My lovely spouse told me that she saw at the store today a woman who lived up the street from us in our old neighborhood. It brought back a memory. This woman was a school teacher but during the summers she worked for insurance companies doing surveillance on workers comp and disability claimants. She would wait outside their homes in a van or car and videotape them as they went about their activities I remember her telling me, "I’ve never yet seen a legitimate claim."

Now I don’t have any question that there are people who file fraudulent disability claims. And I don’t have any beef with insurers doing reasonable surveillance to try to ferret out those folks. But I do have a huge problem with people who are so jaded, suspicious or just plain dumb that they don’t believe that anyone is disabled.

Strictly speaking, no one is ever completely disabled. Even a comatose person can "work" testing ventilators with a little help from people around him. Yet no sane person would ever consider that someone in a coma is not disabled.

The fact is that disability insurers sell their product by making sure we understand there is a real risk that something could happen to prevent us from carrying on at least our own occupation, and perhaps any meaningful occupation. If an insurer sells to a surgeon a disability policy to pay her a monthly benefit if she can’t perform her specialty, she certainly shouldn’t feel guilty about making a claim on the policy if, after purchasing it, she develops a hand tremor. It may not keep her from doing 99% of the activities of daily living. But it prevents her from being a surgeon. I know I don’t want her as my surgeon. These types of "own occupation" disability policies, especially for highly compensated or highly skilled individuals, are quite common. It is not unusual for a person to be entitled to these types of disability benefits without appearing to be disabled to any degree at all. So next time you see someone walking around looking perfectly fine from your perspective, yet you know they are "on disability," don’t assume they are a malingerer or disability fraudster.

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