According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), the Disability Insurance Trust Fund’s share of the overall annual cost of the Social Security program peaked in 2003, not 2011. In fact, SSA projects that the number of workers per disability beneficiary is expected to be relatively stable in the future. This means that restoring sustainability for SSDI will not require continually greater benefit cuts or revenue increases. A one-time change to offset the drop in birth rate will sustain the program into the foreseeable future.
Myth: An increasing number of people taking advantage of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program is accelerating Social Security’s insolvency.
Myth: The high unemployment rate is the primary reason that more Americans are seeking SSDI benefits. The program is becoming an extension of unemployment insurance.
It is a misrepresentation to claim that a surge in unemployed applicants are looking to get on the public dole through SSDI. Applications are higher than they were years ago because the population has increased, Baby-Boomers are getting older and having more disabilities, more women are working so they are more likely to be insured and to be injured, and medical advancements are saving the lives of people with serious medical conditions that used to be fatal.
Myth: The current SSDI program is set up so that it keeps able-bodied people out of the workforce when they are employable.
Disability benefits are so low compared even to minimum-wage work that it cannot reasonably be considered an incentive not to work. And benefits do not start right away, even for those who successfully complete the difficult application process. Furthermore, the program has many incentives built in for those who want to return to work, including trial work periods, insurance continuation, and even retraining.
Myth: It has never been easier to obtain Social Security disability benefits.
Getting disability approval is harder than ever. Undocumented pain, alcoholism and drug abuse have been disqualified as qualifying disabilities. Mental retardation and HIV standards are tougher. Diabetes and obesity are no longer distinct disabilities. In addition, applicants must now present objective medical evidence of disability before ever receiving a single dollar in SSDI benefits.
Myth: Undeserving claimants are creating a backlog that prevents the most disabled Americans, including the terminally ill, from getting the SSDI benefits they need to survive.
The Social Security Administration has taken a series of steps to ensure that severely ill applicants, including those with cancer, get an immediate review and their applications are processed before other claimants. In addition, claimant’s representatives are increasing their efforts to expedite appeals and make the entire process more efficient to help eliminate the backlog.
Myth: Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) are bankrupting the Social Security Disability Insurance program by rubber stamping every disability claim that they hear.
Despite sensational media reports, the average ALJ approval rate for 2011 was 58 percent, down from 63% in 2009 and from 72.3% in 1994. In 2011, one ALJ had an approval rate as low as 12.7 percent. Furthermore, more than three-quarters of all decisions favoring the disability claimant are made by state agencies before ever reaching an ALJ. In all, ALJ decisions comprise less than 25 percent of all SSDI awards.
Myth: ALJs do not examine the individual merits of each case; instead, they just approve every disability that they review.
ALJs approve only a small percentage of the overall claims approved, and they apply strict standards that have led to them approving a lower percentage of claims than they did a few years ago. But they do approve some claims that previously were denied, because ALJ hearings are most claimants' first opportunity to actual explain why they are disabled, and to bring witnesses. ALJs also often get help from expert witnesses to help them make the right decision. Even though delays are becoming shorter, many people get worse waiting for a hearing, and they continue to receive medical treatment so that ALJs have more evidence than existed before their hearings.
Myth: Social Security attorneys get rich by helping undeserving applicants cheat the system.
Social Security claimant's representatives' fees are highly regulated by the courts for attorneys, and the Social Security Administration for all representatives. Federal court appeals are so difficult and time-consuming, and the fees are so limited, that few lawyers want to handle them. The fees approved both in and out of court are lower than in almost any field of law, so the representation of claimants tends to attract people committed to public service who are motivated to discourage frivolous claims that could overload an already burdened system.