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Maintaining Your Disability in the Internet Age

Spring 2012

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There is no such thing as "Permanent Disability" for programs that pay disability benefits whether it is from private insurance companies or Social Security Disability (SSD & SSI). Unlike workers' compensation, Veterans' benefits, and other specialized programs, insurance and Social Security only agree to pay benefits as long as you are disabled.

Because of that, your medical condition will be periodically reviewed to see if you remain eligible to continue to receive benefits, i.e., whether or not you still meet the plan's definition of disability. This usually involves periodic questionnaires to you and/or your physician or even a review of your medical records.

Added to that, thanks to the information/Internet age, there is now a new source of information, and insurance companies are taking full advantage of the new opportunities to check on what their claimants are doing. Social Security hasn't yet extensively gotten involved in this, but that may change someday soon.


While this should not be a cause of worry for persons receiving benefits who are still unable to do any gainful employment, it must be kept in mind that insurance companies are profit-making organizations and have a financial incentive to pay as little out in claims as they can. While they may claim that their goal is to only pay benefits to "eligible" claimants, unfortunately, too often they will expand minor issues until they become "proof" that a claimant can work and benefit payments should be stopped.

If you are unable to do either your old job or any suitable employment (based on the disability definition of your disability plan), you need to be aware of the fact that, in addition to the expensive and only rarely used method of following and videotaping you, insurance companies are now able to follow claimants' activities quietly and inexpensively thanks to the popular trend in social media.

One of the first steps an insurance company uses in reviewing a claimant's activity is to search the claimant's name on a web browser such as Google, Safari, or others. One claimant was listed as a member of the board of directors on a small non-profit organization's website. Even though that involved only attending one two-hour board meeting a month, it led the insurance company to open a full-scale review of the claimant and an attempt to terminate his benefits. The attempt was unsuccessful, but only at the expense of a lot of stress and several months without income.

Then there is the social media, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, MySpace and many others. These have grown to the point that, according to one study, 22% of the time people in the U.S. spend on line is spent using some form of social media.

These are the sites where people post their photos of their latest vacation, pictures of family activities, and hobbies. Again, while these are usually innocuous descriptions of a person's activities, taken out of context they can be used to support a claim of ability to work. One client and his spouse posted pictures of a trip to Argentina. What they failed to show was that they were visiting the spouse's family with the goal of possibly moving there to stretch their limited disability income. It also didn't show the careful planning that went into the trip, making sure there was adequate medication with proper documentation for customs, limiting time spent traveling and apartment hunting during the day to allow sufficient time for rest.

Some of these media sites allow members to limit access to their sites, however, many members don't bother to engage such limits. Even then, the barriers aren't foolproof. Also, many people when asked to link to another, often link up without knowing or remembering for sure if they actually know that person or not. They just don't want to offend them if they should know them. Insurance companies won't try to link under the company name, but instead use an individual's name.

Again, the purpose of this is not to help healthy people hide their abilities in order to continue to obtain benefits, but to alert disabled persons entitled to benefits that someone may be watching and may try to take information out of context that can trigger a stressful review and possibly even a termination of benefits.

Below is a brief review of other methods insurance companies and Social Security use to review claimants' eligibility to continue receiving benefits.

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This article was provided by Being Alive. It is a part of the publication Being Alive Newsletter. Visit Being Alive's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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