The most important thing to understand about applying for disability benefits from the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) is that you will probably be turned down if you can claim disability benefits from another state or federal program. The strongest claims for OPERS disability come from people who never paid into Social Security, the Ohio State Teachers Retirement System, or the Ohio School Employees Retirement System. Exclusion for multiple eligibility is not automatic, however.

That last qualifying sentence points directly to why consulting with an OPERS lawyer in Cleveland while applying for state employee disability makes sense. Even figuring out if you have a case to make can be a confusing and dispiriting challenge.


Basics on OPERS Disability Eligibility

Aside from not having primary coverage through another retirement program, qualifying for OPERS disability payments requires:

  • Not currently receiving an OPERS pension
  • Participating in (i.e., paying into) OPERS for at least 60 consecutive months prior to requesting disability benefits
  • Proving that the disabling injury or illness occurred while you were working in a job that allowed you to participate in OPERS
  • Being certified as too disabled to return to your job for at least one full year
  • Not becoming disabled as a result of undergoing elective cosmetic surgery or committing a felony

Special eligibility criteria apply to police officers who get injured in the line of duty, state and local government employees who retire before turning 60, and OPERS beneficiaries who do not learn of a disabling injury or illness until after they retire. Speaking with a knowledgeable Cleveland disability attorney will help you understand if any of these special provisions affect your OPERS disability application.


Applying for OPERS Disability in Ohio

OPERS asks people applying for disability benefits to complete a packet of forms and submit an official “Report of the Physician.” Filling out the forms incorrectly and omitting requested paperwork will jeopardize your application. The real key, though, is the physician’s report. You can use your own doctor, but he or she must understand what the State Public Employees Retirement System considers a qualifying condition. Guidance is available, and your Cleveland disability lawyer can make sure your doctor follows it.

OPERS disability applicants must also undergo examinations and assessments from retirement system specialists, participate in vocational and rehabilitative programs, and comply with all orders from health care providers regarding treatments and limitations on physical activities. Failure to comply with care plans can lead to an application denial or a revocation of previously granted benefits.


Appealing a OPERS Benefits Denial

Many, perhaps most, first-time applications for OPERS disability benefits get denied for technical reasons. Anyone who receives a rejection letter should contact his or her Cleveland OPERS attorney immediately to have the document interpreted. Responding within weeks is essential, as is submitting any additional information, second opinions, or new evidence that will strengthen the applicant’s case. Several rounds of appeal may be needed, and that is a fight your lawyer will welcome.

Do not apply for Ohio OPERS disability benefits without first seeking advice and support from a state and local government retirement plan expert at Agee Clymer Mitchell and Portman. You can request a free consultation at our Cleveland offices by calling (800) 678-3318. You can also share your story with us online, and we can come to you if your disability makes traveling difficult.