Disability Appeals in North Carolina  -   33 Years Experience
David R. Paletta
Disability Attorney

Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Boone
North Carolina

(919) 491-5643

NPR's Unfit for Work: An Unbalanced Report that Dishonors Disabled Americans.

Published by David Paletta

I do not have the resources to fact check everything reported in this story.  Because I respect the folks at Planet Money, I will assume the facts contained in the Report are accurate.  However, even if its facts are true, this Report is so unbalanced and leaves out so much that it fails to meet the high journalistic standards of NPR.

First, the Report reviews a handful of examples which suggest people who are not genuinely disabled are receiving benefits, and then broadly generalizes that the disability program has become a hidden expansion of the welfare system in America.

If one uses an unrepresentative sample, the conclusions drawn from the sample will not be accurate.  The Report's sample was not representative of the vast majority of disabled individuals receiving federal benefits.  I have been practicing disability law for 32 years in many counties in North Carolina, and I have never seen a county that was anything like Hale County, Alabama.

Second, the Report devotes an entire section on the law firm Binder & Binder, and primarily through innuendo casts disability attorneys and their disabled clients in a negative light, suggesting that one reason for the increase in the disability program is that slick lawyers are getting undeserving people disability benefits.  

This is poor journalism.  I do not like firms like Binder & Binder.  I believe the practice of law should be a noble calling, not a business seeking to maximize profit.  But profit seeking lawyers like Binder & Binder are irrelevant to a legitimate public discussion on the federal disability program.  

Third, Social Security has two different disability programs.  The Report failed to clearly explain major differences in these two programs.  The differences are very relevant.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal disability insurance program.  To qualify for SSDI benefits, the individual must have worked for at least 5 years and paid Social Security taxes.  The worker pays disability insurance premiums in the form of FICA taxes.  If the worker becomes disabled, he/she files a disability insurance claim with the Social Security Administration.  SSDI is a disability insurance program between workers and the federal government.  SSDI is NOT a welfare program.  SSDI has wide support among Democrats, Republicans and Independents.

The other disability program, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), is a welfare program. To qualify for SSI, one must be both poor AND disabled.  If one is poor but able to work, then no SSI benefits are paid. 

"Welfare" programs are a legitimate topic for public debate.  I supported the welfare reform measures enacted by the Clinton Administration.  I agree with the principle underlying the reforms that work is fundamentally good and that government programs should promote work. But, the Report failed to articulate major differences among "welfare" programs.  SSI disability is only for individuals who cannot work due to health problems.

Fourth, the Report contains no substantive discussion of the public policy reasons for the disability program.  We live in an imperfect world.  Every government program contains some waste, inefficiency and fraud.  If a microscope is applied to any government program, waste and fraud will be found.  Our federal disability programs are no different from our military programs in this regard.  The fact that every government program contains some degree of waste is not the issue.

The fundamental issue is - should the Federal Government help citizens who cannot take care of themselves due to health problems?  How a society treats its disabled citizens reveals the true nature of the society.  I believe the United States is a just and compassionate society that wants to take care of those citizens who are not able to take care of themselves.  

This is the policy that underlies the federal disability programs.  This policy should be the fundamental issue in this discussion.  The Report fails to contain any meaningful discussion of public policy objectives that underlie the federal disability programs.

Lastly, the Report fails to offer any genuine discussion of what it means to be disabled. This omission is inexplicable.  There cannot be a meaningful dialogue on the federal disability program without a meaningful discussion of the beneficiaries of the program.  

Our health is one of our most precious possessions.  Losing one's health is absolutely devastating! "Disability" does not spare anyone - it can strike the old and the young, the rich and the poor, liberals and conservatives.   

I deal with disabled individuals on a daily basis.  I see suffering that is so extreme it is difficult to describe in words.  The most common disability case I work on involves chronic, debilitating pain.  To experience severe pain all day, all night, day after day, completely changes everything in one's life.  

The loss experienced by my clients is total.  My clients lose their work income and usually their health insurance.  Many clients cannot pay their mortgage and lose their home.  Many clients cannot pay their rent and become homeless.

Most of my clients have lost all the enjoyment activities they used to derive pleasure from. Many clients can no longer play with their children, or grandchildren.  Many clients can no longer be physically intimate with his/her partner.  

100% of my clients experience severe depression.  If one feels constant pain, and loses everything that is of value, it is impossible not to feel deep depression, despair and hopelessness.  Many of my clients struggle with suicidal thoughts.  Some of my clients have taken their life.  

This is the reality disabled individuals must live with.  Life is a daily struggle to survive. The federal disability programs provide vital assistance to this group of impaired individuals.

NPR's "Unfit for Work" is devoid of any meaningful portrayal of the reality disabled individuals must live with each day.  This unbalanced Report has dishonored the disabled among us who must struggle to survive.  Hence, I must raise my voice in protest.