Will Volunteering Impact My Long-Term Disability Benefits?

Volunteering can help disabled individuals find purpose in their lives or even prepare them for re-entry into the workforce. Unfortunately, insurance companies sometimes use volunteer activities as an excuse to terminate long-term disability (LTD) benefits. How do you balance your need to contribute to society with your personal interests?

In this blog, the disability insurance lawyers at Bryant Legal Group discuss how volunteering could impact your long-term disability benefits and how you can protect yourself.

Volunteering Can Improve Your Quality of Life

Most of us crave a sense of purpose. This is especially true if you’ve worked your entire life, building your own business or practice while serving others. When you’re living with a severe disability and cannot work, you might find yourself longing for something to keep you busy, engaged, and giving back to your community. Volunteering is a great solution for everyone!

There’s also a well-documented link between volunteering and our health. A 2017 study reports that people who serve their communities experience significantly better health outcomes. Furthermore, volunteering can lower depression, improve your functional abilities, and lengthen your life. According to a 2013 study from Carnegie Mellon University, people who regularly volunteer are even less likely to have high blood pressure!

However, insurance companies take a more jaded perspective on volunteering. In fact, insurance adjusters commonly terminate volunteers’ long-term disability benefits — arguing that if they can volunteer, they can work.

Your Long-Term Disability Plan’s Definition of Disability Might Impact Your Ability to Volunteer

LTD insurance policies define “disability” in one of two ways:

  1. Own occupation: you cannot perform your actual job
  2. Any occupation: your health conditions make it impossible to do any type of work — including the simplest, lightest roles

It’s significantly harder to prove that you’re disabled under the “any occupation” standard, since you have to demonstrate a broad inability to work. Most long-term disability policies are “any occupation” plans or transition to this more restrictive definition after a period of years.

Volunteering With an “Own Occupation” Plan

If you want to volunteer and have an “own occupation” LTD policy, you need to make sure that your charitable activities are not comparable to your previous job. Otherwise, the insurer may argue that you’re capable of returning to work.

For example, suppose you work as a software engineer. You suffer a back injury and file a claim for LTD benefits, arguing that you cannot code or design software due to your physical limitations and your medications’ side effects.

An after-school program that teaches teens about coding and software design reaches out to you, looking for a volunteer educator. You start spending long hours at the youth center helping students learn computer languages, design projects, and compete in city-wide coding contests. You even participate in a “day of coding” event where you and your students help other non-profits with website development and software projects.

Under these circumstances, the insurance adjuster might argue that your volunteering is similar in scope to your previous job and terminate your LTD benefits.

Volunteering With an “Any Occupation” Plan

If you have an “any occupation” plan, the insurance company might try to argue that a steady schedule of volunteering (even completing simple or mundane tasks) is a reason to terminate your benefits. Sometimes, insurance adjusters even hire private investigators to follow claimants and record their activities before, during, and after a community service opportunity.

For example, suppose you have a chronic lower back issue and occasionally work at a local food bank. An investigator might film you passing out bags of canned goods and produce at the food bank. Then, the next day, they’ll try to catch you doing daily activities — like taking your dog for a walk or visiting a friend. The insurance company may then use this footage to argue that you’re more capable than you claim.


My LTD Benefits Were Terminated Because I Volunteered. Now What?

If the insurer terminates your long-term disability benefits — arguing that if you can volunteer, you can work — you should consult with an experienced LTD lawyer immediately. You may have the right to appeal this decision, but you’ll need strong evidence that supports your claim. This might include testimony from medical experts, vocational counselors, and others.

At Bryant Legal Group, we understand that there’s a significant difference between volunteering as a literacy coach and working full-time in a high-stakes profession. Our disability insurance attorneys carefully analyze plan documents, use trial-tested strategies, and work with respected experts to document their clients’ abilities and prove that they meet their LTD plan’s definition of disability.

Bryant Legal Group: Illinois’ Respected Disability Insurance Team

At Bryant Legal Group, we’ve been guiding people through their disability claims for decades, and we’ve built a reputation as one of Illinois’ foremost disability insurance firms. If you are receiving LTD benefits and considering new volunteer activities or your LTD benefits were recently terminated due to your volunteerism or other factors, please contact us today.

You can schedule a free consultation by calling (312) 561-3010 or completing our online form.

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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