For those of my readers who don't already know, I work as a job coach for people with disabilities.
My primary function is to help people with disabilities maintain gainful employment by providing them guidance and support on how to overcome their challenges. One of my current clients has made me think long and hard about disability benefits in this country, especially for people with mental health issues.
Let me start off by saying that one thing that makes me feel great about my line of work is that I know the tax-payer dollars are being well spent. My agency provides employment services for people with disabilities, so this is not a case where the state is just throwing away money. I have worked with some clients who will never, ever be able to work full time, and thus will never ever be able to fully support themselves on their own. They have fairly significant challenges that are nigh impossible to overcome.
Because of that, they receive SSI and typically SSDI as well to supplement their income. A girl that I coached works as a stocker at a Walmart. They brought me in to help her out because she was having some significant problems. She is diagnosed with PTSD, mood disorder, Bipolar Disorder, pyschosis, and she has some mild cognitive impairments. She works about 28 hours per week, which is actually very good, but emotionally and psychologically she would not be able to handle more than that.
Without her SSDI and SSI, she would not be able to afford living on her own. So this is a case where it works out wonderfully. Sure, we the taxpayer have to bear that cost, but I'm okay with that because it's not her fault she is so profoundly messed up. But my current client has made me doubt some things.
He is doing a work assessment for food prep at a local restaurant here in Columbus. Nearly every day he tells me about all of the things that frustrate him and would make him walk off of the job. "I've done it before. I've left a lot of jobs that way." Today, he kept nicking himself with a potato peeler (the potatoes were wet and very slipery), and he very nearly quit. I had to get him to take a 5 minute breather and collect himself, because if he walks off of the job during a work assessment, I have to report this to his vocational rehab counselor (the whole purpose of the work assessment is to determine if he's ready to re-enter the work force).
This has been going on for over a week now. He's good at prepping food--rusty after not working in the last 11 years, but shaking off the dust. But there are so many other factors that set him off and increase his frustration to the point where he simply wants to quit. Until yesterday, I couldn't really understand his mentality.
I've had extremely bad days at work, and in my current job I have to put up with a lot of pressure. If I just said "fuck it" and walked, I'd be completely screwed. I have rent to pay, kids to support and put through Catholic school. I simply could not just quit my job because I would have zero income. And that's when it hit me. He has not worked in 11 years, but still he manages to get by, and it's all because he receives a big fat check every month.
It's not like he lives like a king. He can only afford to live in a low-income part of town. For him to quit simply means that his life continues on with the status quo because so long as he is disabled--and he has been determined to be permanently disabled--he gets that check. I found myself feeling fairly resentful. I don't get to just throw my hands up and tap out when the going gets tough. I just have to deal with it and move on.
I don't have a disability, so I have to keep trudging on no matter how hard it gets.
My current client is bipolar. He was abused as a child, and he has fairly high anxiety issues. It's not easy for him to work through frustration and handle pressure where someone like me would not struggle at all. But something tells me that if he had zero income, he would not be so quick to abandon his post.
And that is the double-edged sword. Disability benefits are there to help those who actually cannot help themselves, and that is a good thing. But for some of them, it breeds a feeling of dependence. I can't always determine whether or not that dependence is warranted, but I can't help but wonder what his attitude would be like if he knew this was his only shot at having an income.
Something tells me that he would not be so quick to give up if he knew he would lose his monthly check. But something else tells me that he might just off himself if he knew that he had no other recourse but to put up with either working or being homeless.
I don't really have any answers for this except to say that all I can do is try to help him cope. Part of me wants to give him a kick in the ass to get his head straight, but the wanring alarms in my mind tell me that such a kick in the ass would likely send him over the edge. I am in a rewarding, but incredibly frustrating, line of work.