CBS aired a 60 Minutes story on October 6, 2013, featuring Senator Tom Coburn (R – OK), who claims that the Social Security disability system is being “gamed,” and is in need of an overhaul. The truth is that close to 12 million American workers and their families depend on the Social Security Disability programs for life-sustaining funds needed to help pay their basic living expenses. 60 Minutes has unfortunately joined recent media mis-portrayals of these essential disability programs.
In March 2013, we responded to a similar report on NPR’s This American Life. 60 Minutes is guilty of many of the same misrepresentations and omissions. The piece implies that the Social Security Administration has opened the floodgates for unemployed workers who cannot – or don’t want to – find jobs. This simply isn’t true. The standard to receive disability benefits is very stringent. In fact, less than 40% of adult applicants are approved for benefits.
The 60 Minutes report is also highly critical of some lawyers who represent disability claimants before SSA and may engage in unethical conduct. We also condemn any incidents of fraud, but in our view those incidents are indeed isolated. We support protecting the integrity of the system. In fact, claimants need advocates to navigate the very complex regulatory and adjudicatory world of Social Security. That is one of our key roles here at the Empire Justice Center – we help those in need navigate the complex legal and medical maze of pursuing federal disability benefits. We know firsthand the gauntlet our clients are made to go through. In a time when Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) approval rates are declining, our success rate is over 80% – underscoring how necessary our services are to our clients.
Read some of the critiques of the 60 Minutes piece:
- Media Matters has posted criticisms of the 60 Minutes piece from national disability organizations.
- Michael Hiltzik at The Los Angeles Times calls the 60 Minutes story “shameful.”
- The Center for Economic and Policy Research has also posted a criticism of the 60 Minutes story on its blog.
- The National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) has also posted a statement.