Real Worth

by Frank Lukas

One of the posts to my Facebook today was a “down with the IRS” post. Normally I don’t pay all that much attention to tax hate stuff of any sort whether it’s TV, CSPAN, newspapers or Facebook. Hating the government and taxes seems to be a monomania with US citizens these days.

But this one went on to berate paying taxes for those who don’t work by those who do. As if those on Social Security and disability and even unemployment don’t pay taxes too.

The three things tax and government haters seem to hate the most are Social Security, unemployment compensation, and disability insurance. Every single one of these is an INSURANCE plan. They are operated by the government because otherwise almost no one would be able to afford them and sooner or later a lot of people need them. What part of everybody who collects on them has paid premiums for this INSURANCE don’t they get? And some of them, like my spouse who worked for over forty years in spite of being born with cerebral palsy, paid premiums for all that time. Was he not entitled to collect on his insurance when he could no longer work? Not according to these people. According to them he’s just a mooch living off their work.

What they don’t know about the people who have to collect on these insurances would fill up a lot more space than we have here. But there’s room for my one little story.

My husband was born with cerebral palsy. He was very lucky to be able to walk with a brace. His whole left side is smaller than his right side and his left leg will not support him. When he tries to stand on his left leg it simply gives way. He has been able to walk without a noticeable limp unless you look closely) or brace since he had surgery when he was in eighth grade. He has had terrible muscle cramps and headaches all his life. We now know probably from the cerebral palsy.

In spite of all this he started working at the age of eight in his father’s drug store. It wasn’t hard work because he was there more to be with his father than work. But he liked helping his father and did small chores that would otherwise have been done by a retail clerk or his overworked father. He started selling shoes when he was in college. After college he worked his way up in the medical billing business until he was Director of Client Services. When that company went out of business he went back to shoes. In between shoes he worked for a year or so for an auto rental company. He was the manager of several stores in different companies and at the time of his accident was an area manager for the states of Washington and Oregon.

When he had his accident, he and his boss had just finished an inventory and were putting away the paperwork. The paperwork was kept in an open space above a ceiling about eight or nine feet above the floor. It was in a nearly full box about two feet by two feet by three feet. My husband was on a ladder trying to pull the box out of this space. He told his boss he thought the box was too heavy. He should have refused to pull it down, but when you need your job you don’t dare do a thing like that. His boss said it would be alright, go ahead and pull it down. My husband pulled it down, nearly dropped it on his boss and got a ruptured disc in his back.

After several months of physical therapy he was trying to get back to work at least part time when he stepped off a ladder the wrong way. You know how sometimes you think that last step is closer than it is? That’s what happened to him. He landed too hard on his good leg and damaged the meniscus in his knee. He had physical therapy, he had surgery, he had depression. Here is a man who all his life had avoided the even the idea of having a disability or handicap. He had worked for over forty years in a country where even when they can work, eighty percent of disabled people cannot get work.

And he was never going to be able to go back to his job. As it turned out to any job. He can’t stand in the same place for more than twenty minutes with out extreme pain. He can’t sit for more than twenty minutes without extreme pain. He can’t walk more than thirty feet without a cane or a walker. He can’t operate a computer keyboard for more than five minutes and a mouse for more than a minute without getting cramps in his hand. He just couldn’t work anymore.

He had paid his disability insurance premiums, his unemployment insurance premiums, and his social security insurance premiums, all his working life. It still took three years and a good lawyer to collect his insurance. For three years we hoped more than believed he would collect his disability insurance. When Social Security agreed with us after a three hour interview and very thorough paper investigation we thought the state would give in and agree. No such luck. And all this time we kept hearing horror stories about the people who were terribly injured and never collected. Some who were turned down because they didn’t have a lawyer and everybody is turned down who doesn’t have a lawyer. And it wasn’t the lawyers telling us this it was the employees of the state. Some who had lawyers and died of their injuries before they could ever collect a penny. And one hates to think about the suicides.

My husband is proud of his insurance. He’s proud he had the guts to stick it out and win what was just. But I see the looks people give him when he says he’s on disability. Though I know they shouldn’t these looks embarrass me. And I hope he doesn’t notice them. Because after forty-six years I know his real worth. And it’s more than they could imagine.

I hope if people know and understand the reality behind the “don’t tax me for the shiftless” attitude that they will look at it differently. That they will see that there are real people behind these ideas, these ideologies. That what goes on in the real world with real people is very VERY different than the ideologies. And maybe even that no matter how successful you are, no matter how wealthy you are, no matter how powerful you think you are; terrible, tragic things can happen to you. And you may not be able to go on in this life without your insurance. Without it you too could need medical care you can’t afford. You could be helpless, you could be homeless.

And above all I hope it makes people think about what it means to be a person. And what it means if we throw persons away as if they were trash because they aren’t perfect. And especially what it means when we start behaving like Nazis and acting out the belief that some of us are more valuable than others. What a person is paid, what a person pays in taxes, what a person has in the bank should never be the measure of that person’s worth.