I just learned that I have joined the ranks of those with a disease experienced by 1 million Americans. Some 7,400 will perish within the first two years of this illness. Tens of thousands of others may never fully recover — though they could have if treated in time. It’s not a disease that has a diagnosis. It’s actually completely created by capitalism. It’s called the Disability Appeals Process.
Those who find the right lawyer, and are fortunate enough to go before one of the few sympathetic judges, might win at this casino called the SSI office. The average winner collects $1,171 a month though, leaving them in complete poverty. But the majority of requests for SSI disability are initially turned down, like mine was, and more than 7,000 people die each year waiting for their denied application to be approved. Talk about death panels!
Three years ago I was sparring with someone who was preparing for a fight at the Dojo where I trained in Muay Thai. After landing a right kick on his lower thigh, I felt a snap in the back of my hip and from that day on I’ve had increasing pain in my hip and now my hands and shoulders. My hands have lost significant dexterity. Doctors believe it is a hereditary neurological disorder that is treatable. My grandmother suffered from a similar neurological disorder that was treated in New York City and she recovered.
It’s been an uphill battle. The first doctor told me to just wait and see if it goes away. Then I was put into physical therapy but I wasn’t able to stand to do the exercises, or I would lose my balance immediately. I had to continue this process for six weeks to prove to the government that I failed at being rehabilitated through physical therapy. That triggered another process, whereby Medicaid conducted another series of tests, which can’t be performed just based on medical knowledge. In April I was admitted to the ER for pain and another time for a drug reaction because I’m allergic to codeine and opioids. I felt like my arms were on fire and I was kept sedated for four days, fortunately at home under the care of of my many unemployed friends.
I changed to a different primary care physician who had more experience in this area and then finally, after almost a year of complaining about my symptoms, I began to see specialists. Next month I will finally get to see a neurologist in New Orleans to make a firmer diagnosis and treatment plan so that I can get better.
But my appeal has not yet been acted on. I am lucky that I have a beautiful apartment right by Southern University paid for by a Baton Rouge program for people waiting for disability. It’s the only building in the city with 10 disabled units. Part of my utilities is paid as well although I have to come up with a contribution. Meanwhile, I periodically sign affidavits in front of a lawyer that say that I have no income whatsoever.
There are costs though. There’s all the time I’ve spent attending bureaucratic events to meet with a lawyer, or to meet with someone who will decide who I should meet with next.
Once I was not able to make it a medical appointment because the free medical transportation is so overloaded that it often comes very early or very late. The second time I waited an hour and 20 minutes. I frantically texted a friend to pick me up to bring me to the doctor. I can’t be seen as having missed a single appointment, or it would jeopardize my entire disability process with the government. My friend ran over to my house, got me in the wheelchair and into the car. I arrived right on time for my appointment. We decided we’ll figure out how to pay for the gas later.
All I’m asking for is Social Security benefits. That is money that I paid into over decades of working. The capitalists believe in inheritance when it’s convenient, for them, but what about the money that my relatives put into Social Security? Some of them died early deaths not far from the factories where they worked, likely from lack of access to healthcare. This is our money, even by their standards. This is our inheritance from the past struggles of our class.
Yet the government withholds and stonewalls so many people like me. The politicians and media spread propaganda about disability benefits, focusing on a few stories of corruption to make the system even more stringent. When I ask for disability benefits it’s because I need them to survive. Accessing life-saving benefits should not be this hard. Even if 100 more people were to get benefits from lying or even a million, I think it would be worth it if it meant eliminating these anti-worker and anti-poor bureaucratic hurdles. Even if just one person did not have to go through what I am experiencing, it would be worth it. The current sadistic system slams the door in our faces when we’re barely able to stand.
And how disgusting is it that to secure a higher likelihood of winning my appeal (which in Louisiana is about 80 percent), I have to pay a lawyer $6,000 to say in front of a judge that I am sick ? Six thousand dollars and a judge for what is plainly obvious? Gas station clerks have asked me, “Sir, do you need help? Are you okay?” A Jack-in-the-Box worker let me lean on her all the way to my car. Get the judges and the lawyers out of healthcare!
But I haven’t forgotten the most important part: we have to do away with the system where insurance companies decide what to do with your health and not you and your doctor.
A friend of mine who is an insurance agent asked me what his job would be under socialism. I told him there would be no such job, that we would do away with insurance companies altogether and that socialism itself was the “insurance” that we needed. But I told him not to worry, under a socialist government he would be retrained. He probably would be a baseball coach for kids.
In an article on Marketplace.com I saw a lawyer’s comments about the everyday struggles of her clients to access benefits. The reporter then contacted the Social Security Administration, which declined to comment. However, here at Liberation News we are a different kind of reporter, telling the stories of the working class. The stories show us why we need a mass movement to fight for the only system where people’s needs come first — socialism — so that you don’t have to experience pain and justify your need for care at the same time. For millions of us struggling with disabilities, winning a new system is a matter of life and death.