CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Social Security is a lifesaver for 15 million Americans. The Inspector General also says it's a hotbed for waste, fraud and abuse.
Cleveland 19's Chief Investigator Carl Monday has been investigating a local case of Social Security fraud for months. He discovered this week the man who was the focus of the investigation was found dead inside his home. Foul play was not involved in his death and after careful discussion we decided to share Carl's story.
His investigation highlights one case of abuse, but the problem impacts thousands of people. .
While some take advantage of the system, others struggle to get the benefits they desperately need. Carl Monday spoke with a woman who is living a personal nightmare trying to secure Social Security funds. Doris Boldware has six doctors. She's on 16 different medications to treat health issues that read like a medical journal; stroke, seizures, diabetes, heart surgery and the removal of a cancerous kidney.
"I can't take care of myself. And that's not me. I've worked all my life. It's hard. It's devastating," Boldware said.
Social Security Disability was created to help people like Boldware. But more than five years after applying, the 50-year-old mother of two is still waiting for her disability check.
"Everybody else scams the system, and they get it. I'm trying to do things the right way, honest way, and I can't get anything," said Boldware.
Doris isn't the only one ticked off at Social Security. So is Congress. In a recent Joint Economic Committee meeting, Chairman Coats said, "The waste, fraud, and abuse in SSDI is not acceptable."
In one year alone, the Inspector General received 100,000 allegations of social security fraud.
John Barker of Seven Hills has been collecting disability on and off for a decade after he was seriously injured in a reported home invasion incident in Atlanta. In various court records, Barker says he's been diagnosed as a T-10 paraplegic.
In an effort to learn more about the condition, Monday spoke with Dr. Raymond Onders, chairman of the surgery department at University Hospitals. Onders is best known for his trailblazing treatment of paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve.
Onders has never met or treated Barker. Monday asked Onders what the chances are someone with T-10 paralysis could stand up and start to walk. Onders responded, "Many people have a thoracic spinal cord injury where there's no spinal cord injury. So I can break a vertebrae, but I didn't injure the spinal cord. The electrical circuits of our brain extends down, may not be injured. So you can have an incomplete spinal cord injury and still be able to walk."
That's not the case with Barker, at least according to his attorney who told the court that Barker severed his spinal cord at the T-10 vertebrae, rendering him paralyzed from the waist down for the "remainder of his life."
In another case, Barker is asked about his disability, specifically if he had any use of the lower portion of his body. Barker responded, "I don't, pretty much from mid-abdomen down. I don't have any movement or sensation."
So how do you explain video shot by Cleveland 19 News cameras of Barker getting out of his chair and into his van? Another day, he enters the van and begins crawling around the compartment area. Quite a feat for someone who claims to be paralyzed from the waist down.
Monday approached Barker, but Barker's not talking. But additional video provided to Cleveland 19 News clearly shows Barker in his wheelchair arriving through the front door of his home. Moments later after the door closes, with little effort he stands up from his wheelchair. But Barker does more than simply stand up. He leaves his wheelchair behind and proceeds to walk around his home. No cane, no walker, no medical device. He also picks up an infant child and sits back in his wheelchair. Then the self-proclaimed paraplegic crosses his legs.
Monday showed the video to Boldware. She reacted, "It's wrong. He is beating the system. Beating the system with so many others that beat the system and people who really need it, can't get it."
While Barker is suspected of soaking Social Security, Boldware was told last month, it could be another year and a half, before a decision is made on her disability benefits. An emotional Boldware said, "The only thing that helps me is I have to pray and ask God to give me strength to make it through the day. Cause I'm angry."
It's not the first time Barker has faced fraud allegations. Calling him "an incredibly good scam artist," a judge sent him to prison seven years ago for absconding with $70,000 from a foundation to benefit spinal cord injury victims.
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