If you are an Ohio public worker who is suffering from a mental or physical disability that prevents you from performing your job duties, you may qualify for OPERS disability benefits. OPERS, also known as PERS, is the Ohio Public Employee Retirement System.

Requirements for getting OPERS Disability Benefits

Depending on their date of hire, OPERS Traditional and Combined Plan members are eligible for one of two disability programs: the original plan and the revised plan. Employees with contributions on deposit on July 29, 1992 had an opportunity to select coverage under one of these programs, but those hired after July 29, 1992 are only covered under the revised plan. If you change from the Member-Directed Plan to either the Traditional or Combined Plan, one year must pass from the date you changed your plan before you can apply for Ohio PERS disability benefits.

In order to qualify for OPERS disability benefits under the original plan or revised plan, you must meet the following requirements:

  • You must have 5 years of contributing service credit unless you are covered under the law enforcement division and became disabled due to an on-duty illness or injury.
  • No more than 2 years have passed since your contributing service terminated, unless you were disabled and unable to file an application at the end of the two-year period.
  • You are not receiving an age and service retirement benefit.
  • You are off the payroll because of your disability, which is presumed to be permanent. Temporary illnesses and disabilities do not qualify you for disability benefits. A disabling condition is defined as permanent if it is expected to last for a continuous period of at least one year from the date you file your application.

Under the revised plan, you can apply for Ohio PERS disability benefits at any age. Under the original plan, you must file your disability application and terminate public employment contributions before the age of 60. Your disability does not have to have occurred on the job, but it must occur before you terminate your contributing service. Most people who receive OPERS disability benefits became disabled as a result of accidents that occurred off the job.

How to Apply for OPERS disability benefits

It is your responsibility to fill out and submit the Disability Benefit Application (DR-1) to OPERS. You must sign the application in the presence of a notary public. In addition, you are required to submit a Report of Attending Physician (DR-APS) form from an MD or DO. Your doctor must indicate on the form that you are permanently disabled, describe your medical condition in detail, and mention the date when your condition became permanently disabling. If you have more than one doctor, you may submit multiple reports. Your employer and the payroll officer at the department in which you were employed must complete the Report of Employer for Disability Benefit Applicant form (DR-4) as well as provide a written job description.

After receiving your forms, OPERS will require you to undergo a medical review by a third party. If your application is approved, your disability benefit will be effective from the first day of the month following your attainment of eligibility or your last payday, whichever comes later.

PERS disability benefits are not guaranteed for life. If your application is approved, you have to meet OPERS’ definition of disability throughout your benefit term. You will also be required to comply with OPERS requests for medical information and exams while you are receiving benefits. If you are non-law enforcement and are also eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you will be required to apply for SSDI benefits within 90 days of the OPERS Board approving your application.

Another factor to keep in mind is that your eligibility for healthcare coverage through the OPERS healthcare plan is limited to the first 5 years of your disability benefits if your application is approved on or after January 1, 2014. After those 5 years, you must meet minimum age and service healthcare requirements or be enrolled in Medicare due to a disability in order to continue receiving healthcare coverage through OPERS.

Get the Disability Benefits You Deserve Through OPERS

Are you applying for PERS disability benefits in Ohio? Consult with an experienced attorney who is familiar with OPERS disability plans prior to submitting your application. According to the Ohio PERS 2012 Disability Activity Report, only 58.5% of applications in 2012 had been approved and 6.6% of applications were flat out denied. The report also divulged that approval rates have declined by 6% since 2010.

It’s risky to assume that the OPERS Board has received all of the medical evidence and information necessary to properly consider your application. An Ohio PERS disability attorney can help ensure that you submit all of the required paperwork and meet all of your deadlines. If the board denies your application, you also have the right to appeal within 30 days from the date of denial. Contact Agee Clymer Mitchell & Portman today to have a PERS disability attorney review your claim or get help filing an appeal.