I 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 are … 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.
The 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.
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;
- reveal 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
Then, 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.
My 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 their 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.