CNN is reporting that more than 100 New York City firefighters have been indicted in connection with disability fraud. These firefighters filed claims for disability under the World Trade Center Disability Law, a source of benefits available only to New York City employees injured as a result of their service on September 11, 2001.
According to CNN, these disability claimants were coached (the CNN article is silent as to who did the coaching) about how to behave to win benefits that can amount to $50,000 per year for total disability.
Investigators discovered, however, that some of these permanently injured claimants were, in fact, working – in one case, teaching martial arts – despite their claimed disability.
Presumably these dishonest, retired firefighters will face civil fines or perhaps criminal prosecution for their actions.
What does this have to do with Social Security disability?
Stories like this one give rise to misconceptions about “invisible” medical conditions like PTSD, (or CRPS-complex regional pain syndrome, or fibromyalgia). News outlets do not report on the thousands of legitimate claimants who truly cannot function because of living through great trauma.
Social Security judges already face tremendous pressure to approve only cases where there are objective medical tests like MRIs or CT scans.
Why does the CNN story not tell us who was behind the “coaching” – that seems to be relevant. It would also be interesting to know how many presumed legitimate claims are out there.
Interestingly CNN reports that the “scam went on for more than two decades” – an interesting point given that September 11, 2001 occurred less than 14 years ago.
In sum this is an example of sloppy, inaccurate journalism that will likely do harm to legitimately disabled people. Just take a look at the comments on the article to see what I mean.
Jonathan Ginsberg represents Social Security disability claimants in Georgia. In practice for over 29 years, Jonathan publishes a widely known disability blog, a podcast and several disability web sites. In 2004, Jonathan published a "how to" book about Social Security disability called the Disability Answer Guide. Jonathan lives with his wife and 2 children in Atlanta.