We all know it, but we don't talk about it much. Police work is dangerous. Locally, in the past month, we have had a deputy sheriff shot three times in his body armor during a traffic stop and an officer killed when a hit-and-run driver struck him. These tragedies emphasized how much our health and safety can be a matter of inches and fate. Fortunately, Workman's Compensation, life insurance and state and federal benefits care for us and our families financially when we are injured at work.
But what happens when we are injured outside of work? Maybe you blow out a knee playing softball or goofing with your kids in the back yard. Or maybe you need your appendix removed and have complications from the surgery. What happens then? How do we pay our bills?
Disability insurance is a logical means for us to protect ourselves and our family from financial ruin should we be injured away from work. Just as we don't often talk about what happens if we are hurt at work, we rarely discuss what happens if we are injured off-duty. But avoiding the issue does not make for a very good plan.
There are two types of disability insurance, short-term and long-term. Short-term insurance has a mandatory waiting period for benefits. Depending on the insurance policy, the common waiting period is 14 days; it can be as little as one day or as much as 90 days. It will then pay benefits for up to 26 weeks, depending on the policy and the state where you live.
Long-term insurance picks up where short-term drops off. Again, depending on the policy and where you live, the benefits may be paid for two to five years. Some policies may have a "pay until age 65" provision, when you theoretically would start receiving Social Security benefits. This may be more complicated for police, as most of us are in pension systems, not in Social Security.
The benefits paid generally range from 50% to 75% of your normal salary. Obviously, overtime would not normally be included in that. Payments may be reduced depending on just how disabled you are: can you not work as a police officer, or can you not work at any job? Long-term benefits may be reduced also if you qualify for disability payments through Social Security.
Some employers offer short-term and long-term disability insurance as a benefit to employees. If you work for an agency that provides this coverage at no cost to you, consider yourself lucky. If you are unsure if you have disability coverage, contact your Human Resources department and verify what coverage you have. Our agency does not provide this insurance as an automatic benefit, so we have to buy it as an option if we want it. (I purchased one with a 90-day waiting period, as it reduced the premium dramatically).
If you do not have insurance through work, and it is not available as an optional purchase, contact you homeowner's or auto insurance provider to see if they offer disability insurance. You may get a break on the premiums for combining insurance policies with one company. If they cannot help you, look at some independent insurance brokers or do some research online. Either way, be sure you understand what is covered and when coverage starts.
None of us like to plan on getting hurt. However, there is always the chance that we can suffer an injury or illness away from work that could prevent us from working, potentially causing severe financial stress. Having disability insurance is the easiest way to protect yourself from such an event, and ensure that you have money to help care for your house and your family.
And remember at work, your two best insurance policies are your body armor and your beat partner. Look out for yourself and look out for your partner.