Jun 8, 2016

I Can't Get Away From Work

     I attended an opera last week and was surprised to find it exploring themes that are quite familiar to me.
     I'm not an opera buff. However, my wife and I went to Charleston, SC for a few days last week for the Spoleto Festival, as we have for more than thirty years. I generally stick to the non-opera performances but this year the main opera is George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. How could I miss an opera sung in English featuring songs such as Summertime, Bess You Is My Woman Now, I Got Plenty O' Nuttin' and It Ain't Necessarily So? My wife and I went and enjoyed it greatly.
     While Porgy and Bess is set in the African American community of Charleston in the 1920s, it may be more about the subject of disability than anything else. The opera's most important character, Porgy, is disabled, apparently by paraplegia. Gershwin based his opera on the novel Porgy written by Charleston native Dubose Heyward. The title character of that novel was loosely based upon a well known personality in Charleston, "Goat Sammy," a crippled beggar who got around in a goat cart. Heyward had been fascinated to find out that "Goat Sammy" had been arrested on a charge of aggravated assault for a crime of passion. As Heyward put it “the object of public charity by day, had a private life of his own by night." Note that this disabled man in the 1920s had to resort to begging to support himself. Yes, we still have beggars but that's generally not the fate of disabled people today and that's largely due to Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability benefits. My bigger point is that Heyward thought it important to tell the world that disabled people actually have lives apart from their disability. Disabled people are quite capable of passionate romance, among many other things. It remains a point worth making. I have seen cases where Social Security Administrative Law Judges were surprised, even affronted, by evidence that a disabled person had a life apart from their disability. How dare a disabled person father a child or become pregnant! How can a person be truly disabled if they attend church or get arrested for a crime or enjoy the company of friends and family? To think like that denies the possibility that disabled people are truly human, that they have the same hopes, dreams, pleasures, pastimes, urges, shortcomings and frailties as the rest of us.
     I don't think it's an accident that the novel Porgy dealt so much with the theme of disability. Dubose Heyward's own health was poor. He suffered from the effects of polio, as well as other illnesses. As a result of his own experiences, I expect Heyward had reason to contemplate the ways in which society thinks about the disabled. I wish those attitudes had changed more since Heyward's day.
    

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

ALJ: Have you taken any vacations or long trips, say, within the last two years?
Porgy: Well, I did hitch up my goat cart and went up to New York to look for my girlfriend, who has a problem with "happy dust."

Tim said...

I really don't see how this question (vacation) is really relevant? If someone can endure travel for a few days and walk a little more than they normally can, how does this really matter? Ultimately, it's about what you can do on a SUSTAINED basis! However, it wouldn't surprise me if a denier ALJ used merely traveling as an excuse to deny!

Anonymous said...

Ah my favorite claimant. 26 year old woman that has severe back pain, so severe there is no position she can get comfortable in. Been like this for years. She has 10 children, the oldest 12, the youngest 6 months. I bet I know one position she is fairly comfortable in....

Anonymous said...

12:32

You are a despicable person. You should consider resigning from public service. I hear here are excellent job opportunities in debt collection, repo, and payday lending.

Anonymous said...

Nah, I want to go into title pawning...

Anonymous said...

If a 26 year old has a 12 year old, she was below the age of consent when the child was conceived and more than likely was the victim of rape (see the Landry study from 1995). Repeated pregnancies could also cause back problems.

But you just want to be a jerk, huh?

Bet you don't ask most men how many children they've fathered, what role they play in childrearing, and use that in your decisions.

Anonymous said...

Who cares how many children someone has...as long as they can AFFORD to care for them without ripping into my pockets.

Tim said...

This fictional 26 year-old woman with a bad back and 10 children is a red herring! This senario was rare in the golden age of welfare, let alone in SSI/SSDFI! It's just another attempt to belittle the disabled (along with claims of "rampant fraud") by petty, greedy, uncaring people who have no real concept of what the disabled go through!

Anonymous said...

IF the story about the woman is true and I doubt 100% that it is, that woman who has 12 kids only gets paid half of her monthly benefits as if she only had one child, This is to the ignorant moron (redundant) who is willing to believe anything bad about the disabled. Hopefully the i m will never get to find out what that would be like.

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Anonymous said...

Agreed...a 26 year old with that many children is probably not common. I did have a 33 year old woman files who had 11 though. It does happen. If I remember right, the oldest was 15 and the youngest was less than a year old.

Anonymous said...

Yes, claimants trying to "have a life" is used all to often by ALJs to show the claimant isn't disabled. I had an ALJ turn down a claimant who had a stroke. Part of his main "proof" she could work was that she rode in a car (her husband drove) 8 hours out of state to a relative's wedding. Appealed to appeals council which upheld it. Meanwhile, she had a second stroke. The next ALJ found her disabled the day after the first hearing...

Anonymous said...

Yep, about that "having a life". Have a homeless client right now waiting for his hearing. Over age 60, a botched hip replacement left one leg substantially shorter than the other. Should meet grids. But he asked for viagra at one doctor's visit (homeless, remember?) and admitted to selling food stamps for cash. Guess how this one is going to go?

Another client, in the middle of the hearing the ALJ looked at the county clerk's online criminal court records to find that my client had been convicted of violating probation, something that was nowhere in the record. He proceeded to grill my client about the situation.

Third client, a refugee from the Bosnian civil war, who had had 2 kidney replacement surgeries. Evidence that she liked to sit in her garden (on a stool) and weed her flower bed and that she traveled once during the time period to Bosnia to visit family was used to show lack of seriously impaired RFC.

Anonymous said...

There are certainly people that need help. However, I think for every egregious denial I can equal it with a story of egregious fraud. Does that make it any better? No, but it shows things "even out". If you're under the impression the government cares about anything more than numbers, you're in for s rude awakening.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. Very inspiring and good food for thought.

Tim said...

3:33 PM "EVEN OUT" for the government? Sounds a lot like an accountant! Unfortunately, it doesn't "even out" for the victims of denier judges! SSA has a responsibility to ultimately make the right decision for every claimant. Allowing ALJs to deny for frivolous "reasons" or to simply approve everyone to get bigger bonuses are equally egregious. Taxpayers and claimants both must receive a fair hearring and, if necessary, a fair appeal. If ALJs are incappable of being fair and management is incapplable of insuring that fairness, then either or both should be removed/reassigned! All the petty SSA infighting seems to lack what the focus should be: determining whether individual claimants meet the requirements, or not!

Anonymous said...

It's exactly like an ACCOUNT to the government - that's just fact. I love it every day. There is no individual cases issues as long as the "numbers" look good. As for "fair"...really? Fair is pie in the sky across the board. Nothing is ever "fair". I agree the hearing should be impartial, but no one is expecting "fair" I hope. I'm not a proponent of making things in life "fair". That's not the role of the government. Equal, but not fair.
As long as you have human beings making these decisions, we will all have these issues.

Tim said...

7:15 AM I know, life's not fair... What I mean by "fair" is an honorable, honest, just attempt to determine if the individual meets the qualifications of SSI/SSDI! I don't expect anyone to be perfect, but I would expect a judge to make an unbiased, reasoned judgement. Part of doing that is to understand that doctors aren't attempting to document their records for SSA, but rather for their own use. Some are better record keepers than others. If it was all in the records, perhaps many more claimants would be approved earlier. Unfortunately, too many ALJs (read some of the comments from ODAR-such as Chicago) come into the hearing just looking for an excuse to deny. I'm sure I could find SOMETHING in EVERY claimants file to use as an excuse to deny or approve! As for "EQUAL," an ALJ could treat everyone "EQUALLY" and still be unjust! Also, if it's just about numbers to management and Congress and fairness is irrelevant, why bother paying management, DDS, ALJs, reps, VEs, MEs and the AC? Have Senator Lankford set a number he's willing to pay and set up a lottery among the claimants. Each claimant would then have an "EQUAL" chance!!

Anonymous said...

That's exactly how the claimants treat it, as a LOTTERY! It's really a system that needs a complete overhaul.

And EQUAL is all the government really cares about. EQUAL means things even out. You are correct that someone can be treated equal but receive an unjust decision. But again, for every unjust denial, there's probably an unjust allowance somewhere.

The numbers look good and the beaurocrats are happy. It sucks but it's the government.

Tim said...

"The bureaucratic mentality is the one constant in the universe!" Doctor McCoy-Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.