The Washington Post story about Desmond Spencer has really made the rounds, and it certainly has set off discussion about waste and fraud within the disability system. How many people apply who could actually work? Is he truly disabled or just desperate? Well, I am here with the rest of the story, which, unless you have applied for disability or known someone who has, you may not realize The Post only covers the first half of a long and complex saga.
I finally had to put in my application in the summer of 2014. My doctors and I had numerous conversations, but we knew that nine day hospitalization was not going to be my last. My boss had been so patient and kind, allowing me to decrease my hours to the bare minimum, work from home/hospital/the NIH, but even that was no longer sustainable. The few hours per week I might be able to accomplish something were too unpredictable. Once my application was completed, to my surprise, the agency backdated it almost a year, because my income was so low during the last quarters I was employed. I was trying everything I possibly could to continue working, and without even realizing it, I had fallen below the amount to qualify months earlier.
Here is the secret. I still do not have a final determination. My decision to apply does not mean I will be receiving it. My state denied me twice, which is pretty much automatic unless you are terminal. I had to hire an attorney, and it took almost a year to get a hearing before a judge. The judge reviewed all of my case information: medical records, doctors’ letters, my testimony. Now I wait up to four months for his decision. I cannot begin to count the number of people who have had access to my records and reviewed them to make this determination. Even after all I have been through, there is no guarantee I will be approved.
By the time I receive the judge’s decision, it will be right at three years since I applied. During those years, I have been unable to work, unable to provide anything towards the care of my family. I have been stripped of my livelihood, had all of my most intimate details subjected to scrutiny by faceless and nameless bureaucrats and attorneys, with no guarantee of anything. So is there fraud and waste within the system? Quite possibly. But what are the chances it is significant? I would say it’s pretty low. There are some very sick people who are struggling to get it when they absolutely need it; I don’t think anyone would argue they do not.
So the next time someone makes the assumption the guy from The Post story just walked into the Social Security office and spent a few hours, then walked out with a disability check? You can let them know that is not how any of this works.