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Social Security disability program uses high standard for disability

As the time approaches the point where the Social Security disability trust fund will run dry, more and more talk has surfaced about the need to reform the program to cut down costs and ensure its integrity. Among the criticisms that have been leveled against the program is that there are far too many Americans on the disability role, and that this is because the standards used to determine disability are too easy to meet.

Unfortunately, those who make this argument often fail to mention that there are various factors contributing to the increase of Americans on the disability role and that lack of strictness is probably not the primary reason. As has been pointed out by others quite well, the rules for disability approval are not easy to meet. 

First of all, one must actually be seriously disabled, providing solid medical evidence for the conditions claims. Second, the disabling condition or set of conditions must be bad enough that it interferes with the applicant’s ability to engage in substantial gainful activity, which is currently the ability to earn $1,070 per month for most people and $1,800 for the blind. One must be unable to earn that amount in any line of work, not just what one was doing prior to becoming disabled. Another requirement is that the condition is expected to last at least one year or to result in death.

Bottom line: the requirements for SSDI approval are not easy to meet, and most people who receive SSDI are seriously disabled and truly benefit from the income. The program, of course, still has weaknesses it needs to face in terms of sustaining the disability trust fund, but the strictness of the disability requirements is not foremost among them. Those who are eligible for SSDI should not be made to feel guilty for benefiting from an insurance system into which they paid, and those who feel they may qualify should not feel guilty about checking into the possibility.  

Source: Wall Street Journal, “Social Security’s Strict Disability Rules,” Jennifer Waters, September 20, 2014. 

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