(NaturalNews) Proponents of the massive American welfare state insist that, without the availability of gratuitous government assistant programs, potentially millions of low-income or injured people would go hungry or end up homeless. But a recent investigation by CBS News' 60 Minutes reveals that many of the people on government assistant programs are neither impoverished nor disabled, and that the system is being fraudulently "gamed" at the taxpayers' expense.
Entitled "Disability, USA," the recent 60 Minutes segment focuses specifically on the Federal Disability Insurance Program (FDIP), a service of the Social Security Administration (SSA) that was created back in the 1950s to provide assistance to people who legitimately fell ill or became injured, and who could no longer work as a result. The program was intended to be small and limited in its scope of who would be eligible for coverage.
As many as six million people on disability probably not disabled
But today, FDIP has become something of a welfare free-for-all, with some 12 million individuals, many of whom are not actually disabled, now enrolled and receiving regular benefit checks from the government. According to 60 Minutes, the number of people on disability has increased by a dramatic 20 percent just in the last six years, which has pushed the annual budget for the program in excess of $135 billion.
So where are all these new enrollees coming from and how are they getting approved? According to the SSA, much of the growth can be attributed to aging "baby boomers" and a perpetually sour economy. But Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Subcommittee for Investigations, believes there is quite a bit more beneath the surface. Nearly 50 percent of all people on disability, according to his investigation, are most likely not even eligible.
"If the American public knew what was going on in our system, half would be outraged and the other half would apply for benefits," says Marilyn Zahm, one of the country's 1,500 disability judges that pores through backlogged disability appeals cases and determines their legitimacy. She and her colleague Randy Frye have arrived at similar conclusions as Sen. Coburn.
"In 1971, fewer than 20 percent of claimants were represented," she adds, referring to the plethora of disability lawyers these days that advertise on billboards and television, promising to get virtually anyone with an alleged injury on disability. "Now, over 80 percent of claimants are represented by attorneys or representatives."
'Legal factories' taking advantage of the system for millions in gains
Major firms like Binder & Binder, for instance, which last year received $70 million from the SSA disability trust fund, are notorious for essentially taking advantage of the system. Former Binder & Binder employees told 60 Minutes that the firm is nothing more than a "legal factory" that makes millions of dollars a year off taxpayers. And there are many more like it, as the SSA distributes billions of dollars annually to disability lawyers.
Others familiar with the burgeoning industry agree, including two former disability claims processors who worked at the SSA regional office in Huntington, West Virginia. Disability in this particular corner of the nation is big business and a major linchpin of the local economy. Their story is much the same as that of the former employees at Binder & Binder.
"We have a lot of people who have exhausted their unemployment checks and have moved on to Social Security disability," says Sarah Carver, as quoted by 60 Minutes. "I think you could call it a scheme. You could call it a scam. You could call it fraud. I mean, there's different definitions for it."