Recent reports of fraud within Social Security are misleading

Social Security disability fraud is a controversial and much-discussed topic these days. Many people are convinced that collecting disability benefits is as easy as showing up with a doctor's note and that the money received is enough to live comfortably and discourages hard work. It's easy to see why, with these views on the subject, so many people are also ready to believe that our Social Security system is just full of people getting an undeserved full ride.

Disability as portrayed in the media

There are two news stories, recently published, that seem to confirm the idea of a system riddled with fraud. In a recent story on the NPR news program All Things Considered, the Social Security disability program was described as "a de facto welfare program for people without a lot of education or job skills." The implication being that these people, rather than going out and finding a job that they are qualified for, just sign up for disability and give up on work. This report also talked about a company, Public Consulting Group, that is paid to review the files of people on welfare in a given state and get as many of them on disability instead. The general gist of the article is that more and more people are receiving disability benefits even while they are physically capable of work.

In early October, 60 Minutes ran a story that promoted much of the same ideas as the NPR story, mainly that the program is full of people who don't deserve the benefits they are receiving. This story revolved mainly around Senator Tom Coburn's investigation into fraud in the Social Security system. That investigation found that 25 percent of approved cases should not have been approved and a further 20 percent were deemed questionable.

The media does not report the whole picture

Both of these stories have come under heavy criticism from disability organizations all over the country. The NPR piece, in particular, has been criticized for its statistics on the rise in child disability. The story implies that the number of children receiving disability benefits has exploded as a result of a change in the welfare laws that incentivize states to get families and children off welfare and onto disability. However, as Harold Pollack points out in a recent blog post on The Century Foundation's website, "the rise in the child SSI caseloads is dwarfed by the decline in the number of children receiving cash assistance after the 1996 welfare reform."

The 60 Minutes piece was widely denounced as misleading. Most notably, the program misrepresented the ease with which applicants are granted benefits. In truth, the American Social Security Disability standard is one of the strictest in the world, coming in second only to Korea. Roughly 40 percent of all applicants are granted benefits, and of those that do receive disability benefits, the majority have severe ailments such as cancer, emphysema, and congestive heart failure.

If you are suffering with a disability, do not be put off by these recent stories showing disability recipients in a negative light. Talk to an experienced Social Security attorney to discuss your potential eligibility to receive disability benefits.