60 Minutes Broadcast on the Social Security Program (Oct. 6, 2013)

“A Half-Baked Story.”

October 31, 2013

Many of my followers know I have lived with Multiple Sclerosis for 33 years, am considered an advanced MSer, and am confined to a wheelchair. What 60 Minutes did to people like me in that story was a great disservice. It’s been almost a month since that broadcast, and I am still seething so much I felt compelled to write this post. (The broadcast link: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50156574n)

It is bad enough we fight our daily battles with MS, but our valid fight for Social Security Disability benefits, insurance coverage, etc. just adds to our breaking backs and hearts even more. This same crap goes on with Medicare. I’ve been using a wheelchair for over fifteen years, yet the tedious process I just went through for insurance coverage by Medicare to get a replacement power chair is another example of pure ignorance by people who think how “easy it is” to get these benefits and fraud the system.

I believe abuse is easy for people with money and/or power, with high-end attorneys and politicians backing them and it does happen. But it is NOT so easy for average, middle-income Americans and others who struggle on their own to apply for benefits through difficult requirements over extensive periods of time. Where is OUR voice and OUR side in this Social Security Disability story?

Shame on you 60 Minutes and Senator Tom Coburn (who led this fraud investigation) for telling an incomplete and misleading story!

• I personally know what one has to go through to get disability benefits and it ISN’T easy, even with a lawyer’s assistance. Did 60 Minutes or persons involved with the HSGAC Senators Social Security Disability Fraud Report ask people like me—or the Social Security Administration and other reputable sources or organizations–about the application process, requirements, statistics, etc.?

I would love to go toe-to-toe with anybody about the social security disability process, what it takes to get approval for hard durable medical equipment from Medicare, or what it’s like to have an incurable, progressive, debilitating illness for life and lose a job! And do you think the ADA really protects or helps a disabled or chronically-ill person in the employment world?!

• Yeah, people who take advantage of a well-meant program like SSD and commit fraud is outrageous and hurts people like me. BUT, it’s not fair to damn the entire program, state facts, or create perceptions that are incomplete or inaccurate.
For example, “Widespread Fraud reported in Social Security Administration’s Disability Program”, was reported by both 60 Minutes and Doug McKelway of FoxNews.com (10/8/13). If you go within the Oct 7th HSGAC Senators Release Social Security Disability Fraud Report you will see this statement: “This investigative report details some very troubling occurrences within the Social Security disability review office in West Virginia,” Chairman Carper said. While we don’t have any evidence that this is more than an isolated case, one example of inappropriate actions of this nature is one too many. I welcome the opportunity to hold a hearing today examining a number of issues surrounding Social Security’s disability programs, gather facts and attempt to ascertain the truth.” WHAT?–An ISOLATED CASE??? Here’s the link to a press release of the report: http://www.coburn.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/pressreleases?ContentRecord_id=e2d6986b-9afe-4ac7-84f5-8a66092e8a04&ContentType_id=d741b7a7-7863-4223-9904-8cb9378aa03a&Group_id=7a55cb96-4639-4dac-8c0c-99a4a227bd3a&MonthDisplay=10&YearDisplay=2013

And how about this– Senator Coburn claims the SSD system (like Medicare) needs fixed, is broken, and stated: “What we found was collusion and most likely fraud and extortion in this particular office…we found is that the people inside the Social Security Office, not the judges, but the people actually making determinations do a pretty good job, but then it’s totally ignored by the (administrative law judges)…” and “what we do know is this judge, it appears, didn’t actually look at the cases, just decided them on the record without hearing the testimony from either the attorney, the individual, or Social Security or reading actually the full file on the individual’s claim.” Hmmm—so it’s not the SSA people or the SSA requirements causing the fraud, it’s the judges, lawyers and doctors behind this particular office

• Do you know how damaging it is to those rightfully needing disability to hear programs like 60 minutes and politicians claim that people on welfare or unemployed are going on disability to survive? The term “Secret Welfare System” was used, and it sticks like glue. Yep—all for a good story and personal gain at the expense of people like me.

• Do you know how many of us who are disabled or chronically ill hate being on disability, who want to get better, who want to work? Quite frankly, I am tired of the growing stigma that people would rather receive a government entitlement than work. This broadcast and report just adds to this stigma.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society, a highly respectable and reputable organization, sent this letter to 60 Minutes immediately following the broadcast:

Messrs. Jeff Fager, Bill Owens and Steve Kroft
60 Minutes
CBS
524 W 57th St
New York, NY

Gentlemen:

CBS’s 60 Minutes deservedly prides itself on high journalistic standards and sharp investigative reporting, and for decades has played a valuable role by exposing serious flaws in otherwise well-regarded institutions and programs. However, the CBS 60 Minutes broadcast on the Social Security disability program that aired last Sunday, October 6th, painted a misleading and inaccurate picture of an important program which serves as a vital lifeline for millions of Americans with severe disabilities and chronic conditions.

We wholeheartedly agree that it is essential to investigate, discover and end abuses and misspending in government programs including Social Security. The Social Security Disability Insurance program is critical for people with disabilities and chronic conditions and we commend efforts to find fraud and prevent those not deserving its services from abusing the system. However, by highlighting only alleged fraud, without the broader context of the millions of individuals who rightly receive and so wholly rely on benefits, your report inaccurately cast the entire Social Security disability program in a bad light.

The single most authoritative source of information on the Social Security disability program’s policies, operations and trends is without question the Social Security Administration itself. A thorough and complete presentation must include the perspective of the agency’s officials and experts. Another valuable and important source of information on Social Security disability programs that was overlooked are people with disabilities themselves, who have been through the rigorous application process, with six in ten being rejected. The Social Security disability standard is incredibly strict; demonstrating eligibility requires extensive medical evidence, and even people with severe disabilities can wait months if not years to receive benefits. Many individuals are denied despite significant disabilities and chronic conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS), the most common neurological disease leading to disability in young adults.

Media coverage – particularly from a respected program such as 60 Minutes – can have real consequences and can lead to needless harm to an extremely vulnerable population. The wellbeing and economic security of millions of people with disabilities and their families – for whom Social Security disability benefits are nothing short of a lifeline – hang in the balance. We hope that 60 Minutes will supplement its reporting on these vital programs with completeness – by providing needed context, balance and essential facts about the disability program from additional, important sources.

If you have any questions or would like to possibly speak with someone living with multiple sclerosis who receives SSDI, please don’t hesitate to contact me by phone at 202-408-1500 or by email at Ted.Thompson@nmss.org or reach out to my colleague Arney Rosenblat, whose contact information is below.

Thank you for taking time to consider our view on this issue.

Sincerely,

Ted Thompson
Vice President, Federal Government Relations
National Multiple Sclerosis Society

Arney Rosenblat
Associate Vice President, Public Affairs
Arney.Rosenblat@nmss.org

Thank you, NMSS, for speaking accurately and clearly on our behalf. However…

…is anyone listening? Did 60 minutes respond? Are those of us who are truly disabled going to be fairly represented or properly defended? Are there any planned follow ups?

Stayed tuned…or is it just a waste of time and more of the same to come?

www.DebbieMS.com

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