Mental Health and Disability 101

Ok ok okay! I’ll try and write something up on disability and mental health.

I have been on and off disability for some time. I’ve gone through one appeal process with CPS, and I am in the process of working on another appeal. So in so far as the uninitiated can understand the disability process, this is how it works:

Before my first of all, I will say that those suffering from depression or other mental illnesses are at a real disadvantage with the “system”. The system is about paperwork, deadlines, phone calls, organization, and keeping on top of things. Shoot me now. These are all things that most people suffering from depression can’t handle from the beginning. So if there is a way to get an advocate to help you with paperwork and staying on top of things, that is HUGE. I can’t overemphasize how important that is. It could be a spouse, friend, nurse or social worker from church, circuit counselor, or someone else. The bottom line is that they A) Need to be able to help you stay on top of this and B) Someone that you trust.

So having said that, first of all, there are a couple magical organizations which must be known and understood in order to make sense of the whole thing. Mileage may vary depending on where you are in the country. I would be interested in knowing how this process differs. I THINK this is the same for anyone on Concordia Plans Services.

The first step in get a doctor or therapist assigned is calling CIGNA Behavioral Health. 1-866-726-5267. You may also find them at CIGNA. You call that number and get pre-authorization for seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist. I think you could do this through your general practitioner, who could proscribe medications, but trust me, you need to get specialists.

Once you have found a doctor and/or therapist (I recommend both), they will need to determine whether you are physically and mentally capable of serving as a pastor at this time. I’m sure medication will be tried first, but it may not be for long. I was on medication for less than a month before I applied for full-time disability.

After your doctor(s) have urged you to apply for full-time disability, you call that CIGNA number again and say you are applying for full-time disability. They have two weeks to make a determination on whether to grant the disability application. They will ask for your permission for your doctors to share their info, your congregational president to write a letter indicating that you are no longer working, and may give you the opportunity to ask people to provide supporting letters (like your circuit counselor, spouse, etc).

So you will know within two weeks. Your disability payments will begin starting at the end of that two week period. Then every month they usually ask for some sort of update on your status, badger your doctors to get you back to work, and the like. You’ll have monthly phone calls at least, and (at least at the beginning as I recall) monthly paperwork.

One thing that is important. Make sure your congregational president writes that you are doing no work for the congregation whatsoever. If you are volunteering your services in some limited capacity, that’s between you and the congregation. But they can’t PAY you ANYTHING while you are on disability. We’ll discuss finances in a different post.

At that point you will also be shuffled over to another organization. AETNA. You will be assigned a case manager, and they will “take care of you” while you are on disability. When I began my disability journey, the company in use was Broadspire. But now I believe they are switched over to AETNA.

IMPORTANT NOTE: It doesn’t matter whether this is you or someone else, but someone must keep a journal of everything. Dates of phone calls, letters, critical events in your health, etc etc. It stinks. I know. But it just needs to be done. If you have a good therapist, they can help recreate this stuff. But don’t bank on that. Try to find someone who can help you.

So that’s the beginning of the process. Questions? I’m really not trying to paint this as a negative picture. I’m trying to be honest and straightforward on how it has worked in my experience.

I know this sounds scary and overwhelming. Believe me I know. Calling to apply for disability was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life. But God is merciful, and despite the quirks and turns in our system, they will take care of you. You are in His hands, and he won’t let you slip into the darkness forever.

-DMR

4 thoughts on “Mental Health and Disability 101”

  1. You say that you’ve been on and off diasability and you are now in a second appeal.

    Who determines the disability status? Are there any particular “buzzwords” that you have figured out.

    It seems like the response I’ve received is “snap out of it” from spouse, parents, congregational leaders, and even fellow clergy.

    I’ve been to a therapist and I’m also on medication. I seem to be doing well now. However, in my situation it didn’t even seem as though disability was an option. The congregation president wouldn’t even discuss a “leave” so I could figure out with some additional help what was going on with my mind.

    So now, I am on CRM status working at another job. It seems as though the church body (LCMS) has just forgotten about me and the possibility of returning to be a pastor.

    My therapist has said that I am in a better position to be a pastor and that I should return to being a pastor. He is writing a letter to the District President. But at this time, it doesn’t seem as though there will be any calls in the next few months for me to return to parish ministry.

    I knew I needed a break from some of the responsibilities to clear my mind and ask the questions needed to determine if a depression diagnosis was the right diagnosis.

    After two years on medication and working with a therapist, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. He also suggested that it was situational, meaning the parish I was serving had some systemic problems that needed to be addressed for me to remain as pastor at that parish.

    When I brought this up to the circuit counselor at the time, he promised to get involved but never did get involved. Then he resigned as circuit counselor. The next circuit counselor came in and was immediately blind-sided by the situation and when we sat down with the congregation president and the chair of the board of elders there was a letter demanding my resignation.

    Needless to say it has been a difficult year since the forced resignation. I do pray that God would see it fit to return me to a parish as an assistant pastor. I pray that this would happen soon but His will not my will be done.

    Finally, here is a question. Is there a possibility of a partial disability or a medical leave for a couple of weeks? I think if I would have had the chance to see a professional over a couple of weeks and start the diagnosis process things would have turned out more positively.

  2. You say that you’ve been on and off diasability and you are now in a second appeal.

    Who determines the disability status? Are there any particular “buzzwords” that you have figured out.

    It seems like the response I’ve received is “snap out of it” from spouse, parents, congregational leaders, and even fellow clergy.

    I’ve been to a therapist and I’m also on medication. I seem to be doing well now. However, in my situation it didn’t even seem as though disability was an option. The congregation president wouldn’t even discuss a “leave” so I could figure out with some additional help what was going on with my mind.

    So now, I am on CRM status working at another job. It seems as though the church body (LCMS) has just forgotten about me and the possibility of returning to be a pastor.

    My therapist has said that I am in a better position to be a pastor and that I should return to being a pastor. He is writing a letter to the District President. But at this time, it doesn’t seem as though there will be any calls in the next few months for me to return to parish ministry.

    I knew I needed a break from some of the responsibilities to clear my mind and ask the questions needed to determine if a depression diagnosis was the right diagnosis.

    After two years on medication and working with a therapist, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. He also suggested that it was situational, meaning the parish I was serving had some systemic problems that needed to be addressed for me to remain as pastor at that parish.

    When I brought this up to the circuit counselor at the time, he promised to get involved but never did get involved. Then he resigned as circuit counselor. The next circuit counselor came in and was immediately blind-sided by the situation and when we sat down with the congregation president and the chair of the board of elders there was a letter demanding my resignation.

    Needless to say it has been a difficult year since the forced resignation. I do pray that God would see it fit to return me to a parish as an assistant pastor. I pray that this would happen soon but His will not my will be done.

    Finally, here is a question. Is there a possibility of a partial disability or a medical leave for a couple of weeks? I think if I would have had the chance to see a professional over a couple of weeks and start the diagnosis process things would have turned out more positively.

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