Tag Archives: disability benefits

Jessie Holds Court

people, children, technology, friends and friendship concept - hJessie was smaller and younger, but had by far the best ideas, so she was the ringleader.

We lived near a school that sometimes was in session when ours was not.  The school had large-windowed classrooms at its basement level, and if you were a little kid standing outside one of those windows, it was as if you were on a stage, framed in a veritable proscenium arch, optimal for entertaining the captive inhabitants of the classroom therein.

Think of the possibilities.

Once when they were in session, but we were not, Jessie had us dress up “like the girls fromTwo Little Girls Vintage Photograph Little House on the Prairie,” go to the school where we crawled to the window and looked with exaggerated longing into a classroom full of kids about our age.  We were not disruptive.  We were just there … sitting.   Jessie pretended to take notes on a pad of paper.  When the teacher eventually came to shoo us away, Jessie, stuttered out a wistful protest in the most hammed-up, corn-pone delivery imaginable … “we … we … we just want to learn.”

Brought-the-house-down.   Even the teacher.

Ha-ha-ha!  A delightful little childhood story from back in the day when families had five and six and nine kids apiece, and instead of having a helicopter for a mom, our perfectly competent mothers locked us out of the house with the admonishment to “go play.”  You heard the click of the lock, and you went off to … play.  Your mother went into the house to get after her work, and did not feel the least bit of guilt over the transaction.  Those were the days.

I could go on and on with adorable stories of tender childhood adventures and pranks, but as I people, children, misbehavior, friends and friendship concept -think of them … now with the sensibilities of an adult … I realize that a lot of what we did, and thought nothing of at the time, were actually pretty awful things.  No need to plead the 5th given that the Statutes of Limitation run by the time your moms pass on.  But no kidding … we did some pretty awful things.

Here’s one:  the church at the end of our block had a little yard with a swing set, slide and sandbox.  While playing in the sandbox one summer afternoon, Jessie and I discovered a door to the church had been freshly painted bright red.  It was beautiful and fresh and wet … and there we were … with the sand.  Though unimaginable to me now, we threw sand on the door and ran away laughing ourRed Door horrible little heads off.

Ha-ha-ha!  A delightful little childhood story from back in the day. Adorable little rascals, weren’t we?  

Devils more like.

And another:  we found an unlocked window which was a reliable way into the church building and snuck in on Saturdays to play in a classroom set up for Sunday school.  We played with toys and pretended to be teachers writing arithmetic problems and spelling words on the chalkboard.  Nothing profane.  But when we found a utility closet with a sizeable store of Dawn dishwashing detergent, we squirted whole bottles of it in a hallway, ran back and forth to a drinking fountain getting mouthsful of water and spitting them onto the floor creating a dastardly Slip-n-Slide that certainly was an hours-long horror to clean up. 

I knew it was wrong.  But the clean up was the only thing I considered … and then disregarded.  

Were there consequences my ten-year old self wouldn’t have considered?  Did an elderly person happen upon our handiwork and become injured by it?   I don’t know.   Jessie and I went Senior Woman Enjoying Cup Of Tea At Homeblissfully on our way.  Now, too late, I wonder.

In my early adulthood, I had a delightful, elderly neighbor who occasionally invited me in for tea and a chat.  She was mugged on her porch and in the violence was pushed to the ground and broke her pelvis.  It was shocking the degree to which her quality of life abruptly declined.  She was left quite depleted and depressed for the remainder of her days.

The muggers, she said, were “just teenagers.”

She recognized their acts were borne of youthful indiscretion. Indiscretion with a clear and direct potential for the debilitation that occurred though.  Squirting slippery detergent on a floor is not the same as a mugging.  I will restrain myself from obnoxious over-piety to equate them.  But the effect, for all I know, could well have been the same.

Making decisions with inadequate information are unavoidably how all decisions in youth are made.  And they’re often bad decisions.  Many of mine were.

I confess that not only did I make decisions with inadequate information, but I also unconsciously gave too muchTeenage girl depression - lost love - isolated on white backgrou weight to banal personal concerns – my standing among peers, and my fear of crossing Jessie. 

Jessie might have been the ringleader because she had by far the best ideas, but also because she was a bit of a devilish little bully if you didn’t go along with them. 

Disability determinations are often unavoidably made with inadequate information too.  Medical records are necessarily the primary source of information used to determine whether a claimant is disabled.  Medical records almost never directly address how patients function.  And in most cases how a person functions is  the only relevant issue to the question of disability.  

Even diligent scrutiny of every shred of medical evidence can leave a decision maker at an honest wobble as to whether the records prove up a disability or not.  (I attempt to get at this in If it may please the court, I’d like to whisper sweet nothings in your ear.)

The concern is whether decision-makers left in the lurch after all the evidence is considered would slip into using generalized information to make specific decisions in particular cases.

In Scheherazade’s Superpower, I mentioned that a dissenting opinion in a U.S. Court of Appeals case stated that when medical records are unclear, decision-makers are justified to tip the scales in favor of an assumption that a claimant is likely feigning the disability. The case cited a story of fraud.   (Ghanim v. Colvin763 F.3d 1154 (9th Cir. 2014)) 

This is the kind of generalized information I mean.  

It’s jarring to read this advice in case law, but … I rather appreciate the honesty.

EscapingThe stories of fraud, even when true, represent a tiny fraction of the scope of the disability program.  

Nonetheless, the stories are a huge embarrassment to the Administration, to its decision-makers, to private attorneys representing disabled claimants, and to the claimants themselves.  

Everyone is injured by fraud.  Everyone is implicated by fraud.  

Everyone.  Everyone.  Everyone.  Even all the law-abiding everyones. 

With the rise of stories of fraud in the press, and the documented decline in awards of benefits to claimants, one wonders whether these variables are merely correlated, or whether the rise of the stories is a cause of the decline.  The Ghanim case would suggest there is at least some causation. 

One wonders whether, in addition to Social Security’s stringent standard of what must be proven to obtain disability benefits, if claimants’ burden now also includes overcoming the presumption they are frauds at the outset. 

This would make obtaining benefits, even when truly disabled, quite a bit morePocket Watch Swinging On A Chain Black Background difficult.  Especially so if the burden wasn’t stated, but just hypnotically played itself out in the background of decision after decision after decision after decision.

Shhhh ….  When I snap my fingers, you will see fraud everywhere … when I snap my fingers you will see fraud in everyone … shhhh … decide … shhhh … decide … shhhh … decide.

The Social Security Administration is responding to fraud aggressively.  And they should.   They have increased the numbers of fraud units nationwide.  And they have announced it will be responding to fraud … even before it happens … by the use of predictive analytics.  

Predictive analytics allows fraud investigators to predict who might be a “risky person” in an effort to prevent fraud.  Preventing crime before it occurs makes sense.  Right? 

But using predictive analytics to implicate specific persons before commission of  a criminal act … that’s a bit like … like Spielberg’s film, Minority Report where crimes are foreseen by psychic “pre-cogs,” and prosecuted in advance of their occurrence!  

Tom Cruise at the Los Angeles Premiere of 'Valkyrie'. The DireTom Cruise playing the Chief of Pre-Crime bursts into a home, cuffing a suspect saying … “by mandate of D.C. Pre-crime Division, I’m placing you under arrest for the future murder of Sarah Marks, that was to take place today ….” 

It all made a kind of sense until the pre-cogs foresaw Cruise’s character planning a murder of a person he didn’t even know.

Predictive analytics would not be used to prosecute crimes before they’re committed, but would be used, according to Social Security’s Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin, to prevent fraudulent applications from being processed.”  

It’s unclear what … “preventing fraudulent applications from being processed” means … but it sounds like it’s … finally an articulation that claimants, or at least some of them, do have the burden to overcome a presumption they are frauds at the outset … before their applications for benefits are even processed, much less adjudicated.  

It’s jarring to hear this from the Commissioner, but … I rather appreciate the honesty.

people, children, television, friends and friendship concept - tWe need … to think this through.  We need to make informed, fully-conscious decisions.

At any rate, Jessie and I were darn lucky there wasn’t a Juvenile Pre-Crime Division back in the day. Although, in our case, we would assuredly have deserved whatever pre-punishment we got.

All people have an interest in disability determinations being made correctly.  The integrity of the program depends on it.

The devils, as always, are in the wayward little rascally details.

The 2% Club

Close Up Of A Young Smiling Beautiful Woman Wearing EyeglassesA friend’s theory as to why she – an intelligent, beautiful, amazing, and awesome woman – is perpetually single is that … … she is too awesome.

Her theory is that when the panoply of an individual’s characteristics fall in the tiny 2% parts of the bell curve – on either end of it – that person will have more difficulty finding a suitable partner than someone who Gaussian, bell or normal distribution curve on digital tablet cofalls smack dab in the middle.

It makes a kind of sense.   She is an outlier, a card-carrying member of the 2% Club.

An online dating service, Intelligent Dating Net has sprung up to address the problem.

Even if being an outlier is not an advantage in the world of dating, being an outlier in the world of neoutlier, outsider or nonconformist concept - statistical graph ows is an advantage – and a big one.   Outliers are interesting almost by definition.

Almost daily there is news of individuals who have fraudulently sought, and received Social Security disability benefits.   These stories are interesting, but statistically, they are outliers.   As such, they do a poor job of telling the full story of the Social Security disability program.

Yesterday’s story concerned a private detective who applied for disability benefits eleven years ago, and was found disabled.   Then, five years ago, apparently having medically improved, he returned to work without notifying Social Security of his improvement.   He continued, fraudulently, to collect benefits.   Social Security’s Office of Inspector General investigated, the man was prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced to two years in prison, plus two more years of supervised release, ordered to pay $ 5,000.00 in fines, and $ 144,000.00 in restitution to Social Security.Breaking News

Crime and punishment.   Interesting.   Newsworthy.

The story prompted me to contact my friend whose sister was receiving disability benefits, but who I’d heard had improved and gone back to work.   I had not represented my friend’s sister, and I had only met her a handful of times.  But, I could not contain myself.  I had to find out of she was still receiving benefits, had to inform her of the rules if she did not know them, encourage compliance if warranted, and help her follow the rules in the likelihood she did not understand them.

My friend put me in touch with her sister and we had the following email exchange:

(In case you don’t remember me, I’m [your sister’s] lawyer friend.)

I just sent [your sister] an email telling her every time I read a story in the news of someone who is prosecuted for receiving Social Security disability benefits after going back to work, I think about you and worry.   

It’s my understanding that you’re back to work.   I don’t know if you are still receiving disability benefits or not.   But, if you are, I’d really like to make sure that you know the rules about that.

I really, really don’t want you to run afoul of the law and wind up with a criminal prosecution on your hands.

Please contact me!

Her reply:

I don’t receive disability any more.  While I did do contract work and some full time work this year, I submitted every pay stub to SSA in person.  (Emphasis added.)

I also told them I had taken on full time work with health insurance and they told me I would now enter my 9 month review period.   So that was done awhile ago and I received my statement [ceasing my benefits] from them and all is kosher.

Thank you for asking.   I was hyper aware of how they work so I made sure to submit EVERYTHING to them and keep a paper trail.  (Emphasis added.)

Do you think that is enough?

Yes.  I think that is enough.

While I find that exchange utterly fascinating, most would not.   Imagine the headline:Casual man lying on couch with newspaper covering head in bright

Formerly Disabled Woman Follows Social Security’s Rules to the Letter Asking for Cessation of Benefits When Health Improves.

When it comes to news stories, the interesting ones get the press.   Salacious ones get even more.   The mundane, ordinary stories in which systems and people function as they should, go unmentioned.   But those stories, numerically, exist smack dab in the significant middle of the Gaussian bell curve of normal distribution.

When the relative volume of salacious stories is far greater than the relative number of occurrences, a skewed perception of reality results.    The mythos does not reflect the truthos. Old School Myths

Here, the myth is that most people applying for and receiving disability benefits are criminals.   The truth is that criminals are in the 2% Club.   They are rare.   They are outliers.

The non-partisan Government Accountability Office reported that improper payments of Social Security benefits occurs at a rate of just 0.6%, however, the American public’s sense is that there is a huge problem.   Fox News’ Megyn Kelly said, “just because [the Government Accountability Office] didn’t unearth the fraud, doesn’t mean it’s not being committed….”   Ms. Kelly just knows it’s there.

The American public is served up a steady diet of interesting and unseemly stories about “rampant fraud and abuse” in the Social Security disability program.   The American public is mired, not so much in misinformation, but in too much information of a kind.

Joseph Pulitzer StampWhen the press focuses on occurrences of fraud and abuse in far greater proportion to its relative number of occurrences in the scheme of the entire Social Security disability program, a distortion of reality results.

Two major problems arise from this distortion of reality:

1)   The American public has a distorted sense of reality, but it collectively believes itself to be well-informed and knowledgeable, and

2)  The American public and policy-makers demand reforms to the parts of the Social Security disability program that are essentially functional, failing to focus on areas that do require reformative attention.

Pressure builds for Social Security aggressively to go after frauds, to go after the people who receive disability benefits, but who attempt to go back to work.   And Social Security goes after them with prosecutory zeal.

And they should, right?

Consider this story published today in The Des Moines Register titled, des.m0331watchdog6137[1]Dying advocate needs some help.   This is the story of Kris Gerhard,  a disabled woman who continued to work answering “crisis calls” from her home while receiving Social Security disability benefits.

She is described as having …

been a champion all her adult life for people who really need one – children with autism, foster kids, those with mental disabilities and others with mental illness.   But now that she’s facing a fatal illness and down to her last $ 600, she is hard-pressed to find anyone who will advocate for her.

Social Security discovered Ms. Gerhard’s work activity, opened an investigation, and determined her benefits should have ceased in July 2012, given her earnings.   Social Security determined there was an overpayment of benefits of more than $ 10,000, and stopped her checks in February 2013.

Ms. Gerhard appealed the cessation of benefits immediately, but Social Security has yet to get back to her.   The Des Moines Register writer finds this appalling.

The story goes on:

What’s really disturbing about the Iowa woman’s story, however, is that because others needed her services, she tried to keep working in spite of her deteriorating health – and that decision is now hurting her….

She’s so good at her work, one state official tells me, that Gerhard got appointed to serve five counties:  Dallas, Greene, Webster, Guthrie and Carroll. (Emphasis added.)

“She’s an excellent advocate. Lots of other people contact her with questions – magistrates, attorneys, social workers and other advocates,” said Beth Baldwin, a 5th Judicial District court administrator who has worked closely with Gerhard over the years.   “She’s very well-respected, and I’d say rightfully so.”  (Emphasis added.)

Although Lee Rood, the writer of the story, meant well, she published a good deal of information indicating Ms. Gerhard was able to work, and therefore should not have been receiving disability benefits.   Furthermore, Ms. Rood made it clear that Ms. Gerhard should have understood Social Security’s rules – she is after all a person magistrates, attorneys, social workers and other advocates contact with questions. 

This is pretty damning information.

IGroup of multi ethnic business people sitting at court housesn’t this the rampant fraud and abuse about which we are all up in arms?

Megyn Kelly, what do you think?

The scandal of the Social Security disability program is not that it is rife with fraud and abuse.   The scandal does not live in the pinched ends of the bell curve.   Those stories are too … awesome.   Rather, the scandal of Social Security disability is much more mundane and subtle.

The scandal of Social Security disability fraud is that the rules are complicated, poorly understood, and people, even when they mean to follow the rules, run afoul of them unwittingly.   As has done Ms. Gerhard.

The scandal is that Social Security, being led by the persistently bad press about “rampant fraud and abuse” responds by amping up its ability to prosecute, when it should be amping up its efforts at educating recipients of disability benefits about the rules and how properly to comply with them.   So that when disabled people try to do what is right, try to go back to work, try to follow the rules – the rules are made clear.

The scandal of Social Security disability is that disabled people are pre-judged nearly universally as frauds, and criminals … and are treated as such.   They are surveilled, indicted and convicted.   The process of obtaining disability benefits and getting off of them is made more difficult from start to finish.

The scandal of Social Security disability is that the emphasis on criminalizing work activity that is inaccurately reported – even when there is no criminal intent to do so – discourages work activity.

What I find really disturbing about Ms. Gerhard’s story is that she tried good luck, best wishes wish you the best of luck and fortuneto comply with Social Security’s rules, and still could not.   She called Social Security but was given incomplete, scattershot information regarding compliance with Social Security’s complicated and nuanced rules for working while receiving disability benefits.   This put Ms. Gerhard in a dangerous spot:   she was poorly informed, but believed herself to be well-informed and knowledgeable.   And then, Social Security sent her on her way with no reasonable supports.   Good luck, Ms. Gerhard!

Carolyn Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, recently announced Social Security will open seven new Cooperative Disability Investigation units.   Cooperative Disability Investigators are Social Security’s fraud police.

I wish instead Social Security had Tutor advising his studentannounced it would train and deploy teams of people in every state to educate disabled people on how properly to report earnings and impairment-related work expenses.   So that when they want to – 98% of the time – they have a fighting chance to do so.

I wish instead Social Security had announced it had developed user-friendly paper worksheets and effective online tools onto which working disabled people could enter and submit earnings, and impairment-related work expenses to report – honestly and accurately – that relevant information to Social Security – monthly, in writing.  

These educational supports and tools are necessary so that when the Ms. Gerhards of the disability world call to report they are working, Social Security has in place proper supports and tools that assist them in complying.

These educational supports and tools are necessary so that people like my friend’s sister do not have to “submit every pay stub to SSA in person” or “be hyper aware of how [SSA works] … making sure to submit EVERYTHING to them and keep a paper trail.”   It is as if my friend’s sister understood she would easily be deemed a criminal and so went above and beyond.   This should not be necessary.

I wish instead Social Security did not itself fall for the media hype, did not pre-judge claimants and recipients of disability benefits as criminals, and understood them to be like the rest of us – 98% Club Members – who are just trying to get it right, and need some help doing so.

Forced to help

bigstock-Portrait-Of-Man-With-Loop-Tie-46113469“GIVING IS VOLUNTARY, NOT FORCED!” a Facebook friend of a friend shouted in all caps.

“Lawyers and politicians brag they force others to help ….” Fox Business reporter, John Stossel wrote in Longing to Be a Victim.

OBLIGATED charity is, and should be seen as, theft,” was a comment left on a post at Raptitude.com entitled, “Why should you be forced to help someone else?”

And the more I thought about it … the more I realized … I feel forced to help too.

There.   I said it.    I feel forced to help too.

When I was accepted into a top-tier law school I fantasized myself onto the sets of L.A. Law … The Practice … Ally McBeal.    I wanted the fancy clothes, the shiny shoes.   I wanted to say the kinds of things David E. Kelly writes.   I wanted to hobnob with hoity toits.   I wanted to spend my time in places where even the men get manicures.

I might have been fatigued from eight years of working in a “helping” profession as a sign language interpreter.   I bigstock-close-up-of-a-face-of-a-girl-w-35615399remember once a deaf client asking me what I planned to do after law school, and then telling me ‘when you’re a lawyer we expect you to represent disabled people.’   He signed, “we have you.”   Translation:  We own you.   I remember defiantly thinking, ‘z’at so?’

So here we are, you and I … we’re not so different.   We both feel forced to help … in different ways and varying degrees.

I like your way of thinking of this … when you say they’re mostly frauds … when you say so-called disabled people are perpetrating a complex con – that’s the way out.   I like it.

I see the structure of the argument … the numbers of recipients of Social Security disability are increasing – that seems fishy.   We’ve got towns where darn near 20% of the adults there receive disability benefits – again, fishy.  We’ve got Eric Conn, allegedly running a disability racket – super fishy.   Probably a lot of attorneys are just like that.   Lax judges, rushed judges, Social Security may be forcing quotas on judges giving them no choice but to rubber-stamp cases.   Doctors might even be in on the scam.  Our deadbeat neighbors and relatives in on it, too.  The “Disability Industrial Complex” … that sounds whopper fishy.

bigstock-Magician-Performs-Magic-With-B-45041116If we can just believe all of that … like magic … we are freed.

No longer forced to give.   No longer forced to help.   No longer forced to look deeply into these tough situations.

Looking deeply is what I most want not to do.   I don’t want to look.  I don’t want to see and hear … I don’t want to know.   I want it to disappear magically.

The summer between my 2nd and 3rd year of law school I interned in the Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Unit of the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office.  There I saw photographed corpses of babies and children whose deaths were under investigation.   I very much did not want to look at those photographs.  I did not want to see.  I did not want to know.  But I looked, reasoning that if children were enduring this, I owed it to them not to look away.

I so badly want to look away.   I feel forced to look.   It’s my job to look.   It’s my job, in fact, to bigstock-Close-up-of-a-male-scientific--52841617look deeply.

When I meet potential new clients, at first glance, it is not clear that they are “disabled” – by the strict legal definition used by the Social Security Administration.   They walk in the door, say hello, shake my hand … seem pretty normal to me.

Lawyers make people nervous.   My clients try to impress me with how together they are, nonetheless they manifest behaviors that belie their confusion, disorganization, inability to focus and to understand even very simple concepts and instructions.   These attributes endorse their inability to function in work environments where the abilities to stay on task, keep pace, and produce without the need for special supervision or excessive breaks, are required.   (Those are the requirements for most jobs, especially unskilled jobs where employers do not tolerate unproductive attributes in workers who lack skills.)

But, you can well-imagine, these attributes do not inspire understanding and compassion in most people.   Not even me.   Plodding slowness, confusion, disorganization, rudeness, body odor … those kinds of qualities engender disdain, harshness … mercilessness in most people.   And in me too.

bigstock-businessman-in-a-hurry-pointin-44023669I am busy, lack patience … and frequently battle to contain my frustrations.   This is not an easy clientele.   For me, it takes a great deal of self-control consistently to be pleasant when someone cannot tell me basic information I need and cannot get from any other source.  I am creeped out when I have to rummage through soiled papers to find information.   I must manage my emotions as I explain and re-explain and re-explain and re-explain and re-explain and re-explain and re-explain and re-explain and re-explain basic information.

A law student whose internship I supervised asked me, “now, why do I have to explain complex legal principles to retarded people?”

I avoid telling client stories for three reasons.   First, attorney-client privilege.  Second, I fear you will think I am making this stuff up.   Third, I still have ringing in my ears my friend John Schobel’s voice yelling at me, “WHY DID YOU TELL ME THAT STORY?!?!?   I will NEVER be able to get that out of my head!”

Remember the Saturday Night Live character, Debbie Downer?   Her theme song goes …bigstock-Business-woman-covering-her-mo-44493577

You’re enjoying your day
Everything’s going your way
Then along comes Debbie Downer

Always there to tell you ’bout a new disease
A car accident, or killer bees
You’ll beg her to spare you, ‘Debbie, please!’

But you can’t stop Debbie Downer!

I am Debbie Downer!   I stuff a sock in her mouth in social settings, but the stories run around in my head incessantly.

My client gave me permission to tell her story.  She enjoyed renaming herself Ramona for the telling.

Ramona is not overtly impressive.   She is white, overweight, and affects the demeanor of a child giggling and, in response to simple questions, launching into disjointed, fanciful stories that go bloody nowhere.   A friend has allowed her to live in his basement for several years because she has nowhere else to go.

I was relieved to find among her belongings a Social Security disk containing her file to explain what was going on in her case.   She had been denied benefits in 2009, 2010, and 2011.   The denial in 2011 listed her impairments as “fibromyalgia, obesity, pain disorder associated with both psychological factors and a general medical condition, and a personality disorder.”   When I looked through the evidence, the judge had disregarded, without explanation, a valid IQ score which showed her Full Scale IQ is 66, indicating “extremely low intellectual functioning.”

In our first meeting, Ramona claimed to have finished 9th grade.   I routinely request school records to verify educational information, and learned Ramona finished only the 4th grade, and sporadically attended the 5th before quitting altogether.

I asked her about the discrepancy and she said she hadn’t realized she dropped out that soon … she thought she’d gone to school longer.   She explained she was being taken out of school a lot by her father to … uh … um … … she’s trying to decide whether to trust me, and decides not to and says … “to babysit my siblings ….”

She’s a terrible liar.

“Ramona … babysitting?”

bigstock-Messy-Child-Against-A-Grey-Bac-6544768She changes her mind about trusting me, and with some hesitations and long pauses, divulges a chaotic story in which her father kept her home as a sex toy, forced her and her siblings to have sex with each other while he watched, and gave her away to a friend of his to take home with him.

She said, “I remember going off with him on his motorcycle … I was wearing a bathing suit.  He would take me swimming, and then … well, you can imagine ….”

As a very young girl, Ramona remembers her father giving her a lot of drugs, including having her “huff” toluene so that she was a more … willing participant.

You’re enjoying your day
Everything’s going your way
Then along comes Debbie Dunk Tank!

“Do you have any evidence?  I asked, not expecting there would be any.   There almost never is. bigstock-File-Stack-close-up-shot-on-wh-12177137  But, Ramona said “yes,” and within a few days brought me a sizeable box containing stacks of depositions, and trial transcripts from her father’s criminal trial.

I read the transcripts alone at home in the evenings with a good, stiff drink.   Just awful stuff.

Ramona’s father was found guilty of being a “sexually violent predator” and died in prison.   Ramona was relieved when she heard of it.

After learning Ramona’s big secret, she was more forthcoming with information.   She had been seeing a counselor and psychiatrist who were treating her for post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.   She had not told me or Social Security about those caregivers, or those disorders – fairly typical behavior for people who are ashamed of their symptoms and resist divulging them.

I was able to submit ample evidence documenting significant symptomology of post-traumatic stress disorder, mild mental retardation, as well as the fibromyalgia, and finally, obtain disability benefits for Ramona.   Her benefits will help her move out of her friend’s basement, and live, finally, a more dignified life.  This after three times being denied by Social Security.

Where are all those lax judges?   I have not encountered them.   You have to prove these cases … in court … with evidence … carrying your burden.    And it ain’t easy.

I do feel forced to help.   But I am proud to do it.

It is not fun to look deeply into these situations, and into the realities of disabled people’s lives, but we, as a society, owe it to disabled people not to look away because it is uncomfortable … because it hurts us.

We owe it to ourselves not to fall for the fictional narrative that the numbers of recipients of Social Security disability are increasing because of fraud when it has been shown conclusively by Social Security’s Chief Actuary that the numbers have increased largely because of the swell of Baby Boomers reaching their disability-prone years.  It’s a tight little narrative, and if we believe it, it gives us an easy out … … but it is false.

These are our tax dollars hard at work.   I do not brag that I have forced anyone to help by paying their taxes, but I appreciate that people do.   And I appreciate the work that the Social Security Administration does to support our neediest people.

Together we create a more just and civilized society whether we do so while feeling forced or whether we do so willingly.   Or … a little bit of both.