Disability fraud

A couple of hypothetical situations: 1) A woman rails against people suckling on the public teat, while she herself is collecting SSDI payments. She seems to be able to operate a computer, presumably can talk on a phone, and attends events for her hobby. She was previously employed in a job that requires using a computer and talking on the phone, but she is unable to sit for long periods. She may or may not be able to work. 2) A roofer develops a condition that makes him dizzy, which is a dangerous thing when you’re on a roof. He has little education, and all his life he worked in construction. He collects SSDI and seems to live a normal life, and doesn’t complain about other people collecting a government hand-out. He cannot work in his profession, but he is capable of working in a job that does not present a falling hazard.

In the hypothetical situations, one person may be so disabled that she cannot be reasonably accommodated in a workplace because she cannot sit for long periods. The other person cannot work in his profession, but could work in a job that does not present a safety hazard to him.

Questions: 1) How disabled should a person be in order to be disabled enough to collect SSDI? 2) How much ‘cheating’ is acceptable?

I voted ‘Live and let live’. There are always people who will take advantage of any system; but the system helps far more people that actually need assistance than it does people who want ‘free money’. Though I find cheaters distasteful, I consider them ‘acceptable losses’.

FWIW, my late stepfather managed a couple of buildings in downtown L.A. It was a high-pressure job, and he had a bad heart. After a valve replacement and recovery, he took a low-pressure job as a security guard at a gated community. It didn’t pay much, but he stayed off of Disability and it provided insurance.

Sorry - going with no violations are acceptable. There are stand-up desks, so the situation #1 is easily resolved with a decent accommodation. Sounds like #2 can be doing a job on the ground - including estimating roofing jobs.

No need to be sorry. This is a poll for opinions.

The OP has two hypothetical examples. Other hypothetical examples of people who should or should not receive disability payments are welcome.

I chose “no cheating is acceptable” but I wanted to expound on that just a bit. For my true opinion, the definition of “fraud” needs to be addressed. In both of your examples, I would have no problem with either collecting SSDI as they are both in situations where reasonable accommodations would be difficult (the no sitting for long periods in the first example and the complete reeducation/retraining for a different career in the second).

The cheating that I would be outspokenly against would be in these examples:

A person claims to no longer be able to sit for long periods of time, and can no longer do their job of sitting at a computer/answering phones and other clerical duties. However, that person then takes a job “under the table” or on a volunteer basis that requires sitting for up to 8 hours at a time, making phone calls and entering data into a computer.


A roofer develops a condition that makes him dizzy, so that he is no longer safely able to work for the construction company that he is currently employed by. He applies for and is granted SSDI. Then he starts is own roofing business for his friends and neighbors on a cash basis and does not report the employment/income but instead uses it to subsidize his SSDI and creates an situation for himself where he can work when he wants to and not work when he doesn’t.

In both of those cases, the people on SSDI could do the jobs they held before their illness/injury but choose not to only because they were able to qualify for SSDI. If the SSDI were unavailable then they would have no problem supporting themselves through employment. THAT is the kind of cheating/fraud that I think should not be tolerated.

In other words I think no cheating should be tolerated if that cheating is lying about or exaggerating your illness/injury. If someone is capable of doing the job for their own reasons, then they are capable of doing the job for an employer. And if one is capable of work, then that’s what they should do instead of receiving benefits just because they can.

apples and oranges in your example.

I am sort of the woman in your first example, though I am not collecting SSDI.

I can not walk well at all even on my bestest days, on my bad days I can barely manage to get out of bed to get to the toilet. On medium days I use a wheelchair. I know that the ADA mandates that buildings need to be handicapped accessible, or the job has to make a reasonable accommodation. Most buildings are not actually easily chair accessible so the most reasonable accommodation is to let me telecommute. Realistically, very few employers are going to let a new hire telecommute right out of the starting gate. I also can not take FMLA days until after a fairly long term of continued employment, which would cover not being able to get out of bed days. Right now, I see my main option is to somehow get trained for a position I can do from home. I would love to be an architect and design for handicapped accessible requirements, however right now where I live, my options are Yale [75 miles away, parking sucks ass, and the buildings are generally old and seriously not gimp friendly, and the campus sucks with accessibility issues] or 2 locations in Rhode Island at about the 45/50 mile mark but I am not actually familiar with their available campuses so I have no idea about their accessibility. Optionally, I can go to UCONN Storrs for psychology, another field that can be done from ones home. The campus is reasonable for parking and accessibilty depending on which buildings the classes are in. I have no idea how much money I can get to actually retrain, and I have the feeling that mrAru makes way too much money for me to get very much assistance. I do know that there is no way in hell I would be able to get SSDI as I am not totally bedridden, and I am stuck by my gimpitude in being restricted in employment and educational opportunities. Should I commit fraud? I have been told to by a number of people but I can not bring myself to do so. As that woman, I would feel entitled to collect SSDI. Ask anybody on the board, people with serious physical disabilities can have good body days and be almost normal, and bad body days and barely able to move - just because someone is at the Indy 500 does not mean that they are not either going to have a really bad day or even week afterwards from the stress, or they may have arrangements made to be able to lie down at appropriate periods as determined by their infirmities needs/requirements. I will frequently ‘go shopping’ with mrAru but he is the one that goes in, I sit in the car and read, I am there to get out of the house and enjoy the outside air.

If I was the man, I could work as a telephone customer service person as all you need is a high school diploma [in general, not specialized industries like insurance where you need to be certified in insurance] so IMHO he is committing fraud and should be penalized for it. He can fully do a job sitting in a cube farm and answering phones.

One of the problems that hasn’t been brought up is that someone who could qualify for disability might like to work, but not be able to find an employer who is willing to make the necessary accomodations. This is particularly true if the employers can easily find an able-bodied person to fill the position, for example, or if the person in question is older.

Just generally, unless there is an obvious violation of the type MitzeKatze described, I try to stay open to the possibility that I don’t know all the details.

I don’t see where the “cheating” is in these situations. I am pretty sure the government does not just hand out SSDI checks without some kind of medical evidence of a disability. At face value it may appear that these people are capable of returning to work, but other underlying issues may prevent a safe return to work.

I think that SSDI should be available to anyone who becomes unable to do their previous job. But I also think it should be tied to workforce development in order to find a job that person would be able to do and train them for it. It’s certainly reasonable to assume that the roofer has an aptitude for other construction-related skills that don’t require climbing a ladder.

It’s gonna be a judgment call in a lot of cases. I haven’t dealt with this, but I would expect that a diagnosis/statement from a doctor combined with approval from a guvmint official usually proves adequate in determining what “disabled” is.

The ADA requires “reasonable accomodations” be made for someone with a disability. For the lady who can’t sit for long, perhaps a stand-up desk, or a slight change of job that provides her with the opportunity to get up and move around might work. There are plenty of stand-up jobs available.

For the gentleman with chronic dizziness, maybe a desk job; his disability may qualify him for some federally-funded retraining. If his dizziness is severe enough that he is a hazard to himself and/or others simply from walking around, then IMHO it would be fair to let him stay at home and receive disability payments.

Their individual opinions on entitlements are completely irrelevant.

None. That’s why the rules don’t permit cheating (if they did, it wouldnt’ be called cheating, 'cuz the rules allow it). The fact that some cheating happens doesn’t make it acceptable.

1) How disabled should a person be in order to be disabled enough to collect SSDI?

Well, just off the top of my head I’d say an individual should be unable to do any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medicaly determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.

And perhaps after an individual has been found to be disabled, the agency ought to evaluate their impairment(s) from time to time to determine if they are still eligible for disability cash benefits. Maybe call this process - I dunno - something along the lines of a continuing disability review.


  1. How much ‘cheating’ is acceptable?

I’d say you ought to have the opportunity to present your claim in the light most favorable to you in a non-adversarial administrative proceeding, with the final administrative decision reviewable in federal court. I’d recommend that anyone think carefully about the information they provide in a process that repeatedly reminds them that “ANYONE MAKING A FLASE STATEMENT OR REPRESENTATION OF A MATERIAL FACT FOR USE IN DETERMINING A RIGHT TO PAYMENT UNDR THE SOCIAL SECURITY ACT COMMITS A CRIME PUNISHABLE UNDER FEDERAL LAW.

Oh, and anyone who is actually interested might want to check the readily available information clearly establishing that one need not be “bedridden” in order to be found eligible for SSDI. Also, the inability to do one’s past work, in and of itself, does not establish one’s entitlement to SSDI.

I answered “no cheating” and that’s what I truly believe. But re: the OP, not all disabilities are physically apparent. There are also mental disabilities (of all kinds) that can also affect someone’s ability to work.

I voted “Live and Let Live” because I can’t really know someone’s situation. Unless I know that they did in fact flat out lie to get their benefits, someone who knows better than me decided that they can’t work. It’s not my job or my business to nitpick their lives or determine their ability to work. I also believe that eliminating all cheating is impossible. There’s a minimum level of fraud I’m willing to accept and still feel it’s on the whole a useful program.

Maybe I fit the first choice better because I do think that there should be no tolerance for someone who does flat out lie or misrepresent their situation. But given the examples in the OP, I liked the second option better.

First of all, please note that there is a long and arduous process to get approved for SSDI. Most people who apply get denied. In fact, unless you are a deaf, blind paraplegic you will probably be turned down the first time. Then you have to appeal. The process is long and convoluted.

Second, some disabilities are far from obvious. I know of two people who are able to sit, stand, walk, talk, and use a computer who are both justifiably on disability. One issue is that for some disabilities a person can do all of those things, but not long enough or predictably enough to hold a job. Sure, maybe you’re fully functional for an average of 20 hours per week. Theoretically you should be able to get at least a part-time job. But you never know if your condition will flare up for a couple of hours, or for four straight days. Very few employers are interested in unpredictable and unreliable employees even it it’s not their fault.

Cheating by telling falsehoods about your condition is of course unacceptable and there is an entire bureaucracy dedicated to finding out if you are or not.

Part of my job is administering disability benefits (employer benefits, not Social Security). As you can imagine I voted for No Cheating is Acceptable. It drives up costs for everyone else – in our case, not just my company, but our customers as well (since we have to pass along operating costs).

post deleted

While I would love to choose option 1, report and prosecute it all, I don’t think it’s possible to do it without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. **MLS **said it well.

What Dinsdale said.

Also? SSDI isn’t public money. Payments are based on what the person has contributed to Social Security over the course of their work history.

Sorry for the double post. You would think that this is true, yes, but it’s really far more convoluted than that.

While this is factual, there are many, many qualifiers. An employer is required to make reasonable accommodations if they fall into certain categories (number of employees, public/private, etc) and employers can prove that certain accommodations present undue hardship for their company. A stand-up desk may be too expensive, or they might lack the space. As long as they have attempted to find a solution that they can afford and which enables the employee to perform the essential functions of his/her job, they’re generally in the clear.

There’s a lot of info here.