I talk to hundreds of people each year about Social Security disability. My clients have a vast array of diagnoses, and all of them are suffering in some way. Many of them have the added pain of feeling guilty that they have to apply for disability benefits.
If you keep up with the news and the opinion pages, you probably know that Social Security disability benefit recipients are being vilified across the media. Pundits claim that disability beneficiaries don’t want to work; journalists are quick to investigate and expose people who are “scamming the system.”
My experience with disability claimants, though, is very different. One of the most-repeated phrases I hear when I talk to my clients is, “If I was able to work, I’d be working.” They have tried, but their physical or mental limitations have kept them from finding work. If they do find work, they often are not able to keep up their attendance or their work pace and end up getting fired. Many of my clients have work records dating back decades – they have worked all their lives, but now they cannot keep it up. They have contributed to “the system” by having Social Security taxes taken out of their paychecks every week for years, but now they feel guilty for trying to use the disability insurance for which they paid. Some of them have bodies that have just worn down after long years of heavy labor; others are suffering the long-term effects of an accident or sudden illness.
Another misconception weaving its way through the media circuit is that it is easy to “get disability.” From reading some articles, you’d think that a person can wake up one morning with some aches and pains, head down to the Social Security office to sign up, and walk out with a disability check. Every one of my clients knows that this is not so. The application process alone takes several months of answering questions, gathering medical records, and attending consultative examinations. It was difficult for many of my clients to finally admit their conditions were bad enough that they had no choice but to give up working. It took humility for them to ask for help. Unfortunately, for many of my clients, the long bureaucratic process devastates their dignity. To show that they are disabled, they must share private details of their lives. Strangers peruse their medical records; examiners, attorneys, and judges require them to recount in excruciating detail their pain and their limitations.
To make matters worse, the long wait times for decisions bring additional stress and hardship to people who are already suffering due to their medical conditions. They are unable to work, so their families are struggling to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. Too many of my clients lose their cars, their homes, and sometimes their relationships while they wait in limbo for their appeals to be processed. Too many of my clients see their conditions worsen because they can’t afford the medical care they need. Many of my clients receive public benefits and Medicaid, but they are still left having to choose which of their medications they will be able to afford to refill this month and which they will have to go without. Too many of my clients die before a decision is made on their claim.
As a Social Security disability attorney, I know that the Social Security Administration is overwhelmed by more disability claims than it is able to efficiently process. I also know that there are many good, honest people who have run out of options and need Social Security disability to survive. My office staff and I strive to provide empathetic, passionate representation for our clients. It’s about more than winning claims; it’s about helping people who deserve to receive benefits because they cannot work.