WRITTEN BY RICH BYERS | JULY 2015
Growing up the only child of parents who never graduated high school, both spending nearly three decades as custodians for state colleges, I may have read an article like this one and thought that people are just whiners. On the backs of my parents I had food and clothes, a warm place to live and even got to do some extra-curricular activities like Little League. It was certainly not free of financial struggles, but in one way it was idyllic; through the efforts of my parents “I had it better than they did.”
I put myself through private college and then law school, mostly holding fast to that blue-collar-conservative ideology of working for what you get and not expecting anything more (even studying corporate law) until one day I got a call from my dad. His career had just ended.
He had been an often-promoted and exemplary employee for the State of Washington for over 30 years, a Vietnam-era veteran, and a great role model for me – teaching me that you get what you work for, and that’s that. Then, after over thirty years of heavy labor work, he was injured and his doctor told him he couldn’t return.
He suffered through physical pain, depression, a loss of identity as a contributing member of society, and the realization that a decades-long chapter of his life was now over – one which he hadn’t planned on ending so abruptly. To make things worse, this man who had never had a major claim for worker’s compensation was being met at every turn with a vicious fight from the Department of Labor and Industries. Not the American dream we like to imagine.
I changed the course of my study and my life and became a worker’s compensation attorney. I see everyday the degradation of our system of benefits for injured workers, and articles like this one only ring home the truth – we are experiencing a massive reduction in benefits and a general shift in thinking for workplace injuries. Bottom-line thinking is leaving injured workers – the vast majority of whom only want to return to work as soon as possible – often fighting for years just to receive treatment while their doctors are left grasping at straws to figure out why the very treatment that could get them back to work is being withheld.
This problem is multi-faceted like any other, but the shift of medical decision making from doctors to insurers is inexcusably running afoul of the intent of our Industrial Insurance Act. An injured worker’s sole source of remedy is L&I, to take the power away from doctors and place it in the hands of retro groups and employers who only care about their insurance rates is bordering on the criminal.
My dad’s experience changed my life. How has your life been touched by our failing worker’s comp system?