Just days after a Senate committee reported that the Social Security Administration (SSA) was often wrongly awarding disability benefits, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) called on the SSA to modernize its thinking on disabilities and how they actually affect a person's ability to work.
In testimony before the House Subcommittee on Social Security, a GAO official stated that when making disability benefit award decisions, the SSA too often fails to fully consider modern factors such as assistive devices and workplace accommodations that can help disabled persons function.
"Specifically, we noted that SSA's disability programs emphasize medical conditions in assessing work incapacity without adequate consideration of the work opportunities afforded by advances in medicine, technology, and job demands," GAO's director of Director Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues Daniel Bertoni told lawmakers.
In other cases, noted Bertoni, the medical criteria and physical activity job requirements information used by SSA in making disability benefit decisions is outdated.
"In contrast," he stated, "modern concepts of disability take into account the interaction of health conditions and contextual factors -- such as products, technology, attitudes, and services -- on an individual's functional capacity, rather than viewing disability solely as a medical or biological issue."
In addition, Mr. Bertoni cited disability experts' suggestions that before awarding disability benefits, SSA should more fully consider applicants' ability to perform work despite their impairments, and their ability to work if provided appropriate support by their employer.
"Officials we spoke with from an organization of vocational examiners expressed frustration with having seen young individuals who could work with minor accommodations being provided disability benefits likely throughout their working life, rather than receiving support to pursue work," Bertoni told the subcommittee. "Representatives of the organization added that minor accommodations can include a stool for sitting or devices to assist with vision impairments."
During 2011 alone, the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, both administered by the SSA, paid out more than $178 billion in payments to about 14.5 million people with disabilities and their families.
The independent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has projected that at the current rate of benefit payments -- which exceeds program revenue -- the Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) trust fund from which disability benefit payments are made will become insolvent during fiscal year 2018.