I get lots of emails from my readers. Most are from nice people who have questions about their particular Social Security situation. I like responding to these people and helping them out.
Then there are those guys (and it’s almost always guys) who rant and rave and gripe and groan about some perceived injustice involving Social Security. Their emails are long, usually filled with lots of foul language, capital letters, exclamation points and bold text. I can just imagine the venom spewing from their angry body down to their fingertips and then onto the keyboard as they write these missives.
Even though I know they are just venting, I usually like to give them the courtesy of a reply. I figure if I can help them understand the program, it might help them see the light and change their minds about whatever their issue is. But that doesn’t always work. Here is an email exchange I had with one irate guy recently. I’ll call him Angry Al. (By the way, I cleaned up his remarks and deleted all scatological references!)
Angry Al: “People who work for Social Security, just like all government employees, are incompetent fools who couldn’t get a real job in the private sector. I have a badly torn tendon in my arm. I applied for Social Security disability benefits, and they told me I wasn’t eligible.” (His rant went on for several more paragraphs, but this was the gist of his complaints.)
Columnist Tom: “I certainly don’t agree with your assessment of government employees. But I’ll stick to the facts of your case. I obviously don’t know everything about your situation. But I can tell you this: The law says that to get disability benefits, you must have a physical or mental impairment that is so severe that it will keep you from doing any kind of job for at least a year. Or it must be a condition that is terminal. I just don’t think a torn tendon is a severe enough impairment to qualify for disability benefits.”
Angry Al: “It had nothing to do with my tendon. They told me I didn’t have enough Social Security quarters. How can that be? Except for some recent years of unemployment, I’ve been working all my life.”
Columnist Tom: “OK, now I think I understand why your disability claim was denied. The law says that to qualify for disability benefits, you must have worked and paid Social Security taxes in five out of the last 10 years. So, I’m guessing you simply didn’t meet that insured status requirement.”
Angry Al: “Well, now I can tell you’re just as dumb as the current batch of Social Security idiots. If I’m not insured, then how come they just told me that I can file for reduced retirement benefits when I turn 62 later this year?”
Columnist Tom: “That’s because there are different insured status rules for retirement benefits. The ‘recent work’ rules — that ‘five out of the last 10’ stuff — doesn’t apply to retirement benefits. So even though you are not eligible for disability benefits, you will be able to get retirement benefits when you turn 62.”
Angry Al: “Well, I know lots of people who are getting disability benefits from Social Security, and they never paid a dime into the system.”
Columnist Tom: “You’re just plain wrong about that. There is nobody getting a disability benefit from Social Security who hasn’t worked and paid Social Security taxes, usually for a minimum of 10 years, or is a dependent of someone who has worked and paid taxes. You might be confusing Social Security disability benefits with Supplemental Security Income disability benefits. SSI is a federal welfare program that pays a small monthly stipend to poor people who are over age 65 or who are disabled. You don’t have to work and pay Social Security taxes to qualify for SSI.”
Angry Al: “Don’t lecture me about government programs. We all know there are lots of people who sneak across the border then walk into a Social Security office and get all kinds of government benefits!”
Columnist Tom: “Again, you’re just plain wrong about that. To get any kind of Social Security or Supplemental Security Income benefits, you must either be a U.S. citizen, or you must be living in this country legally.”
Angry Al: “Well, I’ll tell you this. If I were a different color, I’d have been approved for Social Security disability benefits a long time ago!”
Columnist Tom: “Well, speaking of color, your true colors are now starting to show. You sound like just another angry old white guy who thinks the country is out to get him. What a shame!”
Angry Al: “You have no idea how tough it is to be a middle-class white male in our country today. Everything is stacked against us.”
Columnist Tom: “I’m a middle-class white male. And I’ve got to say that for all my life, things have been stacked pretty heavily in my favor. But let’s forget about all this political stuff for now and get back to your original Social Security complaint. You were upset because your claim for Social Security disability benefits was denied. I explained to you that the law says you must have worked and paid Social Security taxes in five out of the last 10 years in order to get disability benefits. It sounds like you don’t meet that legal requirement. There are no conspiracies. There are no incompetent government representatives. There is no discrimination against middle-class white males. You just do not meet that work requirement of the law. It really is as simple as that.”
Angry Al: “!@#$ you!”
So, dear readers, welcome to my life. I tell you, sometimes it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed in the morning and be a columnist who is trying to help people understand the Social Security program. And let me point out that because of the volume of emails I get from my readers, I usually simply don’t have the time to get into long drawn-out exchanges with readers. But in this case, I was really hoping I could get Angry Al to understand what was going on with his claim for disability benefits. Foolish me!
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