For the past week or so, the Google news-clipping service has delivered articles on Social Security disability to my inbox faster than I can read them. There is U.S. disability rolls swell in a rough economy from the Washington Post; Social Security Disability Insurance needs major reform from the Washington Post Opinions page; As jobs disappear, disability rolls grow from The Washington Times Communities; Disability Income Becoming Lifetime Unemployment Program from The New American … and about fifty more – most of which simply re-package the other articles.
The gist is that numbers of recipients of disability are rising and are unsustainable, Social Security’s disability programs have become a defacto unemployment program because of difficult economic realities, and the disability determination process is too subjective. Admittedly I am giving these articles short shrift – they are worth reading – but I’m not at recapping them here.
I am struck by policy conversations that assume disagreeable realities can be negotiated away merely because they are disagreeable, and they are called out as such.
To illustrate: there are events and tasks and duties in my life that I do not like, and very much want to … negotiate away.
But I cannot.
I will change diapers, scoop poop, clean toilets, clip toenails, floss teeth, go to the groin-ocologist, fold laundry, cook dinner, wash dishes, empty trash, get checked for glaucoma, age, lose my mental and physical capacities, get sick, burden loved-ones, and die. I mostly cannot negotiate this stuff away, though I have tried.
When I read the articles about Social Security’s disability programs, it seems they’re trying to negotiate away what is not negotiable.
To my ear the articles seem to say they do not like the huge swell of baby boomers who are aging, becoming sick and injured, and now, after decades of paying taxes, require the assistance of Social Security’s disability programs. Okay. Me either … I guess.
Take note: We did not so much mind that huge swell of baby boomers as they cranked up the heat in every aspect of the economy on their way from their bouncing babyhoods until now. When they were filling up the schools, and universities, when the bell-bottoms were flying off the shelves, and they were starting families and buying homes – we loved ’em. When the boomers were young and productive and consuming, they were all the rage. But, now that they’re old and in the way, they’ve aged into unpleasant, needful takers. Non-negotiable aged, unpleasant, needful takers.
The United States Census Bureau defines the demographic birth boom as occurring from 1946 to 1964, almost two decades. Those born in 1946 are turning 67 in 2013. We are in the relative front end of this population wave. Olly olly oxen freeee … ready or not, here they come!
The articles also are very much opposed to the idea that Social Security’s disability programs might be functioning as long-term unemployment programs. They do not like that the bad economy has made jobs scarce and so workers with weaknesses are unable to compete in this highly competitive job market – and they are passed over. Okay. I don’t like that either, but not liking it does not make it go away.
As an attorney, I sit across the table and look into the faces of people for whom this is reality. These people are not negotiable. Their illnesses are not negotiable. Their financial plight is not negotiable. The Administrative Law Judges who adjudicate their claims also sit across the table and look into the faces of people for whom this is reality. The judges diligently read medical records, and do their best to determine whether these living, breathing human beings meet the rules for disability. We stare this situation down. It is not an abstraction to us. It is reality. We do our best to assist individuals, and families, and society through these hard realities. We do not like it either, but we – the attorneys and the judges and Social Security itself – have not caused this situation. We are doing our best to manage it.
It reminds me of Colonel Jessup’s speech from the famous “you can’t handle the truth” scene in the 1992 film, A Few Good Men:
Jessup: You can’t handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lieutenant Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know, that Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives! You don’t want the truth, because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall. We use words like “honor”, “code”, “loyalty”. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it! I would rather you just said “thank you”, and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to!
Kaffee: Did you order the Code Red?
Jessup: I did the job that—
Kaffee: Did you order the Code Red?!!
Jessup: YOU’RE GODDAMN RIGHT I DID!!
Well, think tank article writers, you can’t handle the truth! We live in a world that has sick people, and disabled people, and workplaces too busy to provide make-work projects for them. The American workforce is the most productive workforce in the entire world, and sick and disabled people cannot survive there. Our sick and disabled and aging people need to be provided for so they’re not littering our streets, so they’re not overburdening families to the financial breaking point. Who’s going to take care of those people? You? Social Security has a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You bellyache about Social Security disability. You whine that the adjudication of claims is subjective and complicated. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know, what every Social Security worker and judge knows – what every hospital social worker knows. And our existence, the attorneys and the Social Security Administration itself, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives! You don’t want the truth, because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want us adjudicating these claims. You need us adjudicating these claims, dealing with the mentally and physically ill, and the aging people in our society. We use words like “zealous advocacy” and “due process.” We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to one who rises and sleeps on the safety net the Social Security Administration provides, and then questions the manner in which it provides it! I would rather you just said, “thank you,” and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a disabled, homeless, mentallly ill person, and take him into your home – for the duration.
Do I represent disabled people in their claims for disability?
YOU’RE GAHDAMN RIGHT I DO!!