Getting Back to Work After a Disability

This month, we celebrate the 22nd birthday of the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, so I’d like to talk about some of the many resources and support groups our clients have used when going back to work after a period of disability.  Most people have a negative impression of disability insurance, both public and private, creating a stigma which mislabels many disabled individuals as lazy or slackers.  Based on our clients, these stereotypes couldn’t be further from the truth.  Most of the claimants we work with would jump at the chance to return to productive, rewarding work and forget all about their disability claim along with the burdens they have to bear.  The Social Security Administration, along with several private organizations, have created multiple programs to help individuals transition from disability to recover their ability to be gainfully employed.

Although many individuals are unaware of their existence, Social Security has created several incentives to help ease disability beneficiaries back into the workplace.  For the first nine months after finding a job, a claimant can earn any amount of money without threatening their benefits.  If at any point during the first three years of being employed their income falls below $1,000/month, they’re immediately eligible to resume their disability benefits.  Also, former Social Security beneficiaries are eligible to keep their Medicare coverage for up to eight and a half years after returning to work.  The Ticket to Work program, established by Congress in 1999, provides practical help to Social Security beneficiaries during their job search.  Many of these programs and incentives aren’t well-promoted, so it’s important to seek out these services on your own if you want to take advantage of them.

Outside of Social Security, there are several other non-profit groups that aim to help disabled workers find their place and positively contribute to their work environment.  The National Association for Injured and Disabled Workers is a great resource for information and help for workers who have experienced a disability and helps them reclaim their lives and decide on the next steps to take.   Almost all chronic conditions also have their own organization that can specifically provide support based upon the condition you are experiencing.  For example, the National Fibromyalgia Association, the Arthritis Foundation, and the National Stroke Association all provide great resources, articles, and tips for those suffering from those disabling conditions.

These organizations aren’t the only ones to offer advice.  At our firm, we’ve seen many clients successfully return to work and have fulfilling and enjoyable careers.  Here are 3 of the best free tips we’ve encountered:

  • When sending an employer a cover letter and resume, it’s a good idea to gently mention the issue if you have a visible disability.  This prevents the hiring manager from being surprised and may even benefit you if they’re expecting the worst and instead meet an able, professional employee.
  • If you’ll need accommodations, be honest up-front and mention them.  Many employers are wary of a chronically ill employee, but if you can discuss the accommodations you require and how you will be able to fully complete your job, it can ease those concerns.
  • Look into retraining programs from your city’s or state’s Department of Labor.  If you have a condition that prevents you from going back to your previous profession, but an “any occ” definition in your disability policy requires that you return to work in another job, these retraining programs can help provide you with the tools and knowledge necessary to succeed in another career that’s conducive to your conditions.

Many disability insurance policies can provide assistance in returning to work as well.  All insurance companies now employ Vocational Rehabilitation (called voc rehab) consultants to help insureds get back to work.  These services are provided at no cost to insureds and can be helpful, especially for people who need updated or different job skills.  Of course, insureds need to be extremely careful in dealing with voc rehab issues, as they can be twisted around and used against your claim.  Too often, we’ve seen clumsy attempts to terminate claims that claim examiners tried to cover through the appearance of voc rehab services.

Return-to-work benefits are also offered by most disability insurance companies.  Some policies will continue paying benefits during a short trial period (3 to 6 months) while the insured attempts to return to work.  Or, insureds will partially return to work, on a part-time basis, and receive partial or residual benefits.  These benefits can be very productive and help give people the confidence to attempt to return to work.  Claim departments routinely train their examiners not to answer hypotheticals, such as what would happen if…   So, there’s no easy or obvious answer, other than to be extremely careful if you’re considering return-to-work benefits.  The clauses can be abused and mis-used as a basis to terminate a claim, even though the insured isn’t able to continue working.

As the Great Recession continues and the job market struggles to recover, many people are looking to blame entitlement programs for governmental budget woes.  Unfortunately, the disabled often caught in the political crossfire.  There are many and extensive barriers that block the way of disabled individuals who truly want to return to gainful employment and don’t want to be reliant on disability benefits to survive.  During this recession, disabled workers have lost jobs at higher rates and been hired at lower rates than the average.  This had led to increases in the number of people who are claiming disability benefits, costing governments and insurance companies more dollars to pay for those benefits.  Until disabled workers are fairly treated and given the same opportunities as everyone, they’ll be at an inherent disadvantage and more likely to be forced into claiming disability benefits, through little want or fault of their own.

If you need to know more about your specific disability insurance policy or have questions that were not answered above, please feel free to visit our website for a free consultation or call us toll-free at (855) 828-4100.  We look forward to hearing from you.  Good luck to any and all who are currently looking to get back into the workforce and regain control of their lives!

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