Tags: Supremes | Will | Try | Define | 'Disability'

Supremes Will Try to Define 'Disability'

Tuesday, 25 September 2001 12:00 AM

The government told the justices that if the broader definition worked out by a federal appeals court in Virginia stands, it would cost U.S. taxpayers tens of billions of dollars.

The appeals court ruling is effective in the 4th U.S. Circuit, which includes Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and North and South Carolina.

"If allowed to stand," the Justice Department told the Supreme Court in a petition, "it would impose an estimated $9.8 billion in additional costs on the Social Security disability programs over the next 10 years in the 4th Circuit alone, and would impose more than $80 billion in additional costs over that same period if applied nationwide."

At issue is what a "disability" means.

In its interpretation of federal law, the Social Security Commission for decades has said "it is not enough that an individual's underlying medical impairment has already lasted or can be expected to last for at least 12 months," the Justice Department said. "Instead the disability - the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity by reason of the claimed impairment - must have lasted or be expected to last for at least 12 months."

In other words, if you were working within the last year, or are expected to go back to work within the 12 months you claim an impairment, then you don't have a disability.

In October 1994, Cleveland Walton was fired as an in-school suspension teacher in Virginia. After several unsuccessful attempts to find work, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia in March 1995.

In May of that year, however, he began working part-time as a cashier in a grocery store, and by October 1995 he was earning $500 a month. The government said Walton began working full-time at the store in December 1995, and continued for two years until he was suspended for selling alcohol to a minor.

Way back in March 1995, Walton applied for disability insurance benefits under Social Security. Ultimately, the Social Security Administration denied his benefits, noting his work history.

Walton then took his case to federal court. A federal magistrate and then a federal judge agreed with the government's interpretation of a disability. A federal appeals court reversed.

The appeals court concluded that "disability" depended on impairment, and said that since Walton had not returned to work within the five-month period described in the statute, he was entitled to disability benefits. The appeals court said Walton was also entitled to a "trial work period" to see if he could perform gainful employment.

The Supreme Court should hear the case sometime in January.

(No. 00-1937, Acting Commissioner Massanari vs. Walton)

Copyright 2001 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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The government told the justices that if the broader definition worked out by a federal appeals court in Virginia stands, it would cost U.S. taxpayers tens of billions of dollars. The appeals court ruling is effective in the 4th U.S. Circuit, which includes Virginia,...
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2001-00-25
Tuesday, 25 September 2001 12:00 AM
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