Am I Qualified for OPERS Disability Benefits?

Post by: Eric Jones | Posted Date: September 26th, 2016 | Categories: State Employee Disability (STRS, OPERS, PERS, OP&F)

The Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) disability program exists to provide basic financial support to state and local government employees who become too injured or too sick to continue working at their public sector job before they reach the standard early retirement age of 62. Qualifying for OPERS disability requires having primary coverage through the program, meeting requirements for paying into the program, filing a claim in a timely manner, and providing proof from a doctor that one’s health makes performing their most recent job impossible.

Do You Have Other Disability Coverage?

If you have ever paid into Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, the State Teachers Retirement System, or the School Employees Retirement System, you may have primary disability coverage through one of those federal or state programs instead of OPERS. Dual eligibility does not automatically disqualify you from receiving OPERS disability, but figuring out how participation in more than one retirement and safety net program affects any given applicant’s case is a tough question.

A good person to consult for answers regarding fundamental eligibility is an experienced Columbus, Ohio, OPERS attorney. He can go through your work and salary history to calculate whether the general retirement plan for Ohio government workers is your best bet for having a disability claim approved.

Participation Rules and Deadlines Apply

When OPERS disability coverage is primary, applicants must also meet the following general eligibility requirements:

  • Five years (60 months) of uninterrupted payments into an OPERS account
  • Final OPERS contribution made within two years of filing for disability
  • Not receiving any other OPERS benefits at the time of applying

Different rules regarding vesting and reporting apply to law enforcement personnel injured in the line of duty and to OPERS participants whose health prevented them from meeting the two-year post-employment deadline.

Which Disabilities Qualify?

Disabling injuries and illnesses do not need to be work-related to qualify for OPERS coverage. Rather, an MD or DO must use a designated “Report of Physician” form to specify why and how an applicant for benefits is disabled. The form includes a long checklist the doctor must use to indicate which job-related tasks the person applying for disability can no longer perform adequately. The list includes

  • Lifting
  • Carrying
  • Walking
  • Balancing
  • Reaching straight out and/or overhead
  • Fingering, including typing
  • Feeling
  • Sitting
  • Standing

Significant limitations on such capabilities must persist for at least 12 months, and the doctor’s diagnosis and judgment is subject to verification by a physician and occupational specialist named by OPERS. The retirement system also makes it clear to applicants and current beneficiaries that any award of disability payments is subject to reconsideration and cancellation. Reasons for losing disability benefits include becoming healthy enough to return to work and failing to comply with plans for treatment and rehabilitation.

An OPERS lawyer in the Columbus, Ohio, offices of the Jones Law Group can answer all your questions about disability benefits for state and local governed employees. To request an appointment, contact us through this website or call (614) 545-9998.

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