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A recent report out of Mesa, Arizona demonstrates the inevitable negative consequences of supposed problem-solving government programs. Audrey Glemba, a 49-year-old triathlon runner, became a medically-retired police officer collecting worker's compensation for an injury she claimed prevented her from working. Taxpayers in her city are now paying her $508 a month, in addition to medical retirement benefits.
In the years between Glemba's back and knee injury in 1995 and her retirement in 2008, she ran 29 races, including 10 triathlons. At the time she was applying for medial retirement, she and her squad were under investigation for hanging up photographs of themselves, the homeless, and the disabled, alongside demeaning comments. While she was appealing her termination, the local pension board approved her retirement. In the meantime, she participated in an Ironman race just months prior to the approval, and has since completed another one.
Glemba is part of a worrying national trend that has seen the number of people receiving disability benefits rise from 1.5 million in 1970 to 8.8 million in 2012, plus an additional 2.1 million dependent spouses and children. The program's fund is projected to be depleted by 2016 as payments continue to outweigh revenues.
While a difficult job market and an aging population are likely contributing to the increase in program participants, the nature of the rise and reported disabilities suggest that far more concerning factors are also at play.
The government is encouraging people to sign up by creating ways to game the system, and an increasing number of Americans are taking advantage. Relaxation of medical eligibility criteria under the Reagan administration made it easier to qualify for benefits. Unlike the medical impairments more commonly reported in the past, such as strokes and heart attacks, the majority of issues today are difficult to verify, inviting fraud. According to a recent NPR report, just 17.9% of recipients in 1961 were claiming mental illness, back pain, and other musculoskeletal problems as their disabilities. Today, this group makes up over 50%.
In addition, the economic value of disability payments has increased, and recipients qualify for Medicare after two years, regardless of their age. Furthermore, there is a concern that states encourage people to apply in order to transfer the economic burden of the unemployed to the federal government.
Still, government programs do not deserve all the blame. In recent years, our culture has strongly emphasized a distorted view of justice and equality that runs counter to the principle of individual freedom. Rather than admiring responsibility, hard work, and charity, people are resentful and have an inflated sense of entitlement. You cannot watch television today without being bombarded by ads with lawyers promising to fight for you and win the benefits that you deserve.
With government bureaucracy encouraging fraud, and society constantly reminding us that life is unfair, it is no wonder that programs designed to be a last resort are now looked upon not only as another option, but a more just one. These factors contribute to the distrubing trend exemplified by Audrey Glemba, resulting in an increasingly significant proportion of the population reliant on the government and taxpayers. As long as the public continues to allow more and more people to choose disability over work, the numbers will only get worse as the program expands and further spreads dependency and waste.