We recently sat down with our social security advocate, Brandon Ashburn, to discuss whether or not the Social Security system is really flawed after recent news coverage has portrayed the system as being fraudulent.

Recently, 60 Minutes aired a segment entitled “Disability U.S.A.” What do you have to say about their perspective?

60 Minutes is a popular investigative reporting show airing on CBS most Sunday evenings. On the evening of October 6, 2013, 60 Minutes aired a segment entitled “Disability U.S.A.” during which anchor Steve Kroft interviewed Oklahoma Senator Dr. Tom Coburn about our Social Security Disability system. One local advocate for the disabled, Brandon Ashburn of Campbell & Associates, believes that the segment was full of misinformation and discriminating against the disabled Americans he represents in connection with claims for disability benefits.

Q: Brandon, Senator Coburn encouraged viewers in that segment to “go read the statute” that defines disability. I understand that you are familiar with the statute defining disability and that you disagree with Senator Coburn’s analysis?

Certainly, I do. Senator Coburn incorrectly stated, “… if there is any job in the economy that you can perform, you are not eligible for disability.” It is much more complicated than that. The law defines disability as is the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity on account of a severe physical or mental impairment; but to determine the extent to which severe impairments interfere with a claimant’s ability to work, Social Security must also consider some important factors such as a person’s age, education, and past work experience.

Q: Can you give us an example that illustrates what that all means in practice?

One example that comes to mind to show the flaws in Senator Coburn’s imperfect definition of disability is that of a 58-year-old with a 10th grade education and a 25-year work history as a janitor. Let’s say the individual has an accident at work, undergoes back surgery, and then the surgeon limits that person to sitting work only. In that situation, chances are good that the person will be found disabled under Social Security’s laws even if there is a sit-down job out there in the economy that he or she could physically do.

So it is incorrect to say that a person is disabled only if there is no job in the economy they can perform.

Q: News anchor Steve Kroft said that the Social Security Disability system is “ravaged by fraud.” What do you have to say to that?

I would say that such a bold statement is contrary to the facts. Is there some fraud going on? Sure there is, but that is the unfortunate case with all government-run programs. Is the system “ravaged by fraud” like Steve Kroft and Senator Coburn told the American people on 60 Minutes? Not even close. In fact, all the research indicates that fraud only accounts for about 1% of the total spending in the Social Security Disability program.

Q: Do you believe that the public’s confidence in the disability program is negatively affected by stories like these?

Definitely. The segment also featured a story about a lawyer in West Virginia who has an unprecedented success rate with a single administrative law judge. The implication was that similar things are happening all over the country at the expense of the American taxpayer. I do not know all the facts of that particular situation, but isolated extreme examples like that undermine the public’s confidence in the thousands of judges who hear and decide these cases. All of the administrative law judges I appear before do their very best to decide cases fairly, based upon the evidence and the law.

I am concerned that the American people have been led to believe that fraud is so rampant that a majority of people receiving disability checks are not actually disabled. The unfortunate truth is that the media’s negative portrayal of the disability system and of the people who receive benefits is having an adverse impact on the citizens who are disabled and pursuing benefits through the lengthy appeals process. I think the negative publicity is inducing some judges to be harder on deserving claimants, and that is unfair.

Helping disabled people to obtain benefits is actually becoming more challenging instead of easier, contrary to what the segment suggests. And I think that is due, at least in part, to misleading media reports like this one.

Q: What should our viewers do if they are interested in reading more about your disapproval of the 60 Minutes story?

The Civil Rights clinic at Charlotte School of Law under the direction of Professor Jason Huber maintains a blog on many issues of social importance, and I recently authored a blog on this topic which goes into more detail.

Feel free to check out Charlotte School of Law blog at http://charlottelaw.edu/blog for more information