How are some cashing American disability checks in other countries?


by Chris Nagus / News 4 Investigates

Posted on May 21, 2012 at 9:14 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 22 at 1:35 PM

ST. LOUIS (News 4 Investigates) -- Have you ever met someone who receives a disability check and wondered how they’re actually disabled?

In the past decade payments for Americans receiving disability have doubled from $59.5 billion in 2001 to $ 128.9 billion last year.

In the same 10 year span, the government went from sending disability checks to 690,000 people to over 1 million.

But here’s the part that shocked us: lots of people are collecting American disability checks but don’t even live in the United States.

News 4 tracked down Dr. Richard Vedder, an economics professor who used to work at Washington University and wrote an article for the Wall Street journal titled ‘America the Disabled.”

“If you are disabled it would seem to be you are either 0 or 100 percent. I never understood that, there is no way someone can be 42 percent pregnant,” said Vedder.

He doesn’t mince words and says too many people are allowed to tap into the system for bogus injuries.

“A lot of people who are allegedly disabled are not disabled” Vedder told News 4.

He blames doctors who approve the claims, the people who take advantage of it, and the system.

He also questions the number of people receiving disability checks from the United States government that live in foreign countries.

News 4 discovered some shocking numbers. More than 13,000 thousand disability checks are mailed outside the U.S. every month.

Here is a short list of the some of the places checks are going:

 Philippines - 1,209

Barbados – 28

Jamaica – 83

Trinidad and Tobago – 32

Germany – 714

Greece – 532

Italy – 466

Spain – 236

Mexico - 1,341

Canada - 2,291

Australia - 285

(For a complete look at where U.S. Disability and Social Security checks are being mailed to in foreign countries click here)

Even the social security administration knows the increasing number of recipients will bankrupt the system.

They just issued a press release saying the disability fund will run dry by 2016 and although the foreign payments only make up a small portion of the total costs, News 4’s Chris Nagus wanted to know what the administration does to root out fraud especially when checks are getting mailed outside our borders.

 A spokesperson told Chris Nagus that disability recipients in places like Mexico see doctors in that country to get recertified. Then disability examiners and doctors with the Social Security Administration evaluate the medical evidence along with their job data to determine their eligibility to disability benefits. When Additional evidence is needed that the person’s doctor cannot supply, the administration arranges an exam with a doctor in that country.   

Even before this story aired the calls and emails started coming in.

It’s clear there are lots of people who are truly disabled and need this program to survive – News 4 is not calling that into question.

But even the Social Security Administration admits the program is not a bottomless pit of money.

So if you spot abuse or know about fraud involving disability you can email Chris Nagus or let him know in his KMOV Facebook page.