Can I volunteer if I get Social Security disability?

Before volunteering, be sure to consider the potential risks to your Social Security benefits.
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Social Security disability insurance benefits can generally only be received if you cannot work because you have a terminal illness or an illness (or disability) that will prevent you from working for at least one year [source: Social Security Online]. Although you are unable to do the work you did before your illness, you might not like the prospect of being inactive. While you're not able to handle a normal workweek, you could find some reward from volunteering a few hours of time, instead. Of course, your ability to volunteer will depend on your health. But if you're able to answer phones or stuff envelopes for an hour or two each week, volunteer opportunities for you do exist. The main caveat concerning your disability benefits, however, is to pay attention to how much time you spend volunteering. The bottom line is, depending on the nature of your volunteer work and the amount of time you spend doing it, it could jeopardize your benefits.

Volunteering can be a good way to ease yourself back into a schedule and routine of work before returning to a full-time job [source: Chambers]. Volunteering can allow you to keep your skills and talents sharp or continue gathering work experience. If you have to look for a new job after you stop receiving disability, this could be beneficial; you'll have a new reference for your resume while showing a future employer that you are ready to work and have put effort forth even though you were collecting disability.


However, if you can spend a fair amount of time volunteering, the Social Security administration might feel that you are ready to go back to work and that you no longer require Social Security disability benefits [source: LaVan & Neidenberg]. The amount of time you spend volunteering isn't the only risk. You should also consider compensation.

If your volunteer work turns into a paid position and you begin to be compensated for it, you could end up losing your Social Security disability [source: Chambers].

If you receive Social Security disability benefits and want to volunteer, you may find this a valuable use of your time. Just be sure to consider the potential risks to your benefits, first.

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Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Chambers, Jaques. "Working While Collecting Social Security Disability." HCV Advocate. (Accessed 5/25/09)
  • Gelfand, Jane. "Public Benefits and HIV." The Well Project. July 2005. (Accessed 5/25/09)
  • LaVan & Neidenberg. "Frequently Asked Questions for Social Security Disability, Veterans Disability Compensation, and Long-Term Disability Claims." (Accessed 6/2/09)
  • New Horizons Un-Limited Inc. "CommunicAbility." New Horizons Un-Limited. Winter 2009. (Accessed 5/25/09)
  • Social Security Online. "Disability Benefits: SSA Publication No. 05-10029, November 2008, ICN 456000" (Accessed 6/3/2009)