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Unum: Veteran caught in a Catch-22

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Orlando, FLJoe had a back injury at work and was transferred to another department to decrease his workload: the last thing Joe wanted was to go on disability or worse, lose his job. But his injury got worse and because he tried to stick it out, Joe was denied disability benefits by Unum (formerly UnumProvident).

Back InjuryJoe (not his real name pending a lawsuit) would likely have been better off if he never returned to work after his injury in 1999. His doctor determined that Joe had two herniated discs and he was eligible for long term disability (LTD) benefits. "I used to spray lawns and carried a heavy hose on my back to spray and fertilize," says Joe. "After some tests I found out the problem was in my spine so I was transferred to another department—residential pest control—so I wouldn't lose my job.

"I worked there for the next seven years but my back got so bad I couldn't bear it anymore. I applied for short term disability and was approved; there was no way I could go back to work. But six months later, when the long term disability benefits were supposed to kick in, Unum denied me.

I had saved some money so I hired a lawyer and appealed their decision. My lawyer got my denial overturned and I collected 60 percent of my salary (about $1,900 per month). Unum told me that after two years my case would be reevaluated and I would be sent back to work but not necessarily to the same job. At that time, they would determine whether or not I could work at a sedentary job.

Over the course of these two years I have developed other ailments. I have gout, complications with diabetes and I had a heart attack. I had surgery and now have three metal stents in my heart. I am on blood thinners for the rest of my life to keep these stents open.

And I am also a vet. When my checks stopped coming, I wasn't able to return to an attorney or a private doctor; I couldn't pay for any representation or corroboration of my illness by a private doctor. I went to the VA but the VA doctors are not allowed by law to give an evaluation of my illness to an outside company.

That is all Unum wanted to hear.

During this time, I also took a compensation and pension exam at the VA. A few months ago, I applied for disability with the federal government. My VA primary care doctor let me know that the results of the exam said I was unable to work but I couldn't get copies because the rating hasn't been resolved. I appealed that same month with Unum; so far I have just sent them a fax saying that I disagree with their findings.

Unum replied by a letter, saying they needed 45 more days to complete my appeal because they were still waiting for more information from the VA. I think this is a stall tactic because there is a statute of limitations and I am worried that they will close my case completely.

I didn't have time to prepare for being cut off—I was broadsided. I have a wife and four kids to support and right now, all I can do is pray. Meanwhile, I haven't received a dime since April. I've been having yard sales to get a few dollars together and I sold my vehicle. I applied for food stamps. I applied for social security but that can take up to 15 months (it is in the pending stage) before I hear anything.

When friends come around I hope they don't run before I get to borrow some money. Actually, my friends have been very supportive; I owe them a lot. I hate to say this but I am just waiting to see what comes through first: Unum or social security."

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