Will Volunteering Cause a Denial of Your Long-Term Disability Insurance?
During these tumultuous times when so many people suffer, volunteering can help those in need while also giving those who volunteer a sense of purpose and connection to their communities. As a society, we should all encourage and celebrate volunteerism.
People with disabilities are also well-equipped in some circumstances to volunteer in different roles. Unfortunately, many long-term disability policies can punish volunteering. Some insurance companies may even deny your disability claim for trying to help others and give back if you aren’t careful.
If you are receiving long-term disability benefits, speak with a skilled disability lawyer before any volunteering. A lawyer can help you understand the limitations and restrictions imposed by your long-term disability (LTD) insurance policy, and hopefully find a way for you to give back without putting your monthly insurance benefits at risk.
Your Policy’s Definition of Disability
Long-term disability policies typically frame disability in one of two ways:
- Your disability prevents you from doing the important duties of your occupation; or
- Your disability prevents you from doing any work by which you are trained, educated or suited taking into consideration your station in life.
Applying for disability benefits usually involves supplying the LTD insurance company with proof that you are disabled under your plan’s disability definition. Proving you cannot complete any work is often much more challenging than proving that you cannot perform the important duties of the occupation you held when you first became disabled.
Knowing how your policy defines disability is important to your decision about whether to try and volunteer at all and, if so, what type of volunteering you try to do.
Volunteering When Your Policy Defines Disability in Reference to Your Occupation
When your long-term disability policy defines disability as being unable to perform the important duties of your occupation at the onset of disability, then you may try to volunteer. However, your volunteer work should not resemble the duties of your occupation. If it does, your insurance carrier could argue that you can return to work and deny you further benefits. The carrier will look at what you are doing volunteering and compare the physical and mental aspects to your own occupation.
For example, assume you are a chef, and you were injured to the extent that you cannot cook. If you decide to volunteer at a soup kitchen delivering meals, your LTD insurance company may deny your total disability claim suggesting you are still doing some part of your prior occupation.
If, however, you are a firefighter who suffers from a disability, then you might be able to safely volunteer at the soup kitchen preparing meals. So long as your volunteer work does not require you to perform tasks that are incompatible with your physical demands of firefighting. There’s little chance an LTD carrier would see the fact that you have volunteered at a soup kitchen as evidence, in and of itself, of your ability to perform the important duties of your fireman occupation.
Volunteering When Your Policy Defines Disability in Reference to Any Gainful Work
If your long-term disability policy defines disability as your inability to do any gainful work at all, you may have more difficulty volunteering without putting your insurance benefits at risk. Even simple or mundane tasks in volunteering, like working at a soup kitchen, could evince your lack of a disability under your policy’s definition and cause your long-term disability provider to terminate your benefits.
To illustrate, let’s assume again that you are a firefighter who has suffered a disabling lower back injury. If you decide to volunteer at a food bank handling boxes of food into people’s cars, your LTD provider could decide to terminate your benefits because your ability to lift heavy boxes into cars shows you can do some gainful occupation and, thus, that you aren’t disabled under your policy’s definition.
LTD insurance companies that define disability broadly will hire private investigators to investigate individuals who are receiving benefits, to capture video or photographic evidence of them performing tasks that would be compatible with doing some job. Volunteering heightens the risk your disability carrier will find that kind of claim-ending evidence.
What to Do if Your Insurance Company Terminates Your LTD Benefits Because You Volunteered
If you decided to volunteer while receiving long-term disability benefits (perhaps because you did not know that volunteering might put your benefits at risk), your insurance company might reduce or terminate your benefits.
If that happens, the very first thing to do is to call a trusted long-term disability insurance benefits lawyer. You do not have to accept the insurance company’s decision to deny your benefits. You may or must depending on your policy type timely and comprehensively appeal.
To properly protect all of your legal rights, you will need an experienced individual disability lawyer or if your policy was an employee group benefit, an ERISA attorney. Your lawyer will present solid evidence to contradict the insurance company’s assertion that you can perform the important duties of your occupation or any occupation you are trained, educated or suited to do. That might include video testimony from your doctor that says you could safely do the volunteer work you chose because it was so limited in time. Or, it may include documentation from the volunteer supervisor saying that you were only volunteering for so many minutes and that you took regular breaks. And so on.
Without a strong legal advocate at your side to help you collect this medical, occupational and vocational evidence and to present the information to the LTD insurance company, you may risk losing your long-term disability benefits. Speaking with a lawyer to protect your rights and legal options is critically important to you keeping your long-term disability payments flowing.
Don’t Let the Insurance Company Take Away Your Long-Term Disability Benefits
Your instinct to try and volunteer and give back to your community while you suffer from a disability is commendable. Unfortunately, long-term disability insurance policies put legal roadblocks in your way.
Remember, with the right legal help you can overcome them. With the knowledge and experience a long-term disability claims lawyer can provide, you can explore your options for volunteering while remaining in compliance with your policy terms. If your LTD insurance company tries to deny your benefits based on your volunteer work, a lawyer can protect your rights and hold the insurance company accountable for its attempt to stop you from doing the right thing.
To learn more about volunteering while applying for or receiving long-term disability payments, contact an experienced long-term disability insurance attorney today.