, bathing, or feeding yourself, if any;
    • describe the problems you have using the toilet, if any;
    • reveal if you are incontinent, and if so how often;
    • describe your ability to prepare your own meals, and if so, what kinds of meals do you prepare, are you cooking full meals, or just microwaving prepared foods;
    • reveal whether you are able to go out alone, or whether you need to be accompanied;
    • Man Looking through Magnifying Glassreveal whether you are able to do your own shopping, and if so, what do you shop for;
    • reveal whether you are able to manage your own bank accounts, handle money, count money;
    • disclose whether you are able to get along with others, or if you get into arguments;
    • inform Social Security about your social life;
    • describe difficulties you have paying attention, taking instructions, following a recipe, getting along with authority figures;
    • reveal whether you’ve ever been fired, and if so, why;
    • describe whether you are able to handle stress, or if you tend to meltdown;
    • describe unusual behaviors, fears, quirks, kinks;
    • reveal all of your medications, and medical aids, devices, diapers – and describe why you need them;
    • reveal all of the names and contact information for any of your physicians, hospitals, clinics, counselors, and therapists;
    • provide Social Security with signed Authorizations to release all medical Information, educational records, and employment records

bigstock-Lady-Makes-Loser-Sign-23993312Then, you will be asked for the name and contact information of a third-party – someone who knows you well – and that person will be asked to complete an eight-page “Third Party Function Report” on which he or she will be asked to weigh in on how he or she thinks you’re Larry McLoser.

It is a truly awful process for people  …  utterly humiliating.

I do not fault Social Security for asking these questions.   Of course not.   They must.

If a person can balance a checkbook, follow a recipe, stand at a stove for an hour cooking, read, write, walk a mile, has a rollicking social life, and can get along with authority figures with aplomb … there are likely plenty of jobs for that person.  And, they should (and will) be denied disability benefits.  They simply have too much functionality – they are not disabled – no matter their diagnoses.  That is not my point.

Crap Idea Concept On Led BoardMy point is that I’ve only barely gotten started describing what is required of claimants for Social Security disability benefits.  Geeze, I’ve only discussed the application so far, and … doesn’t this seem like a really bad idea for a scam?   Can you see that?  It’s ludicrous to think that most folks go through all of this as a scam.  That’s my point.

Wouldn’t it be a heckuva lot easier just to get, and keep, a job?  Wouldn’t it be better to receive a paycheck that is so much greater than you could possibly receive in disability benefits?  Wouldn’t it be a heckuva lot easier just to haul off to work like the rest of us, and be able to keep your home, and your car, and your dog, and your kids, and your pride?  Wouldn’t it be a heckuva lot easier to work, and be able to walk into a store with your head held high and purchase groceries?

Yes, of course!  Anyone in his or her right mind would do it.  The people who don’t … can’t.   They have no other options.

You may not understand that to be true, and they may not be willing to give you every detail of American Nickelstheir medical history that would convince you that it is true.   But it is true.   They have no other options.

If I had a nickel for every time a client sobbed, “I’d give anything just to be able to work!”  … I’d have a boat somewhere sinking from the weight of all those nickels.


10 thoughts on “Yippee! The gu’ment’s givin’ away free cheese!

  1. Russell Becker

    I very much appreciate what you are attempting with this blog. I’m a colleague of Charles Hall in the Disability Advocacy Section of the NC Advocates for Justice, and 90% of my legal practice is SSA DIB. The “know-it-alls” (many who work for SSA) often pontificate, “There’s something they’re capable of doing!” To which my response is, “But would YOU hire them to work for you?”

    I also have the aspect of being an employer. On 3 separate occasions, I have employed former clients whose education, intelligence, and work experience suggested that they would be capable of part-time work in our office at a time when we had a heavy case load. I WILL NEVER DO IT AGAIN! Those that you are trying to reach, especially if they are wage-earners, has no appreciation for the needs of an employer.

    The primary need is for the employee to be able to report to work consistently and to remain on the job dependably enough to work the necessary hours. There is a reason that the disabled are on disability. Even with generous accommodations, I could not depend on these employees being able to come to work, nor for how long they might be absent with a migraine or whatever episodic health problem they suffered from. One cannot run a business (or a SSA disability law practice) using such people, even if they are able to work much of the time. There are 23 work-days in the average month. If an employee misses 3 days per month because of illness, medication side effects, or to seek medical treatment, they have missed over 10% of the work-days. Not many employers can keep such employees.

    I hope that both you and Charles will keep up the good work! The public needs to hear this side of things. You can use my name if you wish.

    1. disabilitydunktank Post author

      Yes. Thanks! I have also tried on a few occasions to hire former clients, and had the same experience, and drew the same conclusion. Spare a thought for the managers of businesses who must manage the disabled people who really are trying to work, and also for the unsuspecting customers who have no idea what they’re encountering and why they’ve gotten such atrocious service.

  2. John

    I have to say that I’ve been on both sides. Taking claims for years, doing support work in Baltimore lets me say you’ve described the business of disability. We have law, regs, OIG audits that insist of an impartial, repeatable process. And people who follow the laws, rules, regs and process. It’s a job, there are pressures, if not actual quotas and the personal aspect is hard to keep; Getting involved with claimants is bad for a CR. So the dehumanization of the claimant is almost inescapable. We can’t approve you because we like you or your story moves us, we need “objective” proof. But as a dad who files for his son, there was this moment of dissonance as I the savvy dad focused on Listings, highlighted proofs I obtained, prepared a package of evidence that linked to the listings, that answered the questions about ADL even before they were asked, and answered them in a form DDS employees understand. I was able to step away from my son the human being and make him my son the claimant while seeing him in both lights. And I did good, a presumptive dib and a final approval in 50 days. But my wife? Despite also working for the agency she couldn’t see her son like a claimant. And that’s a wonderful thing. But I know had she been the one to do the paperwork, it’d be a lot longer to get the claim approved. For the reasons I said earlier along with those from today’s blog post, filing for disability isn’t easy, trivial or a sure thing. And the way it’s being painted as some sort of money teat for the lazy is just wrong. (Yes, some folks do scam the system but that doesn’t diminish anything said in the blog or the replies. Humans make mistakes, they steal, it happens. But that doesn’t taint the program.)

  3. Anonymous

    Yes, it’s actually worst than I described. As stated, I can push a lawnmower if you ask me if I can cut grass. But also as stated I can’t operate a riding one. I also can’t push the manual one on hills because of the panic attack situation, and a constant fear of death. Additionally, if you ask my allergist if I should be cutting grass, they would probably say no because of my chronic sinus disease from military service in the Middle East. If you ask my Pulmonary doctor if I can cut grass, they may or may not agree because of my asthma. However, if a neighbor that knows I’m on disability sees me doing yard work, within my personal limitations, they cry foul and accuse me of being a disability fraud. Then they start screwing with you (I’ve had it happen). Then they realize you really are crazy when you screw with them right back. Then they want you out of the neighborhood, because they think you’re not only crazy, but dangerous. Anyway, I have no doubt that you get it.

    Oh, nice blog. I found you via Charles Hall’s site. You’re a great addition to the community and I’m glad we have you fighting for us. I look forward to reading your posts. And I’m sure you’ll get used to dealing with us crazy people making comments, Charles has been putting up with us for years now.

  4. Anonymous

    “You will be asked if you get along with others, or if you get into arguments. You will be asked about your social life. You will be asked about your ability to pay attention, to take instructions, whether you can follow a recipe, get along with authority figures.”

    Seriously, that doesn’t agree with this in the mental health spectrum and you of all people should know better:

    “If a person can balance a checkbook, follow a recipe, stand at a stove for an hour cooking Thanksgiving dinner, read, write, walk a mile … there are plenty of jobs for that person. And, they should (and will) be denied disability benefits. They simply have too much functionality – they are not disabled – no matter their diagnoses.”

      1. Anonymous

        There’s plenty of seriously mentally-ill people such as schizophrenics and bi-polars that can’t get along with other people, or superiors, or authority figures, and can only function at variable intervals but according to the Blogger should be working, because at times they can certainly do some of the things outlined above, but in reality it’s pure silliness at best to expect them to be doing so.

        The piece is rather careless when it comes to the mentally-ill because society looks for people to have multiple missing limbs to consider them as disabled. And when they find one of those people working, the whole picture goes to hell for everybody on the disability list.

        1. disabilitydunktank Post author

          I take your point.

          Please understand, however the purpose of this blog, and this post. It is to make the argument – to a lay audience – who knows little of what the process entails, how involved it is, the depth of inquiry, the length of time it takes, the difficult (and often inhumane) hearings … and the small financial gains at the end of it – to counter the rampant misconception that the disability life is the good life, the easy life … that scads of people apply for disability because they are merely lazy frauds. Which is absolutely not true – as you well know.

          I will watch out not to be careless, but I am putting forth quite a bit of effort not to get overly technical, not to get down in the weeds too much so that I can keep this information accessible to the people in this country who are fed utter misinformation premised on the false assumption that getting disability, and being on disability, is an easy ride.

          In fact, your ire at my ‘carelessness’ speaks to how utterly difficult it is to prove that a person with the tiniest bit of functionality cannot also work a full time job.

          Thanks for your interest, comments, criticism, and for advocating for disabled people in all contexts.

          1. Anonymous


            As one of those “bi-polar” people on disability, I’m glad you took my comments well, because I’m not always good at articulating them in the best or friendliest way, and I definitely have a problem getting along with others, even online. I always get accused of being angry all the time.

            It’s a frustrating world. The shrink that SS hired to determine if I was disabled asked the question of “can you cut grass?” I responded yes, because in reality, I can push a lawnmower, but also in reality I can’t ride on a riding mower or drive one because of my panic attacks, which also prohibit me from driving a car any longer. But in that interview I never articulated that, I just answered the questions without fully thinking out my answers.

          2. disabilitydunktank Post author

            You did a perfectly fine job articulating your apt criticism. In fact, I thought you were an attorney who’d spent a lot of time in court fighting for disabled clients over these details! (And if you re-read my post, you will see I modified the offending paragraph based on your suggestions. Thanks. I need editors!)

            You are right that Social Security’s medical experts, and Administrative Law Judges will often take some tiny bit of functionality and imagine that it means the person can work a full-time job with the pressures of bosses, and customers, and … production quotas, etc. on a full-time basis – when nothing could be further from the truth. That rigidity leaves a lot of disabled people out in the cold – literally.

            Your point is similar to “John’s” in his comment on “The Shame of Disability” about having to focus and highlight only the negatives about his disabled child when he went through the process – and how that felt to him as if he had abandoned and betrayed his child. Because there ARE positives, and things to build on – for John’s son, and for all disabled people. But Social Security does not allow a disabled person to have much positive before they turn them away.

            It is very, very hard to get these benefits, and as I have witnessed, incredibly soul-depleting.

            If you would be so kind, share this blog around to people in the disability community, etc. so that I can more effectively get the word out about the reality of the disability programs, and the people going through it.

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