The income umbrella (AP photo/Charles Dharapak)

Last week, we posted a story about a big Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) case in New York.

The district attorney who brought the indictment accused many of the police officers and firefighters who responded to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on New York World Trade Center complex of pretending they had serious post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in order to qualify for disability benefits.

Of course, the district attorney has to prove those allegations beyond a reasonable doubt, and anyone can make anyone sound guilty by wording allegations in the right, guilt-implying way. Maybe some, most or even all of the people accused in the indictment really have serious PTSD.

I have a personal stake in that case because, on Sept. 11, 2001, I watched the towers burn from a spot across the Hudson River, in Hoboken, N.J. Once I realized that the attacks were the result of more than a Cessna having a bad day, I assumed that I was literally under nuclear attack. I dealt with that sense of doom by nobly posting whatever the 1010 WINS news radio station said about the attacks into the LifeHealthPro.com Web news system, for the sake of the few beleaguered insurance community members who would survive the nuclear war and emerge from their shelters with a desperate need for insurance Web news cribbed from 1010 WINS.

I also went out and bought steel-toe work boots, with the intention of going into the rubble and rescue people, then discovered that there was no way for me to get into Manhattan, let alone to dig people out of the rubble.

I emerged with Post Listened-To-Too-Much-Radio-News Disorder, which certainly wasn’t enough to interfere with my ability to work but made me pretty cranky.

Maybe there are were some 9-11 first responders who are perfectly capable of skiing, paragliding and racing into burning buildings to rescue people, but can’t really deal with a morning meeting, a departmental team-building session, a performance review meeting, or annoying interactions with members of the public without frequently flying off the handle.

I wonder how many people who are collecting either SSDI or private disability benefits are really off the job just because they’re genuinely unacceptably cranky, not because of any general inability to function.

If so, one simple way to address that problem might be to identify and popularize a questionnaire employers and job counselors could use to rate the stressfulness of various jobs for people who find other people annoying, rather than simply accepting the idea that all workers have to be capable of coping with an infinite level of interpersonal hassles.

Employers could identify low-hassle jobs, and try to make them available to cranky workers.

Maybe some employers could even go through position lists, job descriptions and organizational charts and make some effort to reduce interpersonal hassle levels, the same way they might try to reduce workers’ need to lift heavy boxes or breathe in toxic solvent fumes.

Employers may find that, just as efforts to make life easier for workers with physical disabilities can make life more pleasant for all workers, efforts to reduce the interpersonal hassle level could make life more pleasant for the ordinary workers who manage to keep pleasant smiles frozen on their faces as well as for the certifiably cranky workers.

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