Earlier, we discussed benefits available to public employees thru OPERS. Today we are going to talk about another disability program in Ohio – SERS. SERS, or the School Employees Retirement System of Ohio, has 2 different types of disability programs – depending on whether you were a member before or after July 29, 1992, however, many of the requirements remain the same. These programs cover school employees who are not teachers.
To be eligible for disability benefits, you must have at least 5 years of service credit. You earn 1 year of credit for completion of 120 days of school employment between July, 1 and June, 30. There is also the possibility to purchase service credit thru SERS in some instances.
In order to qualify for disability benefits, the member must show that they have a disabling impairment (physical or mental) that is presumed to be permanent for a 12 month period following the filing of your application that prevents the member from being able to perform their last assigned primary duty as an employee.
To start the process you must file your disability benefit application along with: a job description; statement from your attending physician; and medical releases so that SERS can obtain medical records to support your claim. Your application must be filed within 2 years of your last contributing service. Next, SERS will schedule you for an exam with a doctor that they set up. That report, along with your medical records, is reviewed by the Medical Advisory Committee and a recommendation is made to the SERS Board. The Board will then vote on your application for disability benefits.
If you are denied benefits, you have the right to appeal. Your appeal must be filed within 15 days of the date of the notice denying your benefits. This is a very short timeframe so it is important to act quickly to appeal a denial of benefits. You also have the right to submit additional evidence and to request an in-person hearing before the SERS Board on your appeal. Most importantly, you have the right to be represented by an attorney during these proceedings.
Once your disability benefits have been granted, SERS can have you examined yearly to show you are still disabled. When looking at whether your disability is ongoing, if you are under a leave of absence, the standard remains the same as it was when you filed – an inability to perform your last assigned primary job. However, when you are no longer considered under a leave of absence (either 3 or 5 years after your disability started) the standard changes. If your disability benefit started before January 7, 2013, a member must show they are not capable of resuming employment that is the same or similar to that from which they were found disabled. If your disability started on or after January 7, 2013, you have to so you are unable to return to a job that: replaces not less than 75% of your final average salary; is reasonably found in your regional job market; and is a job that you are qualified to perform through your experience and education. You also have an obligation to undergo treatment/vocational rehabilitation as recommended by the SERS Board doctor or other consultants. If you fail to follow thru with these treatment recommendations SERS may suspend or even terminate your benefits.
If you are unable to work and are fighting SERS for the disability benefits you deserve, please contact us. We can help.