Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Disability Retirement- A Broken System

Seal of the United States Social Security Admi...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I don’t even know if disability retirement is the correct term, but that’s how I usually describe the fact that I no longer work. Actually, today is the four-year anniversary of my last day at the office. I believe this milestone gives me the right and perhaps the obligation to stand on my soapbox and editorialize for a moment.

The creeping paralysis that I’ve endured over the past 12 years has taken its toll. But no loss was more acute than being considered fully employed one day and completely and permanently disabled the next. Of course, that is not how chronic diseases really behave, but it is how disability policy does. My transition out of the workplace should have been a slow, gentle process. Maybe I’ll write about that in more detail later, but it’s not the primary objective of this blog post.

Other than its somewhat arbitrary date, my transition into disability retirement couldn’t have gone better. I had several things in my favor. First, I worked for a company which offered long-term disability insurance as part of their benefits package. Therefore, I now receive more income than people who rely solely on Social Security disability checks.

Second, Kim has a secure job with a good salary. This means that we still have enough combined income to maintain a comfortable lifestyle and enjoy a certain amount of financial security.

Third, Kim’s medical insurance policy covered me for the 2½ year waiting period between the time I stopped working and the time I qualified for Medicare. That’s right – when you become so sick that you can no longer work, and you subsequently lose your medical insurance which was provided by your employer, Medicare waits 2½ years before stepping in. That makes a lot of sense.

images Fourth, the medical benefits I receive through Kim’s insurance will continue to supplement my Medicare policy until she retires. As anyone over 65 years old knows, Medicare falls short of complete coverage in many respects, not the least of which is prescription drug coverage.

I am, however, the exception to the rule. Most people who take disability retirement because of multiple sclerosis or similar chronic conditions are not as fortunate. Many such individuals find themselves without affordable medical coverage for the first 2½ years and without adequate income for the rest of their lives. And these hardships occur when things have never been worse, medically or financially. Their cost of living has skyrocketed because this is such an expensive disease to live with. It’s not only the costs of doctors, hospitals, and medicines. There are also the expenses associated with mobility devices such as canes, scooters, wheelchairs, and vans, not to mention home health care workers, roll-in showers, ramps, and grab bars, if not an entirely new house.

For a well written, first-hand account of what I describe above, please read my friend Muff’s blog post here.

No other developed nation treats their most disadvantaged citizens so callously. It’s no way for people to live in the 21st century, in the world’s richest country. We are better than this.

I believe that most people aren’t even aware of how weak our social safety net is for people with chronic diseases. I certainly wasn’t until I became well-versed in these issues out of necessity about four years ago.

In the current political environment, government austerity measures seem inevitable. We are only debating the severity of the cuts, and the new levels of acceptable misery. I would argue, however, that the question regarding benefits for disabled individuals shouldn’t be, “How much less can we get away with doing?” The question should be, “How can we do more?”
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  1. Brother Mitch. I too worry about this quite a bit. Not so much from the austerity measures but from the fact that there are record numbers of people who are decidedly NOT disabled enough that they can't work (I say this by our yardstick which meant we wrung the washrag dry and physically couldn't work anymore) who are getting approved to go on the same role you and I are on in record numbers. Although I seriously doubt it will ever happen, we need to push for means testing for SSDI. begrudge no one who is truly disabled to get approved but I would venture to say that record numbers of people are not becoming disabled but rather record numbers of people are lawyering up and getting approved after long term unemployment. It keeps me up at night! I, too, feel very fortunate to have a wife that makes a good salary and also has solid insurance.


  2. Mitch, thanks for the shout-out! I agree with Lew above. Our system needs work!

  3. Lew, don't get me started! People going on disability who don't deserve it is like the guy who uses a handicap parking spot and then jogs into the store, except times 1 million. As you know, there is a lengthy application process that is supposed to weed out the pretenders, but I keep hearing that it denies truly deserving people and approves fraudulent applications all too often. Sounds like the whole system needs an overhaul, from who qualifies to what benefits they deserve. I dare them to put you and me in charge!

    Muffie, I was obviously inspired to write this post after reading your post last week. I think quite a few people clicked on my link to your piece. Thanks for sharing your personal story online.

  4. It does, and it's maddening. I can't screen cap the picture on the link in Facebook but it says EXACTLY this: No Job? Disability HELP!. I clicked it and, well, here you go:

    Crazy, just crazy.


  5. Well said, Mitch. And thanks for the link to Muff. I wish more people knew what life was like down this rabbit hole, and that there was some way to put it in front of people without sounding whiney or complainy.