Is Cluster Headache a Disability?

Cluster headaches can be very debilitating and at some point you may begin to question whether or not it makes sense to continue working. Generally speaking, episodic cluster headaches would not qualify as a disability in the eyes of the government, but they may justify a short-term leave from work. Chronic cluster headaches that have endured for a year or more and are debilitating may justify a longer absence from work or even full disability. Confounding factors, such as dizziness, vertigo, confusion, anxiety, and depression may all be factors that make it impossible to work. Whatever your reason, it is helpful to have a good understanding of how both private and government paid disability insurance works. The intent of this guide is to provide an overview of the options available to you as a cluster headache sufferer.

Some general concepts to consider:

  • Disability is a limitation of your ability to work that may be full or partial.
  • Disability insurance is paid for by the insured (you) or by the insured’s employer on their behalf. It guarantees a certain level of income should you become unable to work for an extended period of time due to a disability.
  • Falsifying information to collect insurance payment is considered insurance fraud and is illegal
  • Being on disability leave is not a paid vacation – it means living a disabled lifestyle that likely won’t include golf, skiing, or flying off to Jamaica. Think that through very carefully.

Disability means big changes

Before you begin down this path, you really need to determine if you are in fact disabled. There are two different shades of this answer: from a private employer/insurer perspective and from the government’s perspective.

  • The Social Security Administration (SSA) administers Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) for the U.S. government. According to the SSA, being disabled means that you are unable to work at any job, period. That does not imply the condition is permanent, which is a common misconception, it simply means that you are currently unable to work and will not likely be able to return to work for one year.
  • From an employer and private insurer perspective, disability is related to your ability to perform the job that you were hired to do, at least initially. Given that these may be two vastly different scenarios, we’ll treat them separately.

For a cluster headache sufferer finding it difficult to maintain reliability and performance on the job, disability leave may be a consideration. The irreparable damage to your reputation and work history from poor performance and possibly being fired because you have an illness that few understand may be difficult to overcome. A key consideration to keep in mind is how long you will need and what will actually change to make it better.
Long-term disability and social security disability carry with them some fairly significant changes in how you may be accustomed to living your life. However, they are not necessarily permanent and can help you maintain your bills while you get yourself to a better state. Taking this longer-term step will almost always mean losing your current job. However, if you are truly disabled, you have little choice in that matter anyway and would be wise to take advantage of the insurance you’ve paid for.

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