Who’s cheating who? Part two

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on May 24, 2018 # Mobility, Advocacy and Policy

There are millions of people in America who don’t want the federal government to do anything for anybody except them. Protesters used to follow Barak Obama around with signs reading, “Keep Your Hands Off My Medicare!” as if Medicare were a God-given right and not a government health support system. Many if not most social programs are increasingly seen as giveaways. All of them, the story goes, are the spurious outgrowth of the Nanny State. Plus, they are easy to game -- all kinds of no-counts and deadbeats and grifters are putting our money into their pockets.

Recently, people with disabilities have taken on a new status among these alleged deadbeats and scammers.

Even if you don’t follow the daily Washington political news about disability – I confess, I only infrequently do -- you’ve probably heard of HR 620, recently killed in the US Senate by Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois. HR 620 would have required a written claim to document a violation of public access under the ADA and then the business being charged would have 60 days to respond and an additional 120 days to make “substantial progress” – whatever that means. Businesses could then make changes incrementally, spending as little as possible for as long as possible.

The House liked this idea of dragging out violations of an act that became law 28 years ago and passed the bill in February of this year. Sen. Duckworth – the woman elected to Congress living with a disability, and more recently, the first senator to breastfeed on the Senate floor – gathered 42 of her Senate colleagues to oppose passage and urged for it not to be brought up to the Senate.. At least for now.

The most insidious and far-reaching assault on people with disabilities is the backlash accompanying the sharp rise of applications for federal disability insurance, the twin programs of SDI and SSDI. There are any number of legitimate explanations for this surge – population growth, the aging of baby boomers, lower death rates, etc. – but in a climate of suspicion towards anyone receiving a government check, the most nefarious theories gain traction. In the run-up to the last election, Senator Rand Paul made his own attitude clear. He pointed out that over half of the people on disability have back problems or acute anxiety.

“Join the club,” he said, “Who doesn’t get a little anxious for work every day and their back hurts?” And who doesn’t have a little heart problem or a little diabetes or a touch of COPD? The logical conclusion here: either none of us should get disability insurance or all of us should.

I speak with no authority about the SDI or SSDI, but those who have experience with the system tell me that the idea that it’s a snap to get accepted is nonsense. Rebecca Cokley, Senior Fellow for Disability Policy at the Center for American Progress, puts it like this:

“The media likes to perpetuate these fraud myths, but I don’t know anyone, anywhere, who has found it easy to get on SSDI.” Her own mother, also a little person, tried to sign up in 2001 and the examiner asked her, with a completely straight face, “Why haven’t you grown?” A childhood friend with debilitating Crohn’s disease has never been accepted into the program. There are no doubt people who slip through with a phony excuse and a friendly doctor’s note but the more the Rand Paul’s of the world blanketly condemn the whole operation, the harder it will become for legitimate applicants to surmount this wall of suspicion.

The cumulative effect of all the issues about disability currently being bandied about – from fake service animals to shady lawsuits to SSI/SSDI fraud – is to create obstacles and delays and red tape that will make life more difficult for anyone with a disability. As “disability cheater” enters the lexicon, it adds another layer to the social stigma people with disabilities already live with. Along with weak, helpless, unreliable, contentious, thin-skinned, and odd now comes dishonest and possibly a full-blown shyster.

In the world-weary words of philosopher Rosanne Roseannadanna: “It’s always something!”