At the NCCI Annual Issues Symposium last week, I had the pleasure of hearing one of my favorite columnists, Charles Krauthammer, as he delivered the Keynote presentation for the event. I owe many thanks to the folks at NCCI, as they also afforded me the opportunity to meet the man briefly after the session was over.

I just wish I could have removed that goofy schoolboy grin from my face.

Charles Krauthammer was and is a perfect speaker for the workers' compensation industry.

I do not make this statement because Krauthammer's conservative views largely align with mine. It is not because he is witty and entertaining. No, it is something else entirely. It is not who and what he is that makes him perfect; it is who he is despite what he has been through that is so relevant to our industry. And it is a lesson we need to take to our permanently impaired workers.

Krauthammer was injured in a diving board accident during his first year of medical school. He broke his neck, which rendered him paralyzed; an incomplete quadriplegic. His severe injuries left him hospitalized for 14 months. His story could have largely ended there. He could have assumed the mantel of disability, and let his life course bob along with the meandering and lackluster current that condition can often provide.

But he didn't.

Krauthammer went on to get his medical degree, and then specialized in psychiatry. He served as chief resident at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he is credited with identifying a variant of manic depressive disease that he named “Secondary Mania.” He went on to serve in the Carter Administration, directing psychiatric research for the government. It was during this time that he began submitting articles to various political publications, and eventually wound up as a speech writer for the electrifyingly charismatic Vice President Walter Mondale.

And you thought your job sucked….

Today, Krauthammer is a Pulitzer Prize winning author, a decorated columnist, and influential television pundit. He has been called the “most influential commentator in America”, and is credited with coining the term “Reagan Doctrine”. All of this, simply because he refused to let a severe impairment dictate the remainder of his life under the failed banner of disability.

He sets a shining example for many injured workers that pass through our doors. People left with a permanent impairment from a workplace injury often travel down the disabling path of despair, consumed by the belief that their lives are over; they will no longer be able to have any contributory role in society. This attitude consigns them forever to a life of dependence on others. Certainly in some cases it is not avoidable, but in many more cases it is a situation that doesn't have to be. Unfortunately our system is today not geared or enabled to redirect them off that path. We are an industry focused on “Process and Close”, rather than the objective I have long been encouraging, one of “Recover and Return”.

Examples like Charles Krauthammer should be used to show that life does not always have to end with a permanent impairment. Impairment is the physical reality of a serious injury, where disability is simply how the mind chooses to deal with that reality. When it comes right down to it, there is absolutely nothing more disabling then the disability mindset, and we as an industry need to muster our forces to defeat it wherever possible.

Finding true examples of people who live beyond their impairment would be a good start. That is why Charles Krauthammer was a perfect choice to address NCCI. He and others with similar success stories are great examples of what still can be, rather than what will never come to pass.

And the fact that he is a conservative that validates all of my (correct) opinions, well, that is just icing on the cake.

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