The people behind all the SSD numbers

With the topic of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), it is easy to become wrapped up in the global policy issues the program faces. The size of the program is immense, and the administrative operations are equally immense. Hundreds of thousands of applications must be processed every year and the Social Security Administration (SSA) must manage billions of dollars in disability payments.

All of these statistics can make the discussion abstract and antiseptically impersonal. But SSD is anything but impersonal. The 11 million beneficiaries all have their own unique stories, challenges and struggles. The size of the overall program makes it difficult to comprehend, but the individual cases can put a human face on the program's essential reason for existence.

A woman who is a disability claims examiner writes of her father. He was a minister and like many men his age, thought that seeing a doctor was an unnecessary distraction. Absent a ride in an ambulance, few would voluntarily enter a doctor's office or any healthcare facility.

After many years of having some medical issues, his wife finally forced him to see a doctor. His problems were anything but minor. He was experiencing kidney failure, which was why his skin had turned a gold color. This forced him to end his job as pastor and limited his further ministry.

His daughter noted he lived long enough to see the birth of his second grandchild. And she credits SSD with helping to give him that extra time that allowed him to hold his granddaughter three weeks before he passed.

She comments that sometimes when she grows frustrated reading the bland, clinical reports and medical files of the claims she reviews, she asks herself if it were her dad, how would that change her perspective.

The SSD claims process is complex and daunting. It can overwhelm those who are sick or ill with multiple conditions. Applications can be incomplete and difficult to follow. Hearings are backlogged and there are constant pressures to cut cost and service.

However, we hope all involved recognize that the claim they are working on is someone's father or mother, and employ empathy as well as analytics. 

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