Here is an article I recently came across from the Charleston Gazette-Mail that shows how much misinformation is out there about the Social Security Disability program –  even among highly educated physicians who probably daily deal with clients who are receiving benefits from the program.  Read the article and I’ll point out the errors on the other side.

Disability should be for those who truly cannot work

By Dr. Rida Mazagri

We, as citizens of this land, have a moral code we have to live by, which is giving back to the people who gave to us, ensuring our next generation can reap the benefits.

In today’s age, we have created certain programs designed to help those who are in need, commonly known as disability benefits.

However, some people have been able to abuse this system, mostly because our definition of “disability” has been stretched. Understand that when I use the word “abuse,” I mean they have all the means of working like everyone else, yet they choose not to.

For example, some people who do not know how to read or write are on disability. Instead of giving an excuse not to work, put that money into getting them a teacher who will educate them. In doing so, they can then go back into the workforce.

In fact, claiming you do not know how to read or write is not a valid excuse. My mother did not know how to do either of those, and she still worked. And I’m sure your family did, as well, somewhere along the line.

Understand there are some people who truly desire to be on welfare because they were born with legitimate disabilities. However, we have people who exploit our system, which is causing us to waste our tax dollars on them and leaving less for those who actually need it. Today, there are more than 10.8 million Americans on Social Security Disability Insurance, which is more than $129 billion dollars spent on them.

To give you an idea of how much money that is, the federal Department of Transportation has a budget of $98.1 billion, according to its budget report from 2016. Now, keep in mind I am not claiming welfare fraud; in fact, data shows fraud is minuscule in our system. However, as stated before, our definition of who should get welfare is too loose.

As a doctor, I have had multiple patients tell me they are on disability because they do not know how to read or write — abilities anyone can acquire as long as they are taught. Why are we giving these people excuses and not investing to get them to learn? In fact, it raises another question: Why do we even have people who cannot read or write in our society? How are these people signing contracts and buying products that have warning labels on them?

Of course, the answer to this dilemma is not easy, like all things in life. However, a change needs to happen. Disability benefits should be given to those who truly need it, not for those who chose to be incompetent.

Dr. Rida Mazagri is a neurosurgeon in Charleston and Huntington.

First of all the inability to read and/or write by itself will not help someone receive Social Security Disability benefits. Dr. Mazagri is correct in saying that the inability to read or write does not preclude one from working.  My paternal grandmother could barely read or write and she worked in a factory until retirement.

The following is from 20 C.F.R. (Code of Federal Regulations), Appendix 2 to Subpart P of Part 404 – Medical-Vocational Guidelines, more commonly referred to by Social Security Disability law practitioners as “the grid rules”:

While illiteracy or the inability to communicate in English may significantly limit an individual’s vocational scope, the primary work functions in the bulk of unskilled work relate to working with things (rather than with data or people) and in these work functions at the unskilled level, literacy or ability to communicate in English has the least significance. Similarly the lack of relevant work experience would have little significance since the bulk of unskilled jobs require no qualifying work experience. Thus, the functional capability for a full range of sedentary work represents sufficient numbers of jobs to indicate substantial vocational scope for those individuals age 18-44 even if they are illiterate or unable to communicate in English.

The clearly shows the illiteracy alone is insufficient to be found disabled, especially for younger individuals.

The second error is that he refers to “disability benefits” as if it’s one program.  It’s not – there are two separate programs.  One is called Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, which is payable to those who have worked and paid in to the program and who later become disabled.  This is NOT a welfare program.  It is a program where a person who was working paid in FICA taxes (remember when we questioned “Who is this FICA guy and why is he taking a lot of my money!?”) which paid for a disability policy held by the government.  When the person becomes disabled, they can then draw this money out (plus more – but that’s for another post).

The other program is called Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.  This too is a disability program, but it is for those who have never worked; those who have worked, but haven’t worked five out of the past ten years; those who have worked part-time and didn’t earn enough to qualify for SSDI benefits; or those who were self-employed and chose not to pay taxes to the government.  This is the type of disability benefits that most people consider as being “welfare.”

The requirements for being found disabled is the same for both programs.

The third point is, and this is not meant to demean his patients, that just because his patients say they are getting disability benefits because they can’t read or write does not mean it’s true.  Often recipients are not really sure why they are getting disability benefits.  Depending on the situation, it can be a complicated determination based on the person’s age; education; to what exertional level the person is limited to now; what, if any, mental limitations they have; and their past work experience – what exertional level their past work was, whether or not their past work was unskilled, semi-skilled, or skilled, and whether or not there are transferable skills.

As a neurosurgeon I am sure he is seeing patients that have other physical problems which may truly be the basis for their disability benefits in addition to their inability to read or write.

The reason there is a higher number of individuals in the U.S. receiving Social Security Disability benefits now is multi-faceted.  A lot of the baby boomers are at the age when they are most likely to start having physical problems which may prevent them from working.  Also, the retirement age has been raised – so those people who are having great difficulty working and who would  have been eligible to retire previously will apply for Social Security disability benefits instead.  Additionally, in the last few decades there were more women in the work force who are now eligible to apply for disability benefits.  These are just a few of the reasons for the large number of individuals receiving disability benefits now.  However, this number is expected to start trending downward in the next several years.

While there are other invalid points in Dr. Mazagri’s article, I chose just a few to highlight the most common misconceptions about the Social Security disability programs.  Social Security as a whole is under attack, largely because of misinformed television “exposés” and newspaper articles such as the one above.  I want to do what I can to make sure people are aware of exactly what the programs are and what they require to be found disabled.  It’s what I do every day!