U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), a 2016 Republican White House hopeful, speaks to a group of state legislators at Murphy's Diner in Manchester, New Hampshire on Jan. 14, 2015.
Brian Snyder/Reuters

Rand Paul takes on disability claims

Of all the people Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) could have complained about, he picked people who receive disability benefits?
Actually, yes. At an event in New Hampshire this morning, the unannounced presidential candidate suggested many Americans who rely on disability insurance don’t actually deserve it.
“The thing is, in all of these programs there’s always somebody who’s deserving, but everybody in this room knows somebody who is gaming the system.
“What I tell people is, if you look like me and you hop out of your truck, you shouldn’t be getting your disability check. Over half of the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts. Join the club. Who doesn’t get up a little anxious for work every day and their back hurts? Everybody over 40 has a little back pain.”
Let’s unpack this a bit. First, the Republican senator’s statistics appear to be off – as the Huffington Post reported, “In its latest annual report, the Social Security Administration says 14 percent of disability beneficiaries suffered ‘mood disorders’ and 27.7 percent had diseases of the musculoskeletal system or connective tissue, which would include back pain.”
But more important is the implicit argument that Americans on disability are committing some degree of fraud, “gaming the system,” and receiving benefits they do not deserve.
And on this point, Rand Paul doesn’t seem to know what he’s talking about.
Not too long ago the Inspector General of Social Security Administration did a thorough investigation of fraud in the disability-insurance program. The result was striking: less than 0.3% of disability payments were improper. (Or put another way, about 99.8% of the payments were legit.) When the Government Accountability Office went looking for disability fraud, it came up with similar findings.
These details were apparently left out of Paul’s remarks.
Let’s also not forget that many of those on disability are American war veterans who cannot work due to PTSD. In fairness to Paul, when he mocked “anxiety” as an ailment, he didn’t specifically ridicule vets, but this is an angle worth keeping an eye on. If the Republican candidate continues to talk about SSDI as a program filled with people “gaming the system,” he may inadvertently rope veterans into the criticism, and the political blowback is likely to be severe.