Charlotte Hays

One of the questions I pose in my forthcoming book When Did White Trash Become the New Normal? is this: Should I limp when I’m at the disability office?

At the risk of sounding flip about something with deeply serious implications for our nation, I must say that Senator Tom Coburn’s investigation of fraud and abuse in the Social Security Administration's Disability program definitively answers my question: Don’t bother. Just find the right lawyer.

That’s no problem as disability lawyers advertise constantly on TV. My own personal favorite is Charles Binder, the guy with the cowboy hat and the soothing sign-off: “We'll deal with the government. You have enough to worry about.”

Being disabled is often not the chief worry of DI applicants.

There is something particularly despicable about anybody who would game the Social Security disability system, imperiling the program for people who are genuinely in need of such assistance. But countless people are doing just that. Heather Mac Donald—the Manhattan Institute’s Cassandra—began sounding the alarm in 1995 with a groundbreaking City Journal article about an able-bodied and hardworking family, which, alas, put its impressive energies into obtaining DI payments instead of finding more meaningful work. Since then, things have only gotten worse.

When it began, the disability insurance (DI) program was small and inexpensive. Applicants were vetted and the able-bodied turned away. The number of people on DI in 1960 was around 455,000; by 2011, the number had skyrocketed to 8,600,000. The budget for DI is $135 billion a year, topping the costs of the departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and Labor combined.

Even this figure is misleading: after two years on DI, the recipient is eligible for Medicare, regardless of age, adding immensely to the taxpayer’s burden. DI benefits are not lavish, amounting to around $1,100 a month. This often adds up, however, to lifetime benefits of around $300,000. Disability lawyers, on the other hand, can pull down princely sums. Dare I say they make out like bandits?

Charlotte Hays

Director of Cultural Programs at the Independent Women's Forum.