Created at about the same time as the federal Social Security system, Ohio’s School Employees Retirement System serves the same functions as that pension and disability program for non-teaching educational workers in the Buckeye State. SERS participants pay into the system through payroll deductions and voluntary contributions, and they rely on SERS payments to support them when they no longer work because of age, injury, or illness.

Automatic SERS benefits only come with retirement, however. Securing disability income through SERS requires completing a lengthy application and review process. Multiple forms must be filed, examinations must be conducted by an applicant’s own physician and medical professionals selected by SERS, and case reviews must be cleared.

The full details of the SERS disability program appear in a book with the unwieldy title of Destination: Retirement—Navigating a Change in Course; Member Disability Guide. You can read it online if you can stay awake through, or even make sense of, the book’s cover text.

Alternately, if you just want to know upfront if you are eligible to apply for SERS disability benefits and need to get a sense of what you can expect while applying, scroll down on this very page.

Make Sure You Are Eligible for Social Security

SERS, like most retirement systems, prefers not to pay disability benefits. This disinclination is embedded in the first rule of eligibility that states, “Disability recipients must apply for Social Security disability insurance if they are eligible to apply.”

In practical terms, this means that any SERS participant who has worked a job outside of the Ohio school system and contributed to Social Security (i.e., made FICA payments) should consider the federal program his or her best option for receiving disability income. Applying for Social Security disability differs significantly from requesting disability benefits from SERS, so check out this Agee Clymer Mitchell & Portman Social Security page if you fail this first SERS test.

Working through Ohio’s workers’ compensation system is also a good choice before applying for SERS disability. That is not required, but SERS reviewers may take into account an applicant’s efforts to receive medical treatment and rehabilitative services aimed at returning to his or her old job.

If you lack Social Security eligibility and have exhausted workers’ comp options, you must also meet these criteria to apply for SERS disability benefits:

  • Become disabled as a result of performing SERS-covered job duties
  • Earned five years of SERS service credit
  • Applied within two years of the date you made your last SERS contribution
  • Been declared permanently disabled, either physically or mentally, from doing your SERS-covered job
  • Not received a refund of your SERS contributions
  • Not received SERS retirement benefits or retirement benefits from other state programs
  • Not been convicted of a felony for doing the thing that left you disabled

File All the Required Forms and Proofs of Disability

Either of their own accord or through a legal representative, each applicant for SERS disability applicants must submit a

  • Report from his or her personal physician that states the basis of the disability
  • Disability Benefit Application
  • Job Duty Form/Member Beneficiary Designation Form
  • Authorization for Release of Protected Health Information Form
  • Birth certificate copy

The application, job duty, and health info release forms can be downloaded and printed from the SERS website.

Another important thing to know is that an employer, lawyer, or family member can apply for SERS benefits on behalf of individuals who are too disabled to fill out paperwork or respond to questions. In such situations, all other application forms must be accompanied by a notarized power of attorney.

Be Prepared for an Initial Denial of Disability Benefits

Every SERS disability applicant must undergo a physical and/or mental examination by a physician or other similarly qualified health care provider chosen by the retirement system. The information collected by that doctor is included with the person’s application packet.

A medical advisory board then reviews all the materials while looking for reasons to deny benefits. Appealing denials is possible, but it must be done quickly and with additional evidence to support the claims that a disabling injury or illness that occurred on the job and cannot be resolved through additional treatment.

Contact a Lawyer for Answers Concerning Ohio SERS Disability

If you have been denied Ohio SERS disability benefits or just have questions about putting together a strong application, contact a retirement and disability attorney at Agee Clymer Mitchell & Portman. We know the ins and outs of state programs like workers’ compensation and the federal Social Security system. We can share valuable information even if we are unable to take you on as a client.