First Person: Having a Disability Is More Than a Job

By Jack Bragen
Tuesday April 08, 2008

In my young adulthood, I fought valiantly against the notion that I would be disabled, unable to work, and dependent on the medical establishment and on public benefits. I tried exceedingly hard to work at jobs, at first by quitting prescribed medication against medical advice, and then tried to work while taking these medications which I had little choice but to take.  

The jobs were quite demanding and I bit off more than I could chew in a repeated pattern. The medication prevented me from performing on a competitive basis. However, it did something to treat my psychotic symptoms, and therefore, I needed to keep taking the meds, or face a psychotic relapse.  

The experiences of the jobs being too hard, and of me quitting them because of how uncomfortable I was, etched the wrong pattern into my brain. Also, in many cases, I experienced traumatic situations in relation to work, such as being held up at gunpoint, getting in a fist fight, getting in a car accident on the way to work, having a rough breakup with a girlfriend, and having a dog chase me (not in that order). By the time my 20s wound to a close, I managed to create a case of burnout and post-traumatic stress related to jobs. I was also forced by then to accept SSI and SSDI in order to survive.  

Now I am in a very stuck scenario, as millions of Americans find themselves to be. Since I have SSI, SSDI, Medicare, Medical, and HUD housing, any money that I earn is subject to reporting. I cannot earn any money without some of my benefits being reduced. The medical insurance is set up in such a way that I would need to have a full-time job with medical benefits to replace the medical insurance I currently have by not working. In order to pay for the same housing that I currently have through public benefits, I would need to work full time. I am certainly grateful for the fact that I have this stuff. However, if I ever want to have any assets, I’m screwed.  

In the foreseeable future I am not going to be able to hold down a full-time job. Because of the way things are set up, part-time work only works against me because it eats away at my benefits. I’m not allowed to have more than a couple thousand in assets, or I stop getting SSI and Medical.  

The detrimental experiences of my 20s did a handy job of knocking out most of my earning capabilities. At 43, having spent over 25 years on heavy antipsychotic medications, I am qualified to do entry-level work but not capable of it physically any more. My choices are limited.  

This is called “The SSI Trap” in which once you receive SSI it is very hard to get off of it. I knew in my 20s that the SSI trap existed, and attempted to evade it, but was caught despite my best efforts.  

Millions of disabled Americans find themselves stuck in “the SSI trap” just as I am. Employment doesn’t exist which is geared for people who may be a little bit slower [unless they have risen through the levels of the system] and yet who may have something valuable to contribute.  

My plan at this point is to accept help from the Clubhouse [] that is being created in Contra Costa County, and secondly to create my own expertise in some field (which includes educating myself), and promote myself as a self-employed person. In American culture as I know it, there is generally hope for someone who wants to contribute to society and make money, regardless of the apparent obstacles.