• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • Able-Bodied People Defrauding Social Security Disability Program

    After shimmying up trees and doing away with storm debris, the obviously able-bodied tree trimmer asked his customer, “Could you make the check out to my mom? I’m on disability.” Inconveniently for him, the tree trimmer’s customer was Senator Tom Coburn (R–OK).

    This guy asked a U.S. Senator to help him defraud the Social Security Disability program.

    In fact, Coburn is one of the last legislators you want to let in on such a scheme, having built a reputation of going after waste, fraud, and abuse. After witnessing the man shimmy up trees while collecting government disability benefits, Coburn wondered, “How widespread is the abuse?”


    An 18-month investigation by a Senate subcommittee reports that in more than 25 percent of cases reviewed, evidence confirming disabilities was “insufficient, contradictory, or incomplete.” The staff reviewed 300 decisions in which individuals were awarded disability benefits by administrative law judges. A 2011 internal Social Security Administration report echoed the findings, showing a national error rate of 22 percent.

    Coburn, a medical doctor, personally reviewed the application and evidence in 100 individual cases. His summation was even more startling: “In about 75% of the cases I went through, people were not truly disabled.”

    Enormous inconsistencies emerged after looking at how judges reviewed evidence. Coburn said, “you could flip a coin for anybody that came before the Social Security commission for disability and get it right just as often as the judges.”

    A recipient’s award is not chump change, averaging $1,111 per month and $300,000 over the course of a lifetime. In addition, after a 24-month waiting period, SSDI beneficiaries qualify for Medicare benefits.  In SSDI, disabilities include a range of problems, but about one-third of the diagnoses are mental disorders.

    Giving disability payments to people who don’t need it is outrageous on many levels. Not only is it criminal, but it offends our sensibilities of fairness, runs counter to the American work ethic, and fuels the coming bankruptcy of a very important safety net program.

    In April, the 2012 Social Security trustees’ report projected that the disability trust fund will be exhausted in 2016—two years sooner than last year’s report and sooner than any other federal entitlement trust fund.

    The program’s precarious financial footing has accelerated in the last five years because of an astounding 23 percent increase in those on the rolls, bringing the total to 11 million beneficiaries. The surge is not simply a result of baby boomers reaching their disability-prone years. It’s the economy. People are losing their jobs and making a run for disability support.  In fact, Heritage analyst James Sherk reports that the rise in SSDI rolls accounts for about a third of the drop in labor force participation between 2007 and 2011; overall, six percent of the country’s adult population say they are not working due to a disability.

    Action is needed. The Social Security Disability Income program is meant to provide a safety net to one of our most vulnerable populations—individuals with disabilities who can no longer work. It supports the neighbor coping with severe brain injury from a car accident and the family member whose multiple sclerosis has progressed to a stage where work is no longer possible. We value and believe in such a safety net.

    Congress needs to find solutions; Senator Coburn laid out a series of steps the agency can take to improve the reliability of judges’ disability decisions.

    That will not be enough to save the program, however. For the larger problems, Congress needs to reform entitlements and enact pro-growth policies similar to those proposed in The Heritage Foundation’s Saving the American Dream. As Heritage expert David John notes, “modest changes will not fix the current system.” Boldness in fighting fraud and reforming entitlements is needed.

    Posted in Economics [slideshow_deploy]

    14 Responses to Able-Bodied People Defrauding Social Security Disability Program

    1. Stirling says:

      The Defrauding is just part of the nature of any public government program.

      My theory is that Entitlements only work in a real captialist free market system (with minimal government opression on it's economy).. The closer a country gets to a communist/socialist/marxist state when it comes to government burdens (taxes,regulation) the more the "Entitlement" system falls apart.. So in essance the closer you get to a "Nany State" the more the "Nany State" entitlements will fail.. (Greece as an example)

      If the people who depend on government promises fought as much against the corruption as they do fighting for their benefits there would be more accountability to insure the abuse stops and the "Nany State" would be seen as a threat, and not a good thing.

    2. gynodoc says:

      The abuse of this program is one of the largest scams perpetrated on the taxpayers. There is big money for the lawyers. Just observe the number of ads on TV. I see many able bodied patients who are on disability for minimal depression and other minor ailments. I even had a lawyer ask me to testify that his client should be given disability after she started having pelvic pain caused by a sexually transmitted disease that occurred because a grocery cart struck her in the stomach. Even a layman should know STDs are not caused by grocery carts

    3. @undefined says:

      Laura, its obvious you lack a great deal of knowledge about the social security system. Do you also not know reviews are completed every 3, 5, 7 years to determine if a person is still disabled or not?

      To get on disability, you cant just allege, you need medical proof to back up your claim and it has to be from acceptable medical sources like MD's, etc, not nurses, etc.

      So if a person gets on for a less disabling condition, chances are when they are reviewed, they will be off of benefits.

      Again, grow some knowledge before you start writing, this is a ridiculous article.

      • Cimo Sabi says:

        I am afraid that you sound knowledgeable but have blinders on. The system is as corrupt as any other "welfare" system. I see it all the time. Compare this system to the Disabled tag for your automobile. More healthy people than qualified people have a tag and never turn them in when they ought. SSI has similar abuse which costs us all. I am sure we all know a few people that cause us to question their eligibility. I care not who you are, in this "modern" world one can no longer speak positively nor authoritatively on social programs. They are all corrupted.

        • Skeptical says:

          At least the handicapped tag doesn't require the rest of us to pay for it. In fact, on the whole, they're doing us a favor: by using some of the huge number of handicapped spaces set aside, they leave more "regular" spaces for the rest of us. As long as businesses are required to set aside a huge number of spaces, someone ought to be able to use them.

    4. @undefined says:

      I'm having some serious questions about disability that I can't get real answers for. could you possibly ,please, take a quick moment to look at my twitter posts ?, recently i've been scheduled for review on my permanent disability after 10 years ,and the doctor/clinic/facility assigned by disability is totally inappropriate for my issues and my mum and I are afraid to go there.the facility specializes in drugs and aids and they have a 24 hr. addiction chat line,that's really creepy, and we found complaints about them ,online.
      I am completely totally the opposite of an addict and so is my mum. we get silly just looking at a bottle of wine, because we try a little for our health,red wine to clear arteries and for the heart.
      I posted their link on twitter and i wrote a note on Facebook, the link is on twitter. I won't put links here.
      thanks, sincerely,

    5. Fred says:

      I am regretfully on disability. I was badly hurt on the job. I am in constant severe pain and cannot walk without a walker. I sued the workman's comp insurance company and won. That money lasted me two years. In Florida, there is a new law limiting awards for workman's comp. I sold all of my assets and lived off of that for about three years. I then applied for disability and when they got my X-Rays, I was quickly granted disability. No doctors will operate on me. I won't take opiate pain killers, so I take 32 Moutrins a day. I get in one month what I used to make in a couple of days. I would love to go back to work. I can't even get in the car to get there.

      • Bobbie says:

        Fred, your situation is why it exists. The government is handing it out discriminatingly making a case for anyone they want. I know a woman or knew a woman on full ss benefits because she has COPD!! While I knew her on SS she SMOKES TWO PACKS A DAY EVEN THOUGH SHE'S ON OXYGEN! It's people who's behavior causes their disability shouldn't receive assistance and where their behavior can change to help themselves and will change or die when government isn't the safety net that accommodates unhealthy choices! Type 2 diabetes has been forewarned since the 70's. Anyone with type 2 diabetes is caused by behavior but when government is the "safety net" the government will make anything appear the way it isn't. The government is wrong to intrude while they abuse their authority to dismantle charities that were there for people truly in need! All unconstitutional government brings is controlled corruption that we the people are left to do nothing about! God Bless you, Fred!

    6. Harvey1 says:

      He needs to check into the dummy money for children. People are schooling parents on how to claim their child is mentally challenged. There is nothing wrong with the child almost all of the time. This is criminal, but nobody seems to care. The lawyers need to lose their licenses and the parents need to be in jail.

    7. Stuart A. Forbes says:

      This irritates me to no end. My wife is on SSDI. She was initially turned down and it took nearly two years to be approved. My wife was an RN. She loved her job. After a severe car accident and two surgery's resulting in hardware spanning six vertibre on her neck, she could no longer do nursing. She tried to teach pre-nursing at a tech school after that to continue doing what she loved. She eventually had to stop that also. Going on SSDI was very emotional for my wife. She broke down into tears when she was told by her Doctor that she could no longer do what she saw as her calling. My wife is now on a pain regimen. The amount of medication she requires just to function is overwhelming. Her faith is what gives her the strength to cope day to day. You know, clinging to her religion and guns and being afraid of people that don't look like her. Obama turns my stomach. He has waived the strict requirements just to skew the job numbers. This man has no shame.

    8. Tossaway says:

      Like any bureaucracy, the people involved have no incentive to make a serious effort to stop waste or fraud. Power and money comes from quantity, not quality. The more people on disability, the more workers and money are needed. A senior manager that tries to fight fraud will soon be out of a job, because it's much easier to remove the "troublemaker" than the constituent defrauding the public. Moreover, the people getting the benefits vote, and they aren't likely to vote for someone who might make a serious effort at cutting waste and fraud, because that increase the chance that they might get caught. The politicians don't benefit from serious crackdowns for that same reason. The fundamental problem is the creation of the program in the first place. A program that does not exist does not have an entrenched constituency. I don't see anything short of a complete collapse of civilization and the starvation of both the deadbeats and the honestly disabled from removing this program, and even then only until someone fairly charismatic manages to avoid being executed long enough to convince enough "do-gooders" that society would be better off if government, rather than private charity, helps those in need, and then the cycle begins again. Democracies eat their own children.

    9. Mike S says:

      Sadly, going on disability as one approaches retirement age is rapidly becoming the new norm. Many employers use SSD finding as their test for getting a company disability pension. These are often more generous which makes it a double windfall for someone who was going to retire soon anyway. That plus the fact that after two years SSD awards Medicare regardless of age.
      I have no problem with truly disabled collecting SSD. But it it obvious that many are gaming the system.

    10. Dawn Smith says:

      It irritates me that so those that really need disability have such trouble getting it. I am on disability for epilepsy and the the side effects from the meds that I take. I have trouble concentrating and remembering (like the old saying, once the mind goes…) I lose stuff easily. So working with money is not a good idea, and working a file system in a office is not a good idea either. I am single track minded so multitasking is never good. Too much at one time sometimes sends me into seizures. My income is really low. I live below the poverty line. I would love to work, but the things I can do is limited. Some people are forcing themselves to do work just to survive. But with disasterous results. And it is all because the acts of a few causes problems for many!

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.