A few weeks ago, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. charged 102 retirees, including 80 former New York police officers and firefighters, with making phony disability claims dating all the way back to 1988.
These fraudulent claims were a means to obtain Social Security benefits and tax-free pensions equaling up to 75% of their pay, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis.
Particularly revolting was that more than half of these bogus disability claims filed were attributed to 9/11, even if those cops and firemen never worked at Ground Zero and exploited America's great tragedy for greedy gain.
These villains in New York are only bit players, alas, in a much more troubling national snapshot of disability fraud being perpetrated in the U.S. The number of Americans receiving Social Security disability payments has more than doubled in the last 30 years, while the assets in the insurance trust fund are cratering.
In other words, there's not enough money for the people who need it because there's too many trying to cheat it.
In 1985, there were 2.7 million disability claims awarded. In 2003, that number of claims had risen to 5.9 million. Last year, that number was at 8.9 million. What caused this skyrocketing inflation of claims? Look no further than an act of Congress in 1985 (controlled by the Democrats, no less) that eased eligibility standards to make it easier for people reporting pain, discomfort and mental illness to qualify for these benefits.
Meanwhile, the Social Security disability trust fund paid out $137 billion in benefits in 2012 - more than twice as much as it had in 2002. Without reform, the fund is set to go broke in 2016, an election year. That would trigger an automatic 20% cut in benefits for all disability recipients - or another massive taxpayer bailout.
Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn's Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in October issued a report that sharply criticized the Social Security disability program has vague criteria for qualifying and lacks even minimal oversight. It is a wellspring for abuse and fraud.
Administrative law judges decide cases on claims independently and are shielded from disciplinary action. Politicians are enabling this abuse by denouncing any critics who propose fixing the problem as enemies of the disabled.
Ultimately, it is Congress that holds the purse strings and should provide the Social Security Administration with enough resources to ensure that disability benefits are paid to the right person, in the right amount, and at the right time.
As the New York case shows, people will do whatever they can if they think they can game the system. There are online hackers waiting to steal our passwords and financial data when they shop online or in stores. There are international and domestic con artists who prey on the elderly with phone scams designed to separate them from their money. And there are people who fake illness or disability to get government checks.
If anyone suspects abuse of the Social Security disability programs, they can report it via Social Security's hotline: (800) 269-0271 or online at www.oig.ssa.gov.