You are here: Home Insurance Disability ... While You Are ... Summary
Information about all aspects of finances affected by a serious health condition. Includes income sources such as work, investments, and private and government disability programs, and expenses such as medical bills, and how to deal with financial problems.
Information about all aspects of health care from choosing a doctor and treatment, staying safe in a hospital, to end of life care. Includes how to obtain, choose and maximize health insurance policies.
Answers to your practical questions such as how to travel safely despite your health condition, how to avoid getting infected by a pet, and what to say or not say to an insurance company.


Disability generally does not happen overnight. If it is possible that your health condition may deteriorate to the point you will want or need to stop working, there are some preparations that will make obtaining private and/or government disability income benefits easier if and when you do stop working.

While you are still working is the time to get your ducks in order in case you do want to file a disability claim. To do that:

For additional tips while you are still working, see: Work: Leaving Work Because Of Disability.

When you're ready for the paperwork, there are guides to follow in completing the forms as well as for following up. To learn more, see: Disability Insurance: Claims: How To Complete The Forms.

Keep A Diary Of Your Symptoms

Maintain a diary of the symptoms you experience each day. It's not the worst thing in the world if you skip a few days. The idea is to have a diary which is written as events occur which reflects what is going on.

Make entries on the day they describe, or within a few days.

To maximize the use of your diary as evidence of what has been happening, do not go back and change any entries.

Use adjectives and descriptions to describe both the symptoms and their impact on your work and daily life that day. For example, instead of just writing a symptom such as "Fatigue," describe it. Some appropriate descriptions are:

  • "So tired after going to the doctor, I slept for three hours, and couldn't go back to work."
  • "Too tired to cook; ordered food delivered."
  • "Diarrhea was so bad I was in the bathroom for two hours instead of at my desk."
  • "Pain kept me from concentrating so I had to redo the XYZ document because of errors."

For your convenience, we include a Symptoms Diary that you can securely store on line. You can print the diary and take it with you to doctors' appointments. There is even a graph which shows you visually how your symptoms change over time.

To Learn More

More Information

Symptoms Diary

Work With Your Doctor(s)

Especially in this age of managed care, doctors don't often have time to be as thorough as they would like to be in entering information into the record. It would be nice if it weren't true, but It's your responsibility to make sure the paperwork you will need to file a disability claim is in order.

If you have more than one doctor, decide which one should have the complete medical record relating to your health condition. This could be your primary care physician or a specialist.

Let that doctor that know you are considering going on disability and that you want to make sure that your medical record is complete, and that it reflects the facts that will make it likely you will be able to obtain disability benefits when you need them. Consider reminding the doctor that means you need to have all your physical and mental symptoms noted on a continuing basis, as well as how each symptom affects your ability to do your job. Also ask the doctor to note how the symptoms affect your activities of daily living.

If you have a symptom that is constant, make sure the doctor enters it at every visit. This is especially true of subjective symptoms that cannot be measured with a lab test or a scanner, such as pain or fatigue.

If you start keeping a symptoms diary, you can print the appropriate pages and hand them to the doctor at each visit. This way you can maximize your time together while at the same time make sure your record is complete.

If it hasn't happened already, we recommend that you ask each of your other doctors to send a report that summarizes your health history with respect to your medical condition(s) to that doctor. Ask the doctors to be sure to include the same information you asked the doctor who keeps your complete record to include.

Check Your Medical Record

People who review disability claims tend to ignore symptoms which you as the claimant list which are not also found in your medical record. Therefore, as noted above, it is advisable that all your symptoms, both physical and mental, are entered into your medical record. The record should also indicate how each symptom specifically affects your ability to do your job, as well as your activities of daily living.

It is also advisable to periodically review your chart to make sure it is complete and accurate.

To Learn More

More Information

Medical Records 101

Learn How "Disability" Is Defined In Each Of The Private And Governmental Benefits For Which You Are Eligible

Government Benefits

To learn how "Disability" is defined with respect to each government benefit for which you may be eligible, see the particular benefit. For instance: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). For additional government benefits, see: Government Benefits.

Employer Benefits, Group Disability Insurance Policies, Individual Disability Insurance Policies

Definitions of disability vary in their wording. Check each potential source of disability income for that particular source's definition of "disability."

In determining eligibility for benefits, every analyst will look to see if the records support whether you are "disabled" as defined in the particular situation.

A common definition contains the following three parts::

"You are totally disabled for our purposes if you are:

  • unable to perform
  • the material and substantial duties
  • of your regular occupation."

A common variation is to change the "of your regular occupation" to "any occupation for which you are reasonably suited through education, training and experience."

As you can see, these definitions raise a two-pronged investigation of your claim: the first is your medical condition and how it impacts your ability to work and the second is your job description.

Let's look at each part of the definition, one at a time:

Unable to perform

This is where the medical record discussed above is important. Your medical record must document medical problems that prohibit you from performing your job duties.

For example:

  • If the medical record shows that you can no longer see, then you clearly can't perform the duties of a bus driver.
  • If the record shows that you are unable to walk, then you are disabled from any occupation that requires walking.

Material and substantial duties

Under this measure, the question is whether the duties you are not able to perform are really important to your job, or whether they are just marginal.

For example:

  • If your thumb is broken and you can't write, but your job doesn't involve much writing, then it won't be considered a disabling condition.
  • If you're a schoolteacher who usually stands when teaching although you could sit if you chose to, then a broken leg won't be considered disabling.
  • If the job requires a substantial amount of travel and your symptoms are extreme fatigue along with stomach problems and diarrhea, then inability to travel could be considered disabling.
  • A secretary generally has to be able to use a computer and handle telephone calls. It's generally not a material part of the job to get coffee for the boss.

Your Regular Occupation

"Your regular occupation" means that you aren't measured against a desk job if you are a sanitation worker. By looking at your own occupation, the issue of disability is focused on your particular job.

For example:

  • A skilled surgeon might be totally disabled with a broken finger, even though he or she could still act as a doctor.
  • A computer programmer may have two broken legs, be confined to a wheelchair and still not be "disabled" within the policy definition.

As you can see, because disability is determined based on both your medical condition and your occupation, making sure the disability analyst gets an accurate job description is just as important as supplying a complete medical record.

Any occupation for which you are reasonably suited through education, training and experience."

Relating to what this change in definition means to the example used above:

  • The surgeon with the broken finger is not disabled if he or she can teach surgery or work as a doctor.

Assess Your Chances For A Successful Claim

To assess your chances for a successful disability claim, compare the duties of your job to your symptoms. One way to do this is divide a sheet of paper in half with a line going from top to bottom. Label the left side, "Symptoms" and the right side, "Job Duties".

On the "Symptoms" side of the page:

  • List all your symptoms, focusing on both the physical and mental symptoms. Include side effects of treatments and medications as well as symptoms caused by the condition. If you've been keeping your Symptoms Diary to date, this should be easy to do.
  • Ignore lab results for now. It is the functional symptoms that the disability analyst will look for.
  • Don't rush completing this list. Think about filling it out, and then setting it aside for a few days. Don't be surprised if additional symptoms come to mind -- especially if you have been dealing with a deteriorating condition for some time. You may have had some symptoms so long and adjusted to them so well, you've forgotten about them.

On the "Job Duties" side:

  • List all the material duties of your job. Look beyond the name of the duty and look at what it takes to do it. "Answering phones" is the name of a duty. However, if you generally deal with irate customers on the other end of the line, then more is required to perform that duty, such as patience and tact. Unless you describe the duty more fully, no one would understand why it would be difficult to do if you're in pain or fatigued.
  • Focus on the main duties. The definition of disability generally relates to "the material duties" of your job.
  • Again, take your time completing the list.

When the list is complete, relate the two columns to each other .

  • List the symptom and then each duty it impacts. Next to the duty, give the impact a number. For example:
    • Use a numbering system from one to ten. One is no impact and ten is such a strong impact that you can't do the duty at all.
    • If fatigue prevents you from lifting, and part of your job is lifting heavy boxes, list the symptom as fatigue, the duty as lifting heavy boxes (preferably even with the weight of the average box so a dummy can understand the situation), and the impact as 10, since you can't do it at all.
    • Fatigue may even impact your duty to do your paperwork, but the impact may be much less, say a 3.
  • This simple exercise will not only give you an idea of how well your claim will succeed, it can also show you where you need to focus when reporting the symptoms of your condition, and their effects, to your doctor.

To Learn More

Balance Your Health Condition With Your Ability To Work

There is no right or wrong time to leave work to go onto disability. The only question is what works for you.

That said, for each of us, the question is generally balancing the desire to continue working and the need for the income we've been used to against the exhaustion and/or pain that may accompany a medical condition.

There is no need to push yourself until all you can do is work, then go home and try to recover in time to get up and go back to work.

Claims people do not understand the concept of a deterioration in health. They prefer to think in terms of a quick and sudden inability to work. Somebody who got hit by a car while leaving work seems to be their idea of an ideal claim. Maybe that's an exaggeration, but not much. Many claims examiners will attempt to deny claims because "her symptoms haven't changed. So why was she able to work last week, but not now?"

It's easy not to notice continuing small changes. However, if you keep a Symptoms Diary, you will have a measure to see how your health condition changes over time. As noted above, a diary also makes approval of your claim more likely.

To Learn More

More Information

Symptoms Diary