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Last week we started learning about the steps needed to get time off from work during the healing process. This week we continue with paperwork and actually letting them know you need the time off.
Making the paperwork work for you
Before you take the forms to your doctor, though, take some time to read through the entire set of forms, so you know what info they’re looking for. Some of the questions include: How long has the patient had this condition? How often is he/she being treated for this condition? How long do you expect to continue treating the patient for this condition? How does this condition affect the patient’s ability to perform her job?
Don’t be scared by the questions. These forms are here for YOUR use, and you completely control how they get used. Just remember to look at it from a business perspective, too: “Does this person’s condition warrant us to make special scheduling accommodations?” Make sure you make your case for that.
Before I took the forms to my doctor, I took a notebook and wrote my answer for every question. (Don’t write on the forms! Use a notebook.) When I went to my doctor, I took along my answers. It gave her an opportunity to get to know my perspective better, and it also saved her time coming up with answers. She rewrote my answers onto the form using her own words.
Where it asked for “specific accommodation required,” I wrote that I require occasional, single days off throughout the year to attend to symptoms.
Where it asked how the condition affects my ability to do my job, I wrote that on days when my symptoms are bad, being in public and having to communicate with people makes them much worse.
Employers can ask for updated FMLA paperwork once every six months, but this can sometimes be averted by how your doctor answers questions regarding how long they expect the patient to require treatment for this condition. I asked my doctor to write that this is a lifelong, permanent condition… not because I believe I’ll be stuck with it forever, but so we don’t have to repeat the paperwork so often! I let her know why I wanted her to respond that way, and since she has better things to do that rewrite four pages of forms every six months, she was fine with writing it that way.
[Note: Some doctors charge a fee for filling out non-insurance-related forms. I've heard of docs charging up to $15 in this area to fill out FMLA papers. My doc didn't charge me any fee. Maybe it was because I saved her time by having answers ready for her... Anyway, don't be surprised if there IS a fee.]
Completing the process: Talking to HR
Once you’ve got the paperwork filled out, make a photocopy of it to keep. Then it’s time to gather your courage and meet with your HR rep. All medical information is protected under the government’s HIPAA act, but it wouldn’t hurt to start the conversation by reminding her that everything regarding your condition is to be kept confidential. The only thing she needs to pass on to your supervisor is the specific accommodation you get approved for.
You don’t need to tell your HR person what event(s) caused your condition. You might, though, want to bring along printed information that describes PTSD; that’s up to you. I explained to mine that the condition is caused by one or more traumatic events in a person’s history that don’t seem to go away, but rather are relived over and over again, with all the emotion and physical pain of the original event. Other symptoms can include anxiety attacks, the need to withdraw from people’s view, and a heightened startle reflex. That’s why I need to be able to stay home on days when I feel my symptoms are flaring up. Staying home allows me to relieve the anxiety by remaining in a safe place, away from other people, possibly take medication if needed, and get myself back in balance so that I can return to work as a productive employee.
Your employer will then have 5 business days to approve/deny your claim. Once it’s approved, she’ll give you a paper saying it’s approved, along with the amount of time you have available, and other specifics. Keep that for your records.
My employer recently added a medical release form to their FMLA packet. It asks patients to allow them to contact any doctors, therapists, etc., and gain any information they desire, including mental illness, substance abuse, and HIV information. It goes on to state that they can then release that info to other parties as necessary to make their determination of whether a patient qualifies for FMLA. It says that failure to sign this form will result in the FMLA application being based on only the information they have (they can’t call the doc for more info). Personally, I wouldn’t sign the release if it were given to me. If they want more info, they can tell me what they need specifically, and I’ll write a note telling my doc she can answer that specific question. That’s just me… You can judge your own situation if they give you a release to sign. Just be sure to read and understand everything before signing.
Since I got approved for my FMLA time about 8 months ago, I think I’ve used only three days, but knowing it’s there for me is a comfort. Whether you need to be out of work for several weeks for intense treatment, or just single days to care for yourself during flare-ups, FMLA provides protection for your job and benefits, which affords some peace of mind… something we all could use more of!
The writer is a regular poster on the www.dailystrength.org PTSD forum. Since she found a name for her symptoms in 2007, she has been studying PTSD with the intent of healing herself and helping make the healing process easier for others. Since then, she has finally been able to stop the flashbacks that plagued her for thirty years, and is currently working on the anxiety portion of her symptoms. This is her first published article about PTSD.
The ideas contained in this post soley represent the perspective of the author. To contribute to ‘Survivors Speak’ contact Michele.
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