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No Benefits for Sick Job Seekers

After battling leukemia, man is denied unemployment benefits

En español | Don Bright lost his job of 23 years as a maintenance engineer for an international shipping company in Richmond, Va., when his division moved to North Carolina in 2009. The 69-year-old Midlothian, Va., man collected unemployment for six months while he looked for a job.

See also: Collecting unemployment and Social Security benefits. 

A Virginia man had his unemployment benefits suspended while he fought leukemia and couldn't look for work

Fighting leukemia, Don Bright needed a year off from a job search ... making him ineligible for unemployment benefits. — Photo by Jared Soares

Then Bright's life derailed. He was diagnosed with leukemia and needed a year off from his job search for chemotherapy and recovery. He informed the state he couldn't look for work while undergoing treatment.

A year later, with a clean bill of health, Bright applied for unemployment benefits to resume and was turned down. He had no grounds to appeal.

He fell through the cracks because he couldn't meet the requirements for an unemployment check: minimum earnings of $2,700 in recent employment history, weekly job hunting and immediate availability for work.

"I'm still seeking employment," says Bright, who would have been eligible for a total of 86 weeks of unemployment if there had been no break in his job search. "I am healthy and want to work a few more years."

Joyce Fogg, spokeswoman for the Virginia Employment Commission, confirms that unemployment beneficiaries must look for work weekly, report their efforts and be available to work at all times. "There are no exceptions," she says.

Bright wants his case to be a warning to others. "Something is not right" with a system that denies people benefits when they get sick, he says.

Also of interest: 50 jobs for a second career. >>

Judi Hasson is a writer in McLean, Va.

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