Disability - KY - WV - Three times national average - WBOY - Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

Number of disability recipients in WV, KY almost three times national average

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Jimmy May (left), of Toler, KY., started receiving disability benefits at age 18. Jimmy May (left), of Toler, KY., started receiving disability benefits at age 18.

The border between West Virginia and Kentucky contains a startling trend.

The number of people in this region who receive disability benefits is about three times the national average, as first reported by CBS 60 Minutes.

The past decade witnessed a 45 percent increase in the number of people covered by the Federal Disability Insurance Program.  Roughly 11 million disabled workers, spouses and children get Social Security disability benefits. The average monthly payment for a disabled worker is $1,130.

Jeffrey Harrison, of Lenore, WV is one of those people.

Harrison, a former construction worker, said he qualified for disability in 1992 after he was injured at work.

He believes the industries surrounding the region lead to a high number of people on disability.

"We do the more dangerous work," Harrison said. "It's either construction... or you're underground and you never know when a roof top on a mine or a mine accident can happen."

The veteran claims he belongs to a family supported by disability checks. His father started receiving disability benefits after he fell ill.  Harrison said his three children also collect disability. He said the area's dependency frightens him.

"It is gonna run out," Harrison said.

A U.S. Congressional report released Oct. 7 revealed a disability scheme in the same economically-strapped region between Kentucky and West Virginia.

A retired Social Security judge in West Virginia worked with an attorney to fraudulently award disability benefits to hundreds of people, according to a report by congressional investigators.

The report accuses retired administrative law Judge David B. Daugherty of collaborating with lawyer Eric C. Conn to approve more than 1,800 cases from 2006 to 2010. The scheme led the Social Security Administration to pay Conn's firm more than $4.5 million in attorney fees from cases heard between 2006 and 2010 under Daugherty.

Conn runs a law firm that focuses on disability cases in Stanville, KY, near the West Virginia border. Daugherty, who was a judge based in Huntington, WV, retired in 2011 after questions were raised about his relationship with Conn, according to the report.

The accusations instill doubt in nearby communities. Paul Thomasson, of Varney, WV, said a culture of reliance persists throughout Mingo County, approximately 35 miles away from Stanville.

"These people ain't gonna work," Thomasson said. "Even if they got their disability took, they'd just starve."

Other people said the few who abuse the system should not jeopardize the program for everyone.

Jimmy May, of Toler, KY, started receiving disability benefits at 18-years-old.  At the age of 80, a series of illnesses still plague him.

"For the people who need it, it's a good thing," said Paul May, Jimmy's younger brother and caregiver. "It helps him to pay his medicine, his doctor bills, his insurance on his house."

May said his brother takes 13 medications per day and visits a doctor frequently.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin responded to the congressional investigation in an e-mail Monday afternoon.

"We need to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse from our social programs, but we should not throw the baby out with the bath water," said Manchin in a written statement. "However, most West Virginians believe they know somebody on disability who doesn't deserve it, and we must get those people off the government rolls and back to work."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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