News 4 investigates rising cost of disability

by Chris Nagus / News 4 Investigates

KMOV.com

Posted on May 1, 2013 at 10:40 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 7:05 AM

(KMOV) -- With a record number of people applying for and claiming disability, News 4 wanted to know how much longer we can afford it.

In 2002, $66 billion was paid out in disability claims, in 2012 that number more than doubled to $137 billion.
 
Right now there are St. Louisians with severe disabilities waiting years to get a check because the system is clogged with pending claims. In fact, St. Louis has the longest wait time in the country for a Disability appeal.
 
Disability in America and right here in St. Louis is big business.
In Missouri, the most disabled zip code belongs to Jennings in 63136, 16% of the people who live there receive a disability check, more than double the state average.
The next zip code over 63135, in Ferguson, residents think they know why.
One resident told us it’s “because there are no jobs.”
 
According to the Social Security Administration, you're disabled if you can’t do what you did before, and they determine you can't do anything else because of your condition.
The list of ailments is long, everything from anxiety to personality disorders, even liver damage due to substance addiction, along with cancer, and other serious health issues.
 
Patrick Neistat is applying.
“I know the way I am now it would be hard physically for me to hold down a job” said Neistat.
He's a diabetic who's endured a triple bypass.
He's been denied once, now he's applying again.
So far he's been waiting 16 months to see a judge, with no court date in sight.
David Camp, with Access Disability is his attorney.
He told News 4 “when people are denied they are often denied because they are having trouble proving a thing about their capacity, they are having trouble proving they can't hold any type of a job.”
Camp says it’s his job to compile the medical evidence for the judge.
He says 50% of the people who call him for help do not qualify.
“I have seen people who don't have legitimate claims and I've seen all of them lose and that's the bottom line” said Camp.
 
But there is no shortage of potential applicants.
In just one apartment complex in 63135, bordering Jennings most disabled zip code of 63136, News 4 found lots of people who are trying. 
Click here to see the breakdown of disability claims by Zip Code.  
 
Robert Collins says he has an abdominal problem and is applying.
Across the hall his neighbor, Kathy Connor, can no longer work with her hands after having surgery.
The former chef has been denied twice.
“They said until I’m 45 they would not consider me disabled” said Connor. She is 43 right now.
Downstairs Tilishia Carson says her daughter tried claiming depression and bi-polar disorder but got denied.
She told News 4 “people always tell us 9 times out of 10 you gonna get denied and don't go with that the 2nd time you will get approved.”
 
According to the Social Security Administration, 12% of disability claims are approved the second time around, 52% the third time.
 
Camp says the aging baby boomer population is contributing to the spike in claims.
Many of the people that News 4 spoke with were under 45 and already struggling financially.
 
Leading to the question: are more people really disabled? Or are more people trying to find an economic solution in a tough economy, hoping they qualify for something on this list.
The numbers are clear, as the unemployment rate rises so does the number of people filing for disability.
But as it stands now the Social Security Trust fund will be exhausted by 2016.

 

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