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Our view: Range worker's death a call for Social Security reform

People often use the expression "working yourself to death." For Tom Karasti of the Iron Range town of Winton, it became a reality. Karasti, 52, the subject of the series "A Working Man's Lament," which began yesterday in the News Tribune and in ...

People often use the expression "working yourself to death." For Tom Karasti of the Iron Range town of Winton, it became a reality.

Karasti, 52, the subject of the series "A Working Man's Lament," which began yesterday in the News Tribune and in video form at www.duluthnewstribune.com , lost his battle with lung cancer. He was found dead at his home on Feb. 14.

He also lost a battle with government bureaucracy in his attempt to obtain Social Security Disability Insurance after being declared terminally ill with a year or less to live last summer. But because he still was working -- for 18 years as a hoistman at the Soudan Underground Mine State Park -- he was declared ineligible for the benefits that he had paid into for more than 30 years.

"Their advice to me was to quit," he said. "Then maybe I could get certified as disabled."

Karasti, who was single and had few close relatives, didn't quit. He cited the need to keep his insurance active to pay for his treatment, and in an admirable display of virtue that few others would exhibit if told their days were numbered, said he needed to pay taxes and other bills. He also refused to play along with the system by shopping for a doctor to declare him unable to work.

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The Social Security program is governed by some of the most intensely studied rules on the planet, and closing this loophole would have serious implications. Potentially millions of people could be added to the benefit roles, bankrupting the system.

But terminally ill employees shouldn't have to work themselves to the grave, either.

"There [are] thousands of people like me who can't get Social Security disability who have less than a year to live because they're still able to work," Karasti said, "and that's wrong."

Now there is one less: an honest man who worked to his death, all the while paying into the benefit program that wasn't there for him.

May he rest in peace, and may someone in the bureaucracy or the halls of Congress take notice so that his death will not have been in vain.

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