Having a disability may prevent you from working and may impose other limits on your social interactions. It doesn’t have to mean you lose all contact with the outside world or that you stop doing things that are important to you. You can continue your involvement in certain volunteer activities.
It is important to understand however that the amount of volunteer time you commit can affect disability benefit eligibility. The types of volunteer activities in which you participate can affect eligibility as well.
Volunteer Work Evaluations
The Social Security Administration (SSA) doesn’t wish to prevent disabled persons from being involved in social events or other personally fulfilling activities. It must however ensure that individuals that receive disability benefits are truly unable to work. This means volunteer activities are evaluated under specific criteria.
- Volunteer time is compared with full time employment
- Volunteer work activities are compared with paid job functions
- Volunteer assignments are examined for family connections, particularly when volunteer activities are in the service of a for-profit, family owned business
The close examination of volunteer work is conducted to prevent fraud within the disability system. The SSA examines whether volunteer activities would be the equivalent of “substantial gainful activity” or SGA.
SGA is what the SSA considers work in which a person can earn a gainful living. Working or volunteering in an SGA role makes you ineligible for benefits.
How to Keep Volunteer Activities from Affecting Eligibility
To ensure your volunteer activities don’t put your continued eligibility for SSD in jeopardy, you should:
- Keep your volunteer hours to a minimum, or no more than just a few per week
- Avoid volunteer duties that are similar to the type of paid work or job duties you performed in the past
- Don’t volunteer in paid positions and don’t work for business or other for-profit organizations, especially if they are owned or operated by a family member
There are also certain volunteer organizations that are less closely scrutinized by the SSA. Volunteering in for one of these organizations will never put your benefits in jeopardy:
- Active Corps of Executives
- Foster Grandparent Program
- Retired Senior Volunteer Program
- Service Corp of Retired Executives
- Special Volunteer Program
- University Year in Action
- Volunteers in Service to America
All of these programs are part of the Domestic Volunteer Services (DVS) and are covered by the DVS Act of 1973. Even paid volunteer positions covered by the act cannot be counted toward SGA. In other words, you can do volunteer work and even get paid for it without affecting your eligibility for disability benefits.
Consult a Disability Attorney
If you’re unsure about the volunteer work you have in mind, discuss your unique situation with a disability attorney. He or she can help you determine if the SSA will view your volunteer work as evidence that your medical condition has improved. An attorney can also advise you on the types of volunteer activities that will not put your continued eligibility in question, given the specifics of your disability claim.