Study Finds Filing for Workers’ Compensation Benefits So Stressful it Dampens Recovery
Anyone who has been injured on the job and filed a claim for workers’ compensation (perhaps better known as “work comp”) benefits knows that the process is complex and stressful. Even though you are already in pain, out of work, worried about your health and concerned about paying your bills, you now have to deal with miles of proverbial red tape to seek compensation for your injuries. The process of gathering medical evidence to support a work comp or personal injury claim, in addition to filing all the paperwork and nervously waiting for your claim to be decided, is both tedious and nerve-wracking.
Even if someone else (like an employer representative or insurance agent) is handling the brunt of your work comp claim, it is still stressful to worry about your finances being in someone else’s hands, and when – or if – you will be able to return to work.
Doctors and researchers have long known that stress can have a detrimental effect on your health. What hadn’t been proven, however, until a recent study, is the extent of damage that can be caused merely by going through the stress-inducing process of pursuing a work comp claim or filing a civil lawsuit to recover much-needed compensation to cover medical expenses and lost wages.
The landmark study
To prove the connection between work comp claim-related stress and negative health consequences for the injured, Australian and American researchers performed a joint, long-term study (published in the February 2014 edition of JAMA Psychiatry) of more than 1,000 injured Australian workers.
A portion of those workers were questioned by the research team years after their injuries. A comparison was made between the long-term health of workers who filed compensation claims (or lawsuits) and those who did not. Those who filed claims were asked to rate which parts of the claim process caused them the most stress. This was done so the researchers could find the parts of filing a claim that are most anxiety-producing for claimants and possibly suggest ways to reform the process to reduce stress on injured workers navigating it.
Once the data was compiled, researchers discovered several key points of stress inherent in the claim application process:
- Nearly 40 percent of claimants were stressed by unclear directions about what types of documentation they needed to submit
- Just over 30 percent of applicants reported stress due to delays in the processing of their claims
- Almost 27 percent reported anxiety about the number of medical assessments required to support their application
- 26 percent of applicants had additional stress due to the compensation amount they received being lower than expected
Workers who did not file claims reported less stress during their recovery period than those who did. Furthermore, of those who filed claims, the injured workers who reported that the claim process itself was “stressful” had markedly diminished overall well-being and health, as well as elevated levels of disability, depression and anxiety that were still present years after the initial injury.
What does this mean for injured workers?
This study underscores something that workers’ compensation claimants have known for years: the process of filing a claim is stressful, and that stress compounds the anxiety inherent in having a work-related injury. The stress can easily double or triple if a claim is denied. Thankfully, working with an experienced workers compensation attorney can take the stress of worrying about the claim off your shoulders, allowing you to focus your energy on recovering from your injury. Having an attorney by your side also gives you confidence that any appeals – if necessary – will be handled with skill and efficiency.