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Could new diagnosis result in lost disability benefits?

Some controversy has arisen over a new diagnosis that categorizes a patient's medical concerns as symptomatic of a mental disorder. For example, if a person spends hours on the Internet researching medical conditions, and the research makes that person feel ill, then he or she might be diagnosed with what is now called somatic symptom disorder. Symptoms of the disorder include extreme fear and "excessive and disproportionate thoughts, feelings and behaviors."

But many doctors, patients and advocates say that this new, broad diagnosis is likely to result in wrongfully categorizing people who have rare neurological diseases or even cancer. One advocate pointed out that a patient who has already been diagnosed with a disabling medical condition may lose long-term disability benefits if the patient receives an additional diagnosis of somatic symptom disorder.

Consider the case of a woman from Michigan. Ten years ago, she started experiencing a range of symptoms that made her unable even to stand up and make her bed. She had to have her 13-year-old daughter help her. But doctors over a three-year period told her there was nothing wrong with her, even though now she has to use a wheelchair.

Finally, she went to the Mayo Clinic, where doctors diagnosed her with a rare illness, myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, which affects numerous systems of the body. It's also a poorly understood illness.

But the woman's years-long search for a diagnosis might have fallen into the category of somatic symptom disorder, had she not been diligent despite her ailments.

La Crosse-area residents who are suffering from a disabling illness or injury need to be aware of their options for receiving and retaining SSDI or SSI benefits. These benefits can help patients get the treatment and financial help they need.

Source: ABC News, "New Psych Disorder Could Mislabel Sick as Mentally Ill," Susan Donaldson James, Feb. 27, 2013

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