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The Emotional Side of a Disability Claim


Over the past 12 years, I have provided advice to many physicians in connection with their disability claims. Often there are secondary depressionary factors as a result of physical symptoms.

Over the past 12 years, I have provided advice to many physicians in connection with their disability claims.

Often there are secondary depressionary factors as a result of physical symptoms. A typical scenario:

My client is an orthopedic surgeon who has been highly successful and now has cervical problems that prevent him from leaning forward and moving his neck or extending same for longer periods of time. Sometimes, there may be multiple symptoms involving the lower back or hands, arms or shoulders. The longer the surgeon continues to work, the higher his pain threshold increases. There is often denial on his part, and he doesn’t want to accept the fact that he may be posing a danger to himself or to his patients. He thinks about the long hours he studied in both undergraduate and medical school, the sacrifices economically he has made, and his sense of identity coming to an end. His personal life may also be affected in terms of athletic activities becoming restricted, and he may take more prescription medication or drink excessively to control the pain. His financial “house of cards” will crumble if he goes on a disability claim unless he has a great deal of savings or enough disability benefits to maintain a somewhat reasonable lifestyle. Sometimes his lifestyle will be reduced, and he may be forced to live in a less expensive area, losing contact with close personal friends or relatives.

The stress on the surgeon creates added stress for the family. It is not a happy time! But there is hope knowing that he will get past this period, and usually the emotional feelings are temporary in nature.

Sometimes my client will tell me that his wife is upset as a result of his having to go on disability claim. What does she tell her friends? How does she handle this loss of identity (being married to THE surgeon)? I usually suggest that my client visit with a psychiatrist or psychologist to get over this “hump,” and that, with time, the feeling will fade.

Sometimes my client finds another job that is not in conflict with his symptoms and is collecting disability benefits on a long-term basis under a “Your Occupation” definition. The combination of the earnings from the other job (full- or part-time) and the disability benefits (often tax free) have a tendency to instill confidence in the surgeon and get past the emotional turmoil of ending his career. Other times, the surgeon may not work at another job, and he gets to spend more time with his family and do things he never had time to do in the past. This also helps to get him over the hump.

Continuing to work when one is in constant or intermittent pain at a high level can lead to permanent damage and clinical mistakes. You might not have any pain, but you may have an “essential tremor” causing your hands to shake, or you may be losing vision, which is affecting your performance. Don’t wait for the malpractice claims to flow because your “ego” was too big to consider the alternatives.

In summation:

It’s OK to admit that you have a health problem. There is no written law that says you must work “until you drop.” Get professional help from a therapist if you “feel the walls closing in” and you need to better control your emotions. Recognize that you are human, and with time you will get over the bad feelings. You purchased disability insurance, paying substantial premiums to “keep you close to your world” if you became sick or hurt. It wasn’t your intent to profit from this purchase, and often the benefits will be less than your earnings. But now it’s time for the insurance company to honor their promises and pay you monies that you are entitled to. You had the good sense to purchase disability coverage. Knowing that you’ll have cash flow to replace a portion of your earned income should go a long way to reducing the amount of stress so often related to a disability claim.

Art Fries is a disability claim consultant providing advice on a national basis. He is located in Newport Beach, California, and can be reached at 1-800-567-1911 or “www.afries.com.”

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