I am disabled. I was dragged into the disability application process five years after I quit working because of health issues. Doctors, physical therapists and family members finally convinced me to go through the difficult, often humiliating labyrinth that is applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Why did I wait so long? Because I didn't want the label. Because I still hoped I could get better. Because I am a Republican.
A Sept. 26 commentary by Will Nagle ("Humanity by numbers") was an insulting misrepresentation of GOP opinion and a staggering display of misunderstanding of the disabled, poor and elderly. The opinions and examples in the article were tenuous at best, frightening at worst. Many will read it and believe it represents the thought processes of all Republicans, instead of those of this solitary fringe writer.
Nagle states: "Too many healthy American adults are on disability who should not be." Where are his facts?
Here's a fact he could have misused: Since millions of citizens used up their 99-week unemployment insurance, disability claims rose by 2.2 million. The critical word is "claims." To be declared disabled, one must prove the "inability to engage in a substantial gainful activity in the U.S. economy." That's a high bar the Social Security Administration set to weed out erroneous claims.
According to the SSA, on first attempt an average of 28 percent of claims are successful. On appeal, 3 percent are successful. For those who continue to a hearing before a federal judge, the success rate is 13 percent. The average wait for a disability claim to process is approximately two years.
I wonder how anyone pulls off a fraudulent disability claim. The process is daunting, with mounds of paperwork; letters and forms from multiple physicians explaining your disability; painful statements from friends and family about how your disability affects not only you, but them; access to all medical records; a required examination by a SSA doctor, and much more. The SSA also has an active fraud department. Nobody is declared disabled because his "back hurts from time to time."
The Target employee in a wheelchair who Nagle uses to "prove" his argument that disabled people can work show that he's uninformed about the SSDI policy allowing the disabled to work and earn up to $1,000 per month. Such an employee may be collecting SSDI benefits.
The number of Americans receiving government benefits is problematic for the economy. But it's a reflection of a bad economy, not the cause. People collect food stamps, unemployment and other benefits because they can't find jobs. Lack of jobs and an administration that doesn't seem to understand basic economic principles is the cause.
The majority of Republicans understand that. They aren't blaming the ones who need help because of a recession; they blame the Obama administration and its economic policies. Republicans aren't monsters who don't want people to be able to eat, keep their homes or receive disability benefits when they need it. They want to weed out fraud, of course. But what they want most is to change America's course so this many people won't need government programs.
Some Republicans call Obama the "food stamp president." People gasp, clutch their pearls, call Republicans "racists," etc. They're missing the point. We're appalled that more Americans need food assistance than ever before not because we hate those who need it, but because we hate the policies that have made it necessary.
I don't usually "out" myself as a disabled Republican. When I do, Republicans sometimes ask why I'm disabled, because my disabilities are "invisible" except on occasions when I need to use my cane. Those who have raked me over the coals, have torn me apart or have treated me with disdain have been Democrats. I guess that's why Nagle's worldview shocks me. It reads like a parody.
Nagle's final uninformed insult that we should "see a few more canes" rather than help the elderly who need joint replacements was flippant and deplorable. I wouldn't wish the pain of a joint that needs replacing on anyone.
I spent my energy on this article because I believe when misinformation stands unchallenged, it becomes the truth. We must do what is within our power to allow the real truth to stand.
Crystal Kelley lives in Eden Prairie.