Disability Right for You?
By Jeanne Lazo
health problems start slowly and grow over time into a full-blown
disability. Fibromyalgia follows this pattern. If you are still
working while trying to cope with this chronic disease, perhaps you
have considered going out on disability leave. If this decision seems
difficult to make, it undoubtedly is—and for good reasons. Chucking
a hard-earned career, one that may have taken years or training,
education, and dedication is not easy to do.
customer service manager, Elaine, said, “I didn’t realize I had a
choice. My employer automatically put me on sick leave. After that, I
was shifted to long-term disability. The HR people set the wheels in
motion and said it was to my benefit to apply for Social Security
disability benefits.” It is a
choice—your choice. Ask your Human Resource personnel to give you
all of the facts and then you decide. But how will you decide if
disability is right for you? Here are some suggestions.
Start with your opinion of your health. How do you feel, both
physically and mentally? What things make your condition worse? What
medications, treatments, or adaptive devices help? What adjustments do
you need to make to feel better? For example, do you need frequent
rest periods or do you need to change position frequently?
Analyze your capabilities and limitations.
It may be hard to get a grip on your situation. Symptoms may
blur together is a fog of pain, suffering, and worry. This is normal.
Keep a symptom and pain diary. Track good days and bad days, noting
what hurts each day and how badly it hurts on a scale of 1-10. What
things are now difficult or impossible for you do? Equally important,
what body parts still work well and what type of work could you do
with those parts?
Research disability benefits. Are you eligible for Social Security
Disability Insurance? To find out, visit the Social Security website:
have disability insurance through your employer or a private
disability insurance policy you purchased on your own, typically
through an insurance agent? If so, obtain a copy of the actual policy
(request it in writing, if necessary). Read the policy carefully,
especially the definition of disability and any clauses that the
insurer could use to deny you benefits.
injury job-related? If so, look into Workers’ Compensation. Was your
injury triggered by an accident caused by someone else, such as a car
accident, in which case a legal case may be applicable.
know what benefits you might be eligible to receive, calculate how
much monthly income you might receive from each source (you may be
eligible for benefits under more than one plan). Make sure you
understand the definition of disability used by each plan for you may
be eligible and analyze whether or not you believe you meet their
definitions of disability. Find out if there is a waiting period that
must be met before benefits will be paid. Find out how long the
approval process can take, on average.
Get one or more expert medical opinions of your condition. Have you
obtained a second opinion or the opinion of medical specialist? Do you
have firm diagnosis and a prognosis for the future? Is this
information well-documented in your medical files and supported by
appropriate, objective medical testing or laboratory reports?
consultation appointment with your doctor. During that visit, review
your job description with him/her. What daily-living and work-related
tasks are you finding difficult or impossible to do? Does your doctor
think your condition meets the definition of disability used by your
prospective disability benefit provider(s)? Can your doctor(s)
determine if or when you may recover to the point of being able to do
your job or any job in the future?
Consult with an attorney who specializes in disability cases. Take
the information you uncovered about prospective disability benefit
providers, copies of disability policies, if applicable, and all of
your medical records with you. Does the attorney think you have strong
disability claim that is well-supported by your medical evidence?
Consider the option of other jobs.
For some individuals, working in another job without going out
on long-term disability may be the best option. Talk to your employer
about other jobs you could do. Talk to a community college or
university vocational counselor. Contact a career counselor.
What effect would not working have on you emotionally? Work provides
more than an income; it provides a social network and the satisfaction
that comes from doing something challenging or helping others. How
important is working to you? Would you be happier trying to work
within your new limitations rather than staying at home? Would you
feel more isolated, lonely, and depressed at home?
Analyze your finances. Do you have enough money to live on while you
wait for benefits to be approved? Some benefits can take months or
years to obtain, and some have a waiting period before benefits start.
What will you live on while you wait? Evaluate your financial
situation as soon as possible!
Think carefully before accepting reduced hours and lesser pay.
Although a less taxing job may be the perfect solution for you, if you
find you cannot do that job and later choose to go out on long-term
disability, your benefits will be based on the lower-paying job. Also,
if you cannot do the less-taxing job, you risk being fired.
Consider your job performance. If you continue working and your job
performance slips below the acceptable level, you risk being fired and
any employer-sponsored disability insurance you may have will be
terminated, too. The Americans with Disabilities Act does not protect
employees in this situation; it only protects employees who were
disabled when hired.
Consider your family and loved ones. Should you conserve your
limited energy to fulfill your role as a mom, dad, wife, husband,
etc.? If it comes down to a choice between your job and your family,
evaluate your priorities.
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