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29.5 percent of Georgia SSD beneficiaries have mental conditions

In 1984, Congress passed some changes to the Social Security disability program’s list of conditions that could potentially qualify sufferers for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income benefits. This resulted in the addition of a variety of qualifying mental conditions, with their symptoms carefully weighted with medical and functional factors before claims were allowed.

The 1984 amendments have had an impact, as the Social Security Administration’s most recent annual statistical report. Today, many people who develop mental conditions so disabling that they can’t perform substantial gainful activity are benefitting from the program -- people who would have been left behind in the past. The change has also revealed just how disabling mental illnesses and intellectual disabilities can be.

CNS News recently pored over the SSA’s latest annual statistics and found that fully 35.5 percent of all Americans on Social Security disability are receiving those benefits due to qualifying mental conditions. In Georgia, that number was only 29.5 percent, meaning our state has the second-lowest percentage of SSD beneficiaries with mental disorders of any U.S. jurisdiction.

Among beneficiaries with conditions categorized in the SSA’s “mental disorders diagnostic group,” the most common diagnoses were for mood disorders such as clinical depression. To qualify for SSD with a mood disorder, applicants must demonstrate a combination of factors, and symptoms range from problems with sleep or concentration to paranoia, delusions and hallucinations. Other disabilities included in this group include intellectual disabilities, psychosis and schizophrenia.

As if December 2012, 10,088,739 people were receiving Social Security disability benefits, 3,576,844 of them for qualifying mental conditions. Some will undoubtedly see this as evidence that the SSA’s standards are too low, that fraud is rampant, or that people who could work are refusing to do so. Yet we already know that mental illnesses and intellectual disabilities are highly stigmatized in our society.

Getting approved for SSD for a mental condition isn’t easy and the benefits are low. When people claim their condition is so disabling that it keeps them from working, it’s fair for those claims to be supported by medical evidence and subjected to rigorous review. When more people meet those criteria than we expected, we should consider that mental disabilities may indeed be just as disabling as more familiar ones. We should not baldly assume that more than 3.5 million people are beating the system.

Source: CNS News, "35.5% of Disability Beneficiaries Have ‘Mental Disorder’; 43.2% in D.C.," Ali Meyer, Jan. 28, 2014

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