So … I’ve been thinking about what you said …

bigstock-crazy-man-39709744A reader of the Dunk Tank submitted a pointed, insightful comment in response to Sochi Security.   So interesting a comment … it shouldn’t be buried in the comment graveyard.

Here it is.

You make a good point about claimants wishing to present a certain image via social media.  But doesn’t an individual’s unwillingness or inability to present the truth in one forum have a bearing on his/her reliability in another forum?

More to the point, why is a claimant who is an unreliable autobiographer on Facebook any more credible when he/she appears in a private hearing before an administrative judge?  Doesn’t the incentive for pecuniary gain during a hearing outweigh the natural tendency to minimize one’s limitations?

I realize that the financial stakes are modest compared to full-time, middle-class wages, but presumably every disability applicant has decided that even modest benefits are preferable to no benefits.  Under the circumstances, why is “I never leave the house and can’t lift a gallon of milk” more reliable than a photograph of someone giving a child a piggyback ride at Magic Kingdom?

I’m uncomfortable with the notion that we should take self-reports at face value only when they are consistent with disability, because it presumes that rational-yet-proud people would never overstate their limitations for money.

First of all, as I said in Thank you, Mr. Juhoff … and all the Mr. Juhoffs, bigstock-Happy-Black-Woman-12039302I am extremely pleased with the caliber of comments and questions Disability Dunk Tank receives.   Whether publicly posted, or privately emailed to disabilitydunktank@yahoo.com, absolutely each one has been interesting, thought-provoking, and respectful.

I am heartened by the vigorous, skillful discourse occurring here while the cacophony of crazy about Social Security disability rages everywhere else.

But I digress.

I replied with:

Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments, and pointed questions.  I so appreciate your willingness to engage in this important conversation.

I agree that judges should not take self-reports at face value only when they are consistent with a disability.  Absolutely not.  My concern is that a photograph of ‘someone giving a child a piggyback ride at Magic Kingdom’ would be so prejudicial as to be given controlling weight in the face of other important evidence – but evidence that is much, much more difficult to comprehend, like medical records.

bigstock-concert-lighting-against-a-dar-38587648The photograph seems to speak volumes about the life, but in the end, a photograph is a snapshot of a moment without context.  The photograph doesn’t speak to the moments before, or the moments after.

With considerable frequency I encounter family members of disabled people who encourage the disabled person to get out of the house, go to the grocery store, go with the family to the zoo … those kinds of normal things.  And the disabled person will, with varying degrees of cooperation, play along.

One of the first commenters on this blog was a man who both worked at Social Security and who had a disabled son, and wrote about that push-pull of knowing full well what needed to be proved to win a disability case, but who pushed his child toward wellness and building on strengths as much as possible … all while knowing in his heart of hearts that his boy was disabled and qualified.

Let me just re-post his comment.  He said it so well:

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.

Father Helping Disabled Son Walk In The Ocean Waves On BeachI 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.)

bigstock-Beautiful-Black-Woman-3235736The rest of my reply to the original commenter:

Complex emotional territory.  Complex emotional territory that can be captured in a photograph and uploaded to Facebook to tell what a family member or a disabled person wishes were the truth.

I am struck by your question, ‘[d]oesn’t the incentive for pecuniary gain during a hearing outweigh the natural tendency to minimize one’s limitations?’

Yes.  During a hearing, the incentive for pecuniary gain does Angryoutweigh the natural tendency to minimize one’s limitations.  In my view, the weight of your question lies in the phrase “during the hearing.”

From my vantage point, I see these cases playing out not only during a hearing, but during the year and a half, two years, three years … that it takes to get to the hearing.

Grunge - PovertyWhat claimants endure during those enormous blocks of time: poverty, cast into the street oftentimes, failure, living without dignity in the basements of family members, being deeply ashamed of themselves, not being able to access healthcare, my women clients … the unspeakable – is too high a price to incentivize these modest financial gains.

When you have a front row seat to that show, you see how unlikely this is to be a complex con.

I have so often wished I could play the audio files in hearings bigstock-Siblings-Fighting-34299935of clients’ messages left … their scramble to find shelter in extreme weather, their relatives sometimes screaming at me to hurry up and get the hearing scheduled because they ‘can’t stand this person living in their house’ anymore, the messages from workers in churches who are calling to ask how they can help this homeless person who keeps showing up needing food … on and on and on.

bigstock-Highlighted-Nervous-System-3730601I have often thought that the most difficult part of being an ALJ would be only to have before me the record and the relatively few moments of the hearing upon which to make my decisions.

To me, that is a mere skeleton of the lives I see fleshed out before me.

 

 

4 thoughts on “So … I’ve been thinking about what you said …

  1. Jamie

    I’m constantly struck by the fact that people on SSDI can have a TWP (Trial Work Period) and Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) during which they can actually make money and still be on SSDI, but the perception of the critics is if you’re not missing three limbs, in a wheelchair or straight-jacket, and hauling your oxygen tank behind you, then you’re a fraud and should never have been approved to begin with.

    Reply
    1. disabilitydunktank Post author

      Yes. The disability rules are more complicated and nuanced than most people realize. I so wish Social Security would do more to educate the public about its programs, retirement and disability; how FICA works; why it is an advantage for people to pay Social Security taxes; why “working under the table” is a bad idea for workers; how staying home with children and not working affects insured status, and future benefits, etc. The American public is incredibly poorly informed about how Social Security taxes and benefits work. If I were Commissioner of Social Security ….

      Reply
  2. Laura S.

    So good! Well done (again!). This reminds me of when my husband and I were in Vegas last year and saw a man in a wheelchair and on an oxygen tank with a colorful Hawaiian shirt on. He looked like he was somewhere in his 50’s. Apparently, he was with his teenage or young adult kids who were pushing him along the Vegas Strip. I could still hear him wheezing. He looked like he was actually having some fun but certainly in no shape to work! The confines with which this man’s body allowed him to live was still obviously quite limiting! God forbid he be allowed to escape – even if for just a weekend – from the daily reality of what looked like end-stage COPD or some other combination of severe medical impairments! I guess if he took the breathing tube from his nose and you took a picture of him from the waist up and posted it on FB, you might have gotten a different idea of him. I’m sure anyone that’s been to Vegas has seen disabled people there. Doesn’t mean they can work in a casino 8 hours a day, five days a week. And doesn’t mean they are all non-compliant raging alcoholic gamblers either – just human beings trying to carve out some semblance of happiness in their lives. A picture doesn’t tell everything. It’s the “longitudinal picture” of the evidence that makes an attempt to do so; and even that sometimes fails to tell the whole story.

    Reply
    1. disabilitydunktank Post author

      Yes! My goodness … all these great comments …. At some point I’m going to step out of the way and just make all these interesting comments the actual posts! Thank you so much for reading, writing, spreading the word. And thank you SO much for passionate advocacy for disabled people. It’s hard for a lot of people not to get jaded, but to stay fully engaged.
      But back to your point: if someone posted a photo of a claimant on Facebook holding their “Employee of the Month” plaque from current work activity … that might mean something. But, even lifting a child, or a sledge hammer, or whatever in a one-off means nothing in an inquiry of whether you can do it eight hours a day, five days a week, fifty-two weeks a year.

      Reply

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