May 1, 2015

The Great Ideas Keep Coming

     A press release:
Today, Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) and Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany (R-LA) introduced H.R. 2135, the Promoting Opportunity for Disability Benefit Applicants Act. The bill would authorize the Commissioner of Social Security to provide information on employment support services to individuals who are not awarded disability benefits.
Currently, applicants wait 100 days on average for an initial decision regarding a claim for benefits. Research shows this time out of the workforce makes it that much harder for denied applicants to get back to work.
To help people return to work, the bill authorizes the Commissioner of Social Security to provide denied applicants information on employment support services—both public and private non-profit—so that they may reenter the workforce instead of cycling through the application process. The bill provides information to denied applicants about services that may help them return to work and would not affect any appeal for disability benefits.   

Upon introduction, Chairman Johnson said, “We must do a better job of helping those individuals who can and want to work to do so. This bill makes sure Social Security tells these individuals about services that can help them connect to jobs.”

Upon introduction, Chairman Boustany said, “This bill provides access to important employment and work supports for individuals in need so that they can gain the necessary skills and job placement services to reenter the workforce quickly. Helping Americans find and keep good jobs to support themselves and their families is and should be our top priority.”

This bill is supported by the National Council of Disability Determination Directors and Easter Seals.  

Other House Ways and Means Committee Members co-sponsoring this legislation include Rep. Black (R-TN), Rep. Reed (R-NY), and Rep. Young (R-IN).  
     It's amazing. Republicans believe that government is almost infinitely wasteful and ineffective (except for the Defense Department) yet here are Republicans who have great faith in the ability of state vocational rehabilitation (VR) departments to return disabled people to work. My experience with the North Carolina Department of Vocational Rehabilitation is that they're so obsessed with returning a high percentage of their clients to work that the only disabled people they want to help are those who will succeed in returning to work even if they get no help at all. This isn't because the people at VR are bad or lazy or incompetent. It's because they lack the resources to help many people. They don't even have sheltered workshops anymore! I don't know how VR is supposed to accomplish anything without sheltered workshops.
     I've recently had a young client with combined cognitive difficulties and mental illness who went to VR. The only thing VR could do for him was to get him a job at a fast food restaurant and provide him with a job coach for two weeks. Predictably, he failed at the job shortly after the job coach was removed. His family took him back to VR but they had no further interest in helping him. You call this vocational rehabilitation? He should have been in a sheltered workshop first. If he showed promise there, he should have been placed in a real job with a job coach. The job coach should have worked with him for far longer than two weeks. VR shouldn't have stopped helping him just because he failed at his first job.
     If this proposed legislation advances you're going to have state vocational rehabilitation agencies lobbying against it because they don't want to be inundated by denied Social Security disability applicants. If it passes, the vast number of people who are told by Social Security to go to VR will be turned away by VR. How does that look?
     These House Republicans don't get it. The vast majority of those denied Social Security disability benefits aren't going to return to work no matter what anyone does. They're too sick.


Anonymous said...

If this bill proposed giving both information AND federal funding to state voc rehab departments, it might do some small good. However, in my experience, voc rehab in my state is horribly under-funded and lacks the resources and manpower to do much good.

But I share in Charles' statement that the vast majority of disability applicants are too sick to work. That fact won't magically change if with their denial claimants are given a shiny pamphlet telling them to call their local voc rehab dept.

Anonymous said...

The vast majority of applicants are disabled? Really? Then clearly for decades we've had the whole process irrationally backwards. Claimants should not have to prove disability; instead, all claimants should be approved upon application and it should be the government's burden to prove disentitlement.

When your argument leads to the conclusion that everybody else must be acting irrationally, it's probably you who's being irrational.

Anonymous said...

My clients and I would love to have a viable option in vocational rehabilitation training, but like all other social service agencies, it is one of the first places where funding is cut during the permanent era of budget crises in my state. In fact, one can not even tell from one fiscal year to the next exactly what services are offered, because it changes every single year.

40 years ago I got help from the state VR system to go to law school. I guess the agencies followed the same criteria back then as now: help those who are likely to have success. My disability? I am deaf in one ear. I had never heard of vocational rehab, but as you can imagine, my parents loved learning of such a place that would give money to their high-achieving "handicapped" daughter.

Anonymous said...

11:10: you didn't read my response. I didn't say that the vast majority of applications are disabled. I said that the vast majority are too sick to return to work. Big difference. They may not be able to meet the strict criteria of "disability" as defined by SSA, but I can assure you that most are truly sick and won't be returning to work.

Anonymous said...

The group of those found not disabled who really cannot become employed is fairly big and does not just consist of those whose claims were misadjudicated. Many of those I see turned down fall into one of these categories:

-People who in fact are limited enough to meet the disability standard but who currently are not able to document it sufficiently (particularly impoverished people, un/underinsured, and/or those whose disabilities interfere with their ability to attend regular treatment).

-Correctly found not disabled as a legal matter, but none of the few jobs they can do that exist in the economy have openings.

-Claimant meets the minimal requirements for some jobs, but due to medical conditions is not competitive enough an applicant to ever get hired at any of them.

These might correctly be found not disabled, but nevertheless, are unable to get and maintain substantial employment due in large part to their disabilities. I suspect that is one reason why the stats show that a high percentage of those turned down for disability are still unemployed months or even years later.

Anonymous said...

So much would be fixed if we taxed the 1% and had socialized healthcare.

Anonymous said...

No, 11:58, I did read your response carefully, as well as Charles's post (and everything else here; I'm a lawyer and reading things carefully is what I'm paid to do). You both said the vast majority of applicants are "too sick" to "work." (Charles said the vast majority of those "denied"; I'm pretty sure he believes that the vast majority of those approved can't work, either). That's essentially the definition of Social Security disability.

Look, if you (or Charles) want to argue that the disability scheme in this country should have a looser standard - such as inability to keep doing the specific job you were doing when you became disabled, like private LTD insurance, or a duration requirement of less than a year, or whatever - then that's fine. Just say so, and make a case for it. That's the beauty of our political process.

But don't whine and insinuate that under the standard we do have, the vast majority of applicants are, in effect, denied justice. That insults everyone at DDS and ODAR.

Now, if it's your and Charles's contention that, in a strictly factual sense, the vast majority of applicants won't return to work, that's at least closer to the truth (although I see plenty of claimants with prior denials who went back to work for years before filing again). But whether people will or won't isn't the standard; it's whether they can. The reasons people won't are legion and "[objectively] too sick" is just one of them. "[Subjectively] too sick" - or in other words, "I don't feel up to it" - is another one. Lots of people don't want to try a different type of job, especially a "menial," unskilled one. And yes, vocational adjustment is not exactly easy and stress-free, but it's far from impossible. Lots and lots of applicants conflate the practical difficulty of finding work (due to the national economy, or their own regional (or microregional) economy, or their own non-medical hindrances, such as poor work history, poor work ethic, or even just the burden of taking care of children or disabled/elderly parents) with functional difficulty in actually working. Again, if you want a safety net that protects all these situations, just be honest about it.

Anonymous said...

Well said, 1:41!

Anonymous said...

2:02: if you are a lawyer, you either don't read as well as you claim or you don't understand the SSD definition of disability. No, being too sick to work does NOT necessarily mean "disability" as defined by SSA. 1:41 does a great job describing different typical claimants who may never be found disabled by SSA, but in a real and practical sense, can't work.

I'm not "whining" when I point out the real world situations that I and other claimant's attorneys encounter on a daily basis. When I explain to an under-educated inner city dwelling potential new client who is under 50 and performed manual labor all his life that I can't take his case because he hypothetically could perform some magical "security monitor" job somewhere, this person is not going to be able to secure such a job. That's not because they don't want to try something new as you naively assert.

Anonymous said...

"under-educated inner city dwelling potential new client who is under 50 and performed manual labor all his life that I can't take his case because he hypothetically could perform some magical "security monitor" job somewhere, this person is not going to be able to secure such a job.

Yeah,if the hypothetical person is a black male in america. But that's a different legal matter which is hard to prove.

Disclaimer:I based my opinion upon current issues in the national news.

Anonymous said...

I have no problem with people arguing for a more permissive (or - as the ideologues who overrun this place would probably prefer - "more humane," "more progressive," or "more enlightened") standard for disability. Fine. Whatever. My problem is with those who casually denigrate the work being done at DDS and ODAR by making ridiculous assertions such as the vast majority of applicants are too sick to work. That's intellectually lazy and biased and dishonest. Again, *if* that were true, then the SSD system rationally would have been set up like the IRS - people would automatically be paid upon filing, and SSA's only role would be to spot-check for compliance. Raise your hand if you are such a believer in the good faith of your fellow citizens and their willingness to voluntarily forbear from ever filing for disability unless they are unquestionably disabled that you are willing to adopt such a system - and pay for it with your taxes.

1:41's points are well-taken...but those people (in groups 2 and 3) are not "too sick to work." They are consequences of the fact that there is no such thing as full employment. To put it lightly, history has shown there are significant drawbacks to an economic system that promises full employment.

I also suspect there are a great many people who leave a rep's office after being told their case isn't going to cut it and it's the cold splash of water to the face that they need to convince them to stop pinning their hopes on getting on disability and start expanding their willingness to work.

Anonymous said...

4:41 by arguing that the idea to give voc rehab info with a denial is silly, does not necessarily mean that I'm arguing that the disability rules need to be relaxed. It is not "intellectually lazy, biased and dishonest" to think that denied claimants are indeed too sick to work. Under the existing rules, they're just not entitled. I'm not disparaging the work that DDS or ODAR does using the rules. Most of the time, they eventually get it right. I understand and largely agree with the Grids and Listings: a line has to be drawn somewhere. But that doesn't change the fact that the hypo claimant I describe above whose case I turn away has very few options left to support himself. That necessary isn't SSA's fault, but it still makes me sad as a human being folks every day. Do some of these folks take my rejection as a "cold splash of water" to expand their work search? Sure, but I'm sure the number is quite small...

Lance Koontz said...

" I've recently had a young client with combined cognitive difficulties and mental illness who went to VR. The only thing VR could do for him was to get him a job at a fast food restaurant and provide him with a job coach for two weeks. Predictably, he failed at the job shortly after the job coach was removed. His family took him back to VR but they had no further interest in helping him. You call this vocational rehabilitation? He should have been in a sheltered workshop first".

So what's this have to do with SSDI payments?

This person would probably not
be eligible because a person like that probably does not have the minimum 20 social security quarters from gainful employment.

This sounds like a person who is mentally challenged and who was never gainfully employed.

It sounds like SSI not SSDI.

I am almost sixty old and I collect SSDI.

The last time I looked I would have needed 40 social security quarters just to be eligible for SSDI.


When i applied for SSDI I had almost 100 social security quarters.

What's all of this hubbub have to do with me ?

Anonymous said...

Nothing. Unlikely at age 60 Vic Rehab has any relevance.
I don’t think it too difficult to document that the vast majority of people who apply for disability don’t return to work. As someone who has worked in SSA disability on both sides, for decades, it is my opinion that the vast majority who apply are disabled. The numbers are very great in size (vast) . I’ve also seen Voc Rehab as little more than a case worker with x amount of cases to process, either returning folks to work ( a minimum) or closing the case, ( a vast majority). As for DDS and ODAR there is clearly an increase in denials and yes I blame those components for allowing a minority of adjudicators to allow that to happen. Regulations have not changed, but attitudes have. The vast majority of people who apply for disability would do anything to avoid not working in my experience. The whole idea that they need to expand their willingness to work, stop conflating their difficulties, deal with non-medical hindrances - whatever that is, or just don’t feel up to it is either bias or lack of knowledge. The safety net is indeed what disability program is and far too many fall through it. Johnson and Botany don’t care about the disabled and this proposed bill is nothing but window dressing. And I doubt they have any intention of funding services to get disability applicants into the workforce, much less understating what that entails.

Anonymous said...

@ 1:57...i'll show you my tax bill. If you don't think the one-percent are taxed, you are delusional. Including property tax, I paid over $125,000 in taxes last year (not including local sales tax), which probably totals another $12-15k.

Anonymous said...


cool story, bro. What was your total income? How much did you subtract from your tax liability using the mortgage interest deduction? And let's not forget you also get to deduct that $12-$15k in property taxes you just whined about via itemized deductions.

Tell us what your effective tax rate was, because I bet you dollars to donuts it was lower than a lot of people with total income between $40k and $100k.

Anonymous said...

@ income = $376k

Anonymous said...

so you paid about a third of your income in taxes. Does that count FICA and Medicare? Do you live in a State with an income tax? Because if the answer to one (and especially both) questions is yes, you've done pretty well yourself. I make under $100k and paid an effective federal income tax rate of 18 percent. Plus over 5% to my State, plus SS and Medicare, puts me at 30%.

Forgive me if I'm not just all broken up that a guy clearing over a third of a million in income paid a hair more than myself and many, many others making far less in taxes. And forgive me for belieiving that, if 30% isn't onerous for me, 40% or more wouldn't be onerous for someone making almost four times what I do.