Deny disability benefits to attackers, victims urge

September 22, 1993|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- An Annapolis woman severely beaten two years ago by a man later committed to a state mental hospital went to Capitol Hill yesterday to press for legislation that would deny her attacker Social Security disability payments.

Susan Donnelly, who suffered severe head injuries when she was beaten with a baseball bat by a co-worker in 1991, was followed to the witness stand by a North Carolinian whose son was killed by a man later committed to a mental hospital. R. B. Nicholson said he subsequently discovered that the man who killed his son and three other people was drawing $511 a month in disability benefits.

A New Jersey prosecutor told the House Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee about a man who, after being found not guilty of attempted murder by reason of insanity, received a disability award of $678 a month, plus $8,646 retroactively.

When he left the mental hospital in January, he used the Social Security funds to check into a New York hotel and buy drugs for five days until he was arrested, said Nicholas L. Bissell, Jr., the Somerset County prosecutor.

The witnesses were supporting a bill to expand the provisions of a law that bars Social Security payments to inmates convicted of felonies.

Introduced by Rep. Andrew Jacobs Jr., an Indiana Democrat, the bill would apply the law to people committed to public institutions after being found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Lawrence H. Thompson, the Social Security Administration's acting director, told the subcommittee headed by Mr. Jacobs that about 1,500 people would see their benefits suspended, at a savings of about $10 million a year, under the bill. Currently, the benefits of 15,000 imprisoned felons are suspended, he said.

Mr. Thompson took a cautious stance on the bill, saying it has to be crafted carefully so that it would suspend the benefits of only those who deserve to lose them.

Ms. Donnelly said she was managing a fire and water damage restoration company in suburban Washington when an an employee, upset over a work schedule, beat her with a baseball bat, causing severe head and facial injuries.

She said her attacker was found guilty of attempted murder but not criminally responsible and was committed to Clifton T. Perkins State Hospital.

"I'm back at work now, so my state tax dollars pay for his medical treatment and his board and room," Ms. Donnelly testified. "Now, I discover that my federal tax dollars reward him with Social Security disability payments after he tried to kill me."

Mr. Jacobs and several witnesses described the hospitalized recipients as "double-dippers," arguing that the they are housed and fed by the state while at the same time receiving disability payments designed to provide food and shelter for those unable to work.

A North Carolina lawyer who represents the man who killed Mr. Nicholson's son opposed the Jacobs bill, saying the committee is talking about people who have been found not guilty and can't be punished for their acts.

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