Rose Marie Reynolds works at a Wisconsin food bank where the lines have become increasingly full of able-bodied people who tell her they are waiting for a disability check.
When she gets home, the retiree is deluged with online ads from companies that tell her that, for a fee, they'll attempt to convince a judge that she is disabled.
John K. Polis, a 57-year-old Rhode Island resident, makes no bones about it that a bad economy, not physical problems, made it impossible to work and led him to sign up for a program intended only for those suffering from the latter.
"I was laid off from my job of eight years as a warehouse receiver on March 31, 2008, and attempted in every way that I knew how to procure new employment... with my 99 weeks of unemployment insurance compensation running out, as well as my meager savings, I took the avenue of last resort that many, many of my fellow older American long-term unemployed took: I applied to [Social Security Disability Insurance] and was accepted," he said in an email.
Steve Grimes isn't proud to admit that he's collecting SSDI on top of a private disability pension. "I for one came from a six-figure-a-year career to living on disability. Believe me, it sucks. Miss the lifestyle I had and am determined to return to it."
Grimes has such motivation despite a government program that he and many of his fellow recipients say provides neither sticks nor carrots to get off it.
"I can tell you that the system does not encourage people to either get retrained, get an education, or return to work. It is a catch-22: If you try to return to work part time the paperwork that is required along with the monthly income caps kills any incentive to work above the table. Many are working for cash," Grimes said.
Dozens of people whose lives have been touched by federal disability wrote to the Washington Examiner after reading its July 30 EXography story and its July 7 story on the rapidly-growing program, which sends taxpayer-funded checks to a group of people larger than the population of New York City every month.
Virtually all, even those collecting the checks, were outraged at its findings, including the fact that many recipients were on disability only because they could not find work, yet also admitted they were neither actively looking for work nor getting training or going to school.
Lou Anne Campbell of Minnesota knows the capability of her family members better than the government does.
"My husband's adopted daughter is 31, never finished high school, is obese and never worked a day in her life ... She has a low/normal IQ and has ADD but that shouldn't prevent her from getting a job. It doesn't prevent her from flying around the country and internationally to attend comic and sci-fi conventions," Campbell said.
Others with serious medical conditions like brain cancer couldn't believe that others were collecting without ever going to the doctor, and said they'd have no problem providing documentation of intensive treatment if requirements were made more rigorous.
With the Social Security Disability Trust Fund slated to be exhausted by 2016, every able-bodied person using it as a free government check is depriving those who need the program.
And the desperation felt by some in the program is palpable:
"In 30 years, I have not had a single day I could enjoy," a long-term, seriously disabled recipient named Michael wrote. "I would rather die than live the rest of my life on disability. If I can't find work, I will end my life."