When you sustain a serious disability, the resulting medical bills and being left unable to work can be frustrating and overwhelming. Disability benefits can keep you and your family financially afloat when you need support the most.
If you served as a public employee, you may be entitled to disability benefits through public employee retirement systems, such as the State Teachers’ Retirement System (STRS) and Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS), and/or Social Security disability (SSD) from the Social Security Administration (SSA).
What types of disability benefits might I qualify for?
Ohio offers three main systems for Ohio public employees:
- State Teachers’ Retirement System (STRS): for teachers
- School Employees Retirement System (SERS): for all other school employees not in teaching positions
- Public Employees Retirement System (PERS or OPERS): for all other government jobs
All three programs have similar rules and requirements. These state systems not only provide retirement/pension benefits to employees, but also disability benefits should they sustain a permanent disability that prevents them from working.
OPERS, STRS, and SERS are separate and distinct from Social Security disability (SSD) benefits. SSD benefits are for those who worked in the private sector and paid into the Social Security system via taxes withheld from their paychecks.
Do I qualify for STRS, SERS, or OPERS Disability?
To qualify for disability through a state employee system such as STRS, SERS, or OPERS, you must meet the following requirements:
- Your disability must be expected to last a year or longer.
- Your disability must be a long-term total disability. The state does not distribute benefits for short-term or partial disabilities.
- Your disability must impair your ability to work.
- You must have adequate medical evidence (and usually a medical exam performed by a state board-appointed physician) that proves your mental and/or physical impairments impede your ability to perform your job duties.
- You have five or more years of contributing service credits.
- You file your application for benefits within two years of terminating your contributing service.
Note: Neither state employee disability benefits nor Social Security disability benefits are automatic. You must formally apply for benefits and obtain approval.
Do I qualify for Social Security disability benefits?
The requirements for Social Security disability are similar to those for state disability:
- Your disability must have lasted or be expected to last a year or longer or result in death.
- You must meet the SSA’s definition of disabled by either meeting the severity criteria under a listing in the Blue Book or by having an impairment so severe that it prevents you from adjusting to any job.
- You must have adequate work credits on your record that you earned from working at a job where you paid Social Security taxes. The number of credits you need to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) depends on the age at which you became disabled. If you do not have adequate work credits, but have low income and limited assets, you may qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Which program do I apply for if I worked at multiple jobs?
If you have work credits at two different state jobs, you apply for benefits through the system that you worked at the longest. STRS explains: “Teachers who were members of OPERS and/or SERS after their teaching service ended must apply for disability benefits with the retirement system where they have the most service credit. The system with the most service will determine and pay the disability benefit.”
If you have worked in both the public and private sector, you may be eligible for both a state disability benefit and Social Security disability. In fact, if you are eligible for both, once OPERS approves you, you must apply for Social Security disability benefits within 90 days of the board approving your benefits.
Note: If you are eligible for both SSDI and STRS or OPERS, your state benefits will offset your SSDI, as per a provision called the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). The formula the government uses for calculating benefits under these circumstances is complex. Speak to a disability lawyer for more information.
How do I apply for STRS, OPERS, or SSD?
The first step to applying for state disability benefits is to request a disability application packet from either STRS or OPERS. Each packet contains several forms that you must complete and submit to the appropriate agency, including an application form and a physician report. After submitting all the required forms and documents, the agency will review your case and make a determination.
The application process for SSDI is similar. You can apply online, in-person at a local SSA office, by phone, or via mail. You must submit numerous forms and supportive documents to prove your disability to the SSA.
The most challenging part the disability benefit application process for either state or federal benefits is proving the extent of your physical or mental disability. You will need to have thorough and convincing medical evidence that includes:
- A diagnosis;
- Treatments you have undergone and your reaction to them;
- A prognosis; and
- A medical opinion of how your disability impairs your ability to work.
Many people who have served faithfully for years in the public and/or private sector wind up receiving disability claim denials due to insufficient medical evidence. To avoid wrongful denials, have a disability attorney at Gallon, Takacs, Boissoneault & Schaffer Co., L.P.A help you navigate the process.
What do I do if my disability application was denied?
If OPERS, STRS, or the SSA has recently denied your disability application, call Gallon, Takacs, Boissoneault & Schaffer Co., L.P.A for assistance. We can gather evidence to support your claim, appeal your case, and help you obtain the benefits you deserve.
Our firm is passionate about helping disabled workers exercise their rights and collect their much-needed benefits when they are unable to work. We give each our clients the respect and attention they deserve, and work tirelessly to ensure they get the full amount of disability benefits they are entitled to. Contact us at 419-843-6663 for a free consultation.