Statement for the Record – Defining Disability

Jeffrey H. Price, President
Post Office Box 243
Raleigh, North Carolina 27602-0243
Phone 919.212.3222 or 800.443.9359, ext. 4056
Fax 919.212.3155

July 19 2002

The Honorable E. Clay Shaw, Jr., Chairman Social Security Subcommittee Committee on Ways & Means United States House of Representatives 2408 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515-0922

Dear Mr. Shaw:

The National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE) has reviewed with great interest the testimony presented before the Subcommittee on Social Security on July 11, 2002. This hearing focused public and congressional attention on the definition of disability as it applies to Social Security’s disability programs.

NADE is a professional association whose members primarily work in the State Disability Determination Service (DDS) agencies and are responsible for the adjudication of claims for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability benefits. We believe that our immense program knowledge and our “hands on” experience enables our Association to offer a perspective on disability issues that is unique and reflective of a pragmatic realism.

In our testimony before the Subcommittee on June 28, 2001, we stated, “NADE does not support changing the definition of disability at this time” (emphasis added). Fundamentally we believe:

” All who are truly disabled and cannot work should receive benefits ” Those who can work but need assistance to do so should receive it ” Vocational rehabilitation and employment services should be readily available and claimants and beneficiaries should be helped to take advantage of them

SSA’s definition of disability has proven to be a solid foundation for a program that has become characterized by increasingly complex changes in its rules and administrative procedures. We believe that, with the expectation of a significant increase in the number of initial claim filings in the next decade, coupled with a corresponding decline in the level of institutional knowledge within the disability program, this foundation will be needed more than ever.

However, we also believe that it is critically important that disabled individuals who have the capacity to return to work, should be identified as early in the process as possible and given the assistance necessary that will make it possible for them to return to work. We acknowledge that this may require changing the definition of disability. However, any change in the definition of disability will have a significant effect, either positive or negative, on the number of people who are allowed benefits. It will also have a significant effect on those who process the applications. We strongly believe it is essential that the potential impact of any proposed changes should be fully researched and evaluated. Because of the diversity of our membership and our “hands on” experience, we believe NADE is in the best position to recognize and assess the potential impact of any proposed changes in the definition.

Several of the witnesses appearing before the Subcommittee noted that SSA was continuing to rely on outdated information in making decisions about the types and demands of jobs in the national economy. NADE previously testified to this fact before the Subcommittee. We concur that it is critically important that SSA should develop, and implement, a suitable replacement for the outdated Dictionary of Occupational Titles, and to do so as soon as possible.

The current five-month waiting period would appear to present a major obstacle to any early return to work initiatives. Claimants who are awarded disability benefits under Title II must wait five full calendar months before they can begin to receive cash benefits. We believe that it will be very difficult to convince claimants, who have already invested a great deal of time and effort to demonstrate that they are disabled, to risk the loss of their benefits, even before they can begin to receive them, by attempting to return to work. Efforts to return disabled individuals to work must be coupled with recognition that the five-month waiting period should also be eliminated.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the President of the United States who created Social Security, was himself, severely disabled. Yet, he chose to work and ten years after the onset of his disability, he moved into the White House. President Roosevelt did more than create the Social Security system. He presented us with the model for what one can achieve by overcoming disability and returning to work! It should become the goal for the disability program to provide claimants with the technical and financial assistance they need to return to the workforce.

NADE appreciates this opportunity to present our opinion regarding the definition of disability and we look forward to working with you and the Subcommittee in the future to improve the services provided to America through its disability programs.


Jeffrey H. Price