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What Is The Difference Between STRS/OPERS/SERS Disability?

Ohio public employees are eligible to participate in three types of pension programs: the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS), the School Employees Retirement System (SERS), and the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS or OPERS). Although best known for their retirement benefits, these plans also offer survivor and disability benefits. If you become disabled while serving as a public employee, you may be eligible for benefits through your STRS, OPERS, or SERS pension program.

No matter what stage of your career you’re in, becoming disabled is a serious setback to your work and family life. Obtaining disability benefits requires meticulously documenting your claim and submitting forms to the appropriate agencies. Working with an experienced Ohio disability attorney helps to ensure that the process goes smoothly, and that you receive the benefits you need and deserve in a timely manner.

How to Qualify for SERS, STRS, or OPERS Disability Benefits

STRS is an educator-only pension fund for Ohio public school system teachers, while SERS provides pension benefits for non-teaching public school employees, such as administrative assistants, bus drivers, cafeteria works, custodians, librarians, maintenance workers, and teacher’s aides. OPERS is the retirement system for Ohio’s public employees, including anyone who is paid in whole or in part by the State of Ohio, including a municipality or other political subdivision of the state or local government in Ohio.

To qualify for disability benefits through STRS, SERS, or OPERS, you must typically meet the following requirements:

  • You have a disabling mental or physical medical condition that prevents you from performing your most recent job duties.
  • Your disability is expected to last at least 12 continuous months (i.e. long-term total disability). Short-term or partial disability does not qualify for benefits under Ohio state pension programs.
  • You have medical evidence that supports your disability claim.
  • Your disabling illness or injury occurred before you terminated your public employment.
  • You have five or more years of contributing service credits. If you have service credits with multiple state jobs, you apply for benefits with the retirement system where you have the most service credits.
  • You are not receiving a retirement benefit from SERS, STRS, or OPERS.
  • You file your application for benefits within two years of terminating your contributing service.
  • Note that if you worked in the public and private sectors, you may be eligible for both state disability benefits and Social Security Disability benefits.

Types of Ohio State Pension Disability Benefits

State pension members who qualify for disability benefits receive a monthly payment that is based on their annual salary and number of years of service credit. Benefits are direct deposited into a checking or savings account, usually on the first of each month. They terminate if the recipient returns to work—either voluntarily, or if medical reexamination shows the recipient is no longer disabled. Most members must stop receiving benefits when they reach age 65, at which point Social Security benefits may be available.

Health benefits are also offered under Ohio’s state pension programs, but the terms differ considerably.

  • Recipients who are covered by SERS’ health care must apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (early Medicare) due to disability.
  • STRS disability recipients may choose to pay a monthly premium to participate in the STRS Ohio Health Care Program.
  • OPERS provides access to medical/pharmacy coverage for disability benefit recipients and eligible family members. Those with a disability benefit, however, may only have access to the health care plan for a limited time. OPERS requires all recipients who are eligible to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance to do so within 90 days of benefit approval.

Need help with a disability claim? Our lawyers can help.

How to Apply for SERS, STRS, or OPERS Benefits

You should apply for disability benefits as soon as possible, since the process can take three to six months or longer to complete. The application processes for the three Ohio state benefit programs vary somewhat but generally follow these steps:

  • Complete and submit a Disability Benefit Application Packet, which includes a report by your employer, a report from your physician, your most recent official job description, and other forms. Your doctor is responsible for submitting medical evidence that supports your disabling condition, including hospital records and test results from the last twelve months, as well as a medical opinion about how your disability impairs your ability to work.
  • You may have to undergo an independent medical/psychiatric evaluation from a physician chosen by the Retirement Board. The evaluation is performed free of charge.
  • A review board evaluates the results of your independent evaluation, along with all the records you submitted with your application, and makes a recommendation to the Retirement Board.
  • The Retirement Board makes a final determination to approve or deny your request for disability benefits.
  • If your application is approved, you and your employer may be asked to submit additional documentation to calculate the benefit payments. You may also be required to seek, obtain, or continue medical treatment and/or vocational rehabilitation. Failure to complete the required treatment could result in the termination of benefits.
  • If your application is denied, you have the option to appeal the decision.

Graham & Graham Helps Disabled Ohio Workers

The attorneys at Graham & Graham are committed to helping disabled workers and their families. We provide assistance with STRS, SERS, and OPERS, in addition to Social Security Disability (SSD) and Social Security Supplemental Income (SSI). We take care of the difficult work of compiling documents, communicating with state agencies, and filing appeals so you can focus on getting better.

Our initial consultations are free, and we charge no attorneys’ fees unless we recover money for you. To speak with a lawyer, call 1-800-621-8585 or contact us.

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