Electric EDGE
Web Edition of The Ragged Edge
March/April 1997
Electric Edge

Image: Palm tree shades steps in front of old stone house Not only are we a minority -- our government has no exact measure to judge us.


By Celia Henderson

Nothing describes how I feel about being disabled like the quote from Voltaire: "It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong."

I have been disabled for almost two years. My disability is not one you can see. I have occluded arteries and have had two triple bypass surgeries. I'm not a candidate for any more procedures. So I'm supposed to live stress-free. Yeah.

The thing that amazes me is that the more I read about people with disabilities, the more I realize we are not only a minority but that our government has no exact measure to judge us. Jane Doe may receive her disability award for her bad back, while John Henry is turned down. Both things being equal, why is this?

Then there's the red tape and multitudinous forms to fill out. This prolongs the procedure, just by the nature of the questions: how many ways can you say, "I am unable to work due to the nature of my health problems"? How many times must you repeat the name of your primary doctor, your specialist, your hospital?

Then you have to have your doctor fill out his part, and this is no easy task where some doctors are concerned. It's not their main priority.

The list goes on and on. Meanwhile you sit and wait for an answer and the decision that will either allow you to keep a roof over your head or will cause you to end up as a street person (Gee, just imagine all the fresh air and sunshine. That should have you feeling better in no time! Did your doctor tell you to lose weight? Problem solved!).

Now comes my favorite part: No one can receive SSI benefits until they have been disabled for six months -- and that's only if the Washington bureaucrats find in your favor! Just think what can happen in six months. Your house could be foreclosed. If you're lucky, one of your relatives might take you in.

Most times, though, SSI turns you down the first time you apply. Ah, then you have to reapply, hire an attorney and go through the whole process again. With legal help you usually do win, but now you owe the lawyer on top of all your other financial woes. We're not talking any type of living wage here -- no sir: we're talking about $500 a month or less. Shoot! That doesn't even qualify you for the poverty level.

In January, 1996 I got a ten-dollar-a-month raise from SSI. It was hard deciding where to spend all the extra cash. I'd like to see one of our (ha, ha) Washington representatives live on SSI income for a couple of months.

It does not take a Harvard grad to understand that this is a Catch-22 situation.

I was lucky and the company I worked for paid me throughout the six months' wait. I was also lucky in that the powers-that-be gave me my SSI award on the first go-round. I consider myself extremely fortunate. I'm also allowed to keep my company-paid medical insurance until I'm 65. (This is a reminder to readers who are still in the workforce to check with their company and see what long-term disability coverage they really have.)

Now we come to medical support during your initial disability period. First off, you are in poor health -- sometimes of a life-threatening nature -- so how do you get medical care during the period when you're not working and not yet on SSI? If you can't afford to pay your medical care out of your own pocket, you're screwed. Medicare, you say? Nup! According to our beloved government, even if they accept you into the disability program, they won't allow you to even apply for Medicare until you have been disabled for two years.

Why? A government spokesman explained to me that the first two years of a disability are the most expensive, and the government feels it would be too much of a drain on federal funds. So you either pay for your own care, or die. Which, of course, would solve everyone's problem. You wouldn't have to worry about being sick. There would be no drain on your (or anyone else's) finances. Taxpayers could breathe a sigh of relief. Nevermind that you were once a taxpayer yourself and this is your money.

So there you have it. Maybe we should just go back to throwing people to the lions. At least it would serve as food for the animals. And heck! we wouldn't be a burden on anyone, ever again.

Celia Henderson, a freelance writer, is retired on disability from the Tampa Tribune.

Bill Bolt on the numbers
Celia Henderson on SSI

Sally Rosenthal on an insurance pitfall

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