Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The attack on Social Security Disability and, yes, Social Security as well.

I will continue to post articles on this situation as it develops over time. Gradually, a few more people are becoming aware of what the newly elected Congress is trying to do. However, I would say that many still don't realize what is happening. So let me recap:

People who receive SSD, Social Security Disability benefits, do so because they have worked X amount of years and have paid into the system. In return for those tax payments, they are covered for both Social Security retirement and for disability benefits should they become disabled and are forced to effectively draw their retirement benefits early on the basis of disabled status. It is a contract and a promise.

Now, certain politicians in Washington want to break that contract. By making it impossible to shore up the disability fund as has been done 11 times in the last 30 years, they would rather that individuals who receive disability benefits face a 20 percent monthly cut from their monthly check. I think its likely that these politicians did not expect much push back on this because, after all, disability benefits are welfare are they not? And they are too easy to get, correct?

In actuality, to collect SSD you have to have worked and earned sufficient work credits to be covered by the system. It is not any more welfare than is Social Security retirement. And as for the conception held by many conservative members of Congress, such as Senator Rand Paul, it is also not easy to get. Most claims are initially denied and often take up to three years. Even at the hearing level, the chances of winning are equivalent to a coin toss. And, as the news accurately reports, it is getting harder to win benefits, due in no small measure to the attempt by Congressional conservatives to intimidate federal disability judges into making fewer hearing approvals (and, in fact, for the last three or four years, approvals at hearings have been going down).

However, the major point I'm making is this: citizens pay into the system and expect the contract to be honored, not to be broken when politicians expect that they can easily roll over one group that they believe has no political clout. I, frankly, think they will find themselves mistaken, particularly when they begin to hear from disabled veterans who not only collect service-connected disability but also SSD.

As always, concerned citizens should contact their Senator or Congressman and express their outrage that members of Congress find it acceptable to take one's paycheck deductions and then fail to deliver what was promised, in this case cutting a monthly benefit check by 20 percent.

From the article linked below:

"Disability benefit recipients get about $1,200 a month and depend on it for paying rent, buying food and other necessities.

'You’re barely surviving,' she said. 'If you get a cut there, you’re not going to be able to survive.'

Republicans largely oppose keeping the disability fund afloat by reallocating revenue from the Social Security retirement fund to the disability fund. Colvin and many Democrats note Congress has previously approved 11 reallocations between the two funds on a bipartisan basis."

Disability cut would be 'death sentence,' says Social Security chief

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Republicans attack SSD on basis of out of control claim growth...but claims are going down.

Certain members of Congress are setting the stage to attack the Social Security Disability program, based partly on the premise that claims are continuing to rise. However, this graphic provided by attorney Charles Hall shows that really isn't the case. The number of claims filed has been decreasing since 2011.

Why is this happening? It's impossible to know. However, its a well-known fact that in times of severe economic dislocation (such as the last stock market crash and the great recession that followed), a small percentage of people who lose employment and who have serious medical issues--which their past employer accommodated them on--seek disability benefits on a short-term basis.

SSA does not offer short-term disability, but quite a few people do not understand this (which is itself understandable since short-term disability plans do exist and are offered by some employers).

Lower claims being filed may point to a healthier economy. But it may also deflate the conservative argument that the disability program is growing too fast. In fact, many sources verify that changes in the nation's demographics (a larger percentage of people in their 50's and 60's) accounts for many of the claims that SSA should expect to see now and in the future.

Disability claims decreasing

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There are days when everyone thinks they have it rough. And perhaps they really do. But, then, you read a story like this and you feel thankful what you do have.

From the article:

"Martin Pistorius spent more than a decade unable to move or communicate, fearing he would be alone, trapped, forever."

Trapped In His Body For 12 Years, A Man Breaks Free

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Better ways of tracking glucose levels for type II diabetics

If you have type II diabetes, this tattoo seen in the article linked below--and the technology that it signals might possibly be around the corner--is a potential game changer. Perhaps in the near future, type II diabetics will have no further need of test strips, lancets, and tiny pinprick holes in their fingers.

Diabetes Monitoring Tattoo Developed to Provide Relief from Needle Pricks

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Social Security Disability Beneficiaries facing potential 20 percent cuts in monthly benefits

The Social Security Disability Trust fund is expected to run short of its ability to meet its obligations in 2016. If Congress doesn't address the problem, individuals who currently receive Social Security Disability benefits may face a 20 percent cut in their monthly benefits.

So far, there's hardly a peep out of Congress about this rapidly approaching issue. And, increasingly, it looks like this may be another round of political hardball between republicans and the current White House administration.

What members of Congress should keep in mind, however, is that, unlike SSI, Social Security Disability is a program for which recipients have paid into the system through deductions taken out of their paychecks. From the point of view of disability beneficiaries, and rightly so, they are receiving an earned benefit. They worked, paid their taxes, and are now receiving benefits to which they are entitled as a result of becoming disabled.

Congressional Republicans who choose to take advantage of the impending situation as a virtual hostage (i.e. letting SSD beneficiaries face a drastic 20 percent cut in monthly benefits unless unless certain political demands are not met) may find themselves making a terrible calculation for several reasons:

1. Even the appearance of choosing political maneuvering over people's financial stability and well-being just doesn't sit well with most Americans.

2. SSD benefits are not welfare; they are an earned entitlement. They were paid for.

3. If SSD beneficiaries have their benefits cut, it will negatively affect not only them, but their families as well.

For quite a few years now, Congressional Republicans have pointed t to the increase in disability claims as proof that something is wrong with the program. They insinuate that the process is too easy, that judges are too lenient, and that the system over-awards benefits. However, if you were to survey a thousand people who had actually gone through the process of applying for disability, they would tell you that the process is long and difficult, their claims were routinely denied despite solid medical evidence, and that judges are typically anything but rubber stampers.

With all this in mind, I have wondered when it was that AARP would choose to get involved. Their membership is comprised of retired Americans; however, some of those individuals have physical and mental impairments that are disabling and many recognize that based on their age and limitations, becoming disabled as a result of an injury or illness is not an improbable scenario.

Recently, AARP sent a letter to Senators Ron Wyden and Orrin Hatch, respectively the Chairman and Ranking member of the Senate Committee on Finance. Here are two excerpts:

"...the highest priority in the near term is to ensure that SSDI beneficiaries -- most of whom are older Americans -- are not at risk of a 20% benefit cut in the very near future."

"...interest income specified for the DI program is sufficient to support 80 percent of program cost after trust fund depletion in 2016, increasing slightly to 81% of program cost in 2087." CBO maintains similar projections."

"Many experts, including the Congressional Budget Office, have estimated the shortfall is largely due to: 1) general population growth, 2) women’s entrance into the labor force and consequent eligibility for SSDI benefits, 3) the increase in the Social Security normal retirement age from 65 to 67, and 4) the aging of the Baby Boom population leading to a higher percentage of older people vulnerable to illness and disability. All of these factors also contribute to other challenges in the SSDI program."

In other words, the Social Security Disability program is facing a shortfall due largely to demographic changes. In addition to the workforce getting wider, America is getting older and grayer. And people, as they get older, tend to have a higher chance of becoming sick or injured. It is a simple fact of life. The program is not facing shortfalls, as the Republicans have falsely impugned, because large numbers of Americans are choosing to pursue disability benefits versus seeking employment.

I don't know what the effect of this letter may be. And I don't what else we may hear from AARP on this issue as we draw nearer to 2016. However, I think certain members of Congress should choose to do what is right and guarantee that Americans who have paid into the system and are now collecting the disability benefits that they have earned continue to receive them in full. I certainly don't recall members of Congress volunteering any cuts in their own extensive package of benefits, which are cadillac-level by anyone's estimation.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

More links between artificial sweeteners heavily used in diet soda and Diabetes

My ears perked up when I heard this (literally, because I first heard this on an NPR podcast). I vividly remember when diet soft drinks first came out. Diet coke, in particular, tasted like slightly watered down battery acid. But people were actually excited that they could drink diet versions of sodas while skipping the calories. Individuals with type II diabetes were appreciative of the opportunity to drink soft drinks minus the 60 grams of sugar usually contained in each can or bottle. Reducing sugar intake, of course, is a must for someone with diabetes.

It all seemed to good to be true. Perhaps it was.

Over the past few years, we've seen studies indicating that something wasn't quite right. Nutritionists never quite knew what the issue with diet soft drinks really was, but they speculated that the artificial sweeteners used in them increased a person's desire to consume sweet tasting foods leading to weight gain. They further posited that the sweeteners functioned as excitotoxins, basically tricking the body's insulin response to activate. Too much insulin production, as we know, can wear out pancreatic beta cells and also result in insulin resistance.

Finally, there's no denying that despite the perceived advantages of diet soft drinks, practically concurrent with their introduction into the market place obesity has gone up sharply and type II diabetes has become a national pandemic.

This article provides some illumination as to why and I would encourage you to read it. It provides some insight regarding the use of artificial sweeteners, i.e. you might want to think twice. As for me...I drink a lot more water these days.

Low-calorie sweeteners found in diet drinks RAISE the risk of obesity and diabetes by affecting how the body processes sugar

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