Here is my column in today’s Greenville News.  You can also see it at the Greenville News website; and follow any angry comments it may generate!–We-need-to-take-a-hard-look-at-%E2%80%98disability-

Is it my imagination, or are local secondary schools running a special ‘future disabled’ track?  Now, before anyone consigns me to Hades for being insensitive, let me ‘splain.’

I have seen and cared for the disabled for years.  And by the disabled, I mean those individuals with illnesses or injuries that render them entirely unable to work to support themselves.  Their disability may have come from birth injury, from trauma, from disease, from work related accidents, even from terrible psychiatric afflictions.

Furthermore, I have worked with disabled persons.  I well recall an amazing woman who worked as an X-ray technician at our hospital.  Her hands terribly deformed by arthritis, she continued to move patients and take X-rays far longer than anyone else would have been willing.  Heck, any one of the physicians working with her would gladly have signed her disability papers.  But she didn’t seem to want it.  And on she worked.  Not long after she stopped working, she passed on to glory, where her hands and back are now straight as arrows.  She earned her rest.  But she’s probably working in heaven, just unable to sit still.

I have seen men and women consigned to wheel-chairs as quadriplegics who insist on showing up for some kind of work every single day.  I have heard the sheer will in their voices when they ask, ‘can I go back to work now?’

But things are changing.  Because all too many of the ‘neo-disabled’ are vastly different from the folks described above.  Many of the disabled that I see live perfectly functional lives; except of course that they aren’t burdened with employment.  In the immortal words of Evelle to H.I. in the classic movie, ‘Raising Arizona:’  ‘H.I., you’re young and you got your health, what do you want with a job?’

All too often, my disabled patients complaints are as follows:  ‘I hurt my back fishing.  I hurt my leg on my four-wheeler, I fell off my horse, I fell off the roof, I got in a fight, I fell down when I was drunk at a party.’

Seems to me, if you can fish in a river, ride a four-wheeler, ride a horse, climb on a roof, get in a fight or drink heavily at a party, odds are you might just be able to hold down a job.  Call me a hateful conservative, but that’s how I see it.

Worse, when I ask the reasons for their disability, I find myself stunned.  ‘I can’t read well.  I don’t know, my daddy got me on it.  Honestly doc, I can’t remember.  My legs hurt.  I get nervous a lot.  I don’t get along with people.  I have ADD.’

Can’t read well?  Can’t the state use your disability money to teach you?  Don’t know why you’re disabled?  Maybe you needn’t be.  Legs hurt when you walk?  Legions of men and women work in the sitting position.  Don’t get along with people?  How about working with animals, or entering politics?  Have ADD and can’t focus?  There are even jobs for people who need constant stimulation and varying input, like freakish emergency room doctors.

I’m happy for my tax dollars to support the disabled who are really in need.  I’m less excited to subsidize someone’s goals of unimpeded, life-long bass-fishing and bull-riding.

The problem is, of course, multi-layered.  Government functionaries have allowed themselves to swallow the modern lie that work is a kind of punishment, rather than a validation; that employment is oppression not empowerment.  Attorneys, initially well-meaning, have made disability a profession in itself.  Physicians have followed along, or have become so sensitive or weak that it doesn’t take too many sob stories to wear them down to the point that they’ll sign any form at all just to get it over with and appear sympathetic.

And those applying for state support for life seem to believe the money they receive grows on a great big money tree.  All they have to do is collect their fairly meager income, which grows in an orchard near Columbia, or Washington, DC.  (Not far from true the way we’re printing money).  The idea that they’re living on the taxpayer’s dime is the furthest thing from their minds.

Tragically, all of the manipulation does something worse than cost money and productivity.  It dishonors, and detracts from, those who are truly in need.  And that may be the very best reason for us to begin to seriously ask just who is really disabled, and why.

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