The Ohio Public Employee Retirement System provides pension and disability benefits for workers who serve residents of the state. OPERS, as the programs usually gets called, is open to long-term government employees at the state, county, city and town level, as well as university employees, public health department and hospital workers, library staff and paid members of municipal or state boards and commissions. Public employees who become contractors doing the same jobs also remain eligible to remain enrolled in OPERS.
OPERS functions in much the same way as the federal Social Security program, requiring payroll deductions from participants and providing fixed payments to beneficiaries based on years of service/contribution amounts, age and, when applicable, degree of disability. Except for individuals who have Social Security contributions withheld from pay received from work outside the public sector or state contractors who elect to pay into both programs, OPERS participants do not qualify for Social Security retirement payments.
Many retirees and people who get injured or sick on the job count on OPERS payments as their sole source of income once they can no longer work. A denial of benefits can create unmanageable hardships, from no longer being able to pay for necessary medical care to losing a home. If you find yourself facing that nightmare, OPERS attorneys in the Cleveland offices of Agee Clymer Mitchell and Portman may be able to help you receive the benefits you spent your career paying toward and counting on.
Employees of K-12 schools in Ohio participate in plans administered separately from OPERS. Teaching faculty take part in the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS), and nonteaching school staff pay into and receive benefits from the School Employees Retirement System (SERS). Our law firm also has Cleveland STRS attorneys and SERS lawyers who can assist individuals in navigating those systems’ applications, adjudications and appeals processes.
If you reach retirement age in good health, all you need to do in most cases to begin receiving your OPERS pension is file the proper application forms. A disability incurred from work-related activities or a situation that forces you to request benefits early, however, can leave you subject to a lengthy and complicated series of reviews and appeals.
In general, qualifying for OPERS disability payments requires showing the following:
If you contributed to OPERS before July 29, 1992, you may need to meet different criteria. Also, law enforcement personnel injured or made sick in the line of duty can qualify for disability benefits immediately.
A compliance specialist determines whether an applicant satisfies the requirements to receive OPERS disability. If, as often happens, the initial reviewer denies a claim, an appeal can be filed and supported with additional medical evidence. Any first appeal needs to reach OPERS within 30 days of denial. This short timeline means that contacting a state employee disability specialist immediately to get help with making your appeal as strong as possible is a good idea
A senior OPERS staff reviewer has 60 days to rule on an appeal, and that decision can be further appealed to a board. Depending on the board’s actions, a disability case may be settled once and for all by the group or go to an administrative hearing conducted by an independent third party.
A free consultation with a lawyer experienced in assisting OPERS disability applicants is available by contacting Agee Clymer Mitchell and Portman. Whether you have questions about completing forms, gathering strong medical evidence for a disabling condition or pursuing an appeal of a benefits denial, we can help.