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Do SSI Requirements Force Parents to Medicate Their Children? Part Two

We previously discussed the notion that the strict eligibility requirements of Supplemental Security Insurance are forcing some parents into the belief that their children must be on medication in order to qualify for SSI for children with disabilities. In recent years, SSI benefits have been increasingly awarded based on behavioral and learning disorders and mental illnesses such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), depression, and developmental delays. While some claim that this has improperly broadened the SSI system far past its original goals, disability advocates say that these disorders are our new reality, and that our government programs must follow along with the times.

In 1990, approximately 8 percent of low-income children who received SSI benefits did so based on behavioral or mental disorders. Over the last 20 years, this number has skyrocketed, and in 2009, 53 percent of the 1.2 million children who received SSI checks qualified for the program with mental disorders. The top disorders reported were ADHD and developmental delays, followed by autism, bipolar disorder, depression, and learning disabilities.

According to David Rust of the Social Security Administration, the increase is due to a natural shift in the illnesses afflicting children, not the agency's action or inaction. "A few years ago, we never saw a bipolar diagnosis in a child; now we do," he said. "The world is changing in terms of who we serve and the kinds of conditions we see."

Additionally, disability advocates have pushed for the inclusion of more of these types of disabilities in the SSI spectrum. It is undisputed that behavioral or mental disorders can make life difficult for a family that is already stretched thin. Yet many parents, physicians and psychiatrists have difficulty toeing the line, and often use medication to step across it and receive the financial benefits they need.

We will continue this series next week with a look at overmedication of children in order to receive SSI benefits, with potentially deadly results.

Source: The Boston Globe, "A legacy of unintended side effects", Patricia Wen, 12 December 2010

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