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Disability Benefits

Disability isn’t something most people like to think about as they are planning for their retirement. However, according to the Social Security Administration, a 20-year-old worker has a 30% chance of becoming disabled before reaching retirement age.

Although the thought of becoming disabled is scary and unpleasant, it should be comforting to know that if the road to retirement takes an unexpected turn, disability benefits are available to help those who need it. This section provides details on eligibility, the plan, the application process, and survivor benefits. Other factors that may affect a disability retirement such as reemployment, taxation, and divorce also are covered.

If you become disabled while employed, you may be eligible for benefits under one of two disability plans.

If you became a SERS member on or after July 29, 1992, you are covered under the new disability plan. If you were a member before July 29, 1992, you are covered by the old disability plan unless you exercised a one-time election to switch to the new plan.

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Eligibility

Under both plans, you are eligible for disability benefits if you:

  • Have at least five years of total service credit
  • File an application no later than two years from the date that your contributing service stopped
  • Are permanently disabled, either physically or mentally, for work in your SERS-covered position as determined by a physician appointed by SERS
  • Became disabled after becoming a SERS member
  • Did not receive a refund of your contributions
  • Do not receive a service retirement benefit

Under the old disability plan, you also must apply before you are 60 years old. Under the new disability plan, a member may apply at any age.

A benefit is effective the first of the month following the later of: 

  • Your last day of employment for which compensation was paid, or
  • Receipt of your most recent application

You are not eligible to apply for a SERS disability benefit if you are receiving a disability benefit from another Ohio retirement system.

  • You cannot apply for a SERS disability benefit if a condition resulted from the commission of a felony or occurred after SERS-covered employment ended.
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You, your employer, or someone acting on your behalf may file a Disability Benefit Application provided by SERS for disability benefits. If the application is filed by someone acting on your behalf, the person also must submit a copy of the person’s power of attorney or guardianship paper which shows the person can act on your behalf.

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Your personal physician also must provide a report stating the basis of your disability. Once SERS receives your completed Disability Benefit Application, Job Duty Form, and Authorization for Release of Protected Health Information Form, SERS will request information from your doctor. In addition, SERS will contact your school employer to obtain information on your current job duties and other payroll information.

You will be examined by an SERS-appointed physician. A medical determination is made on whether you are permanently disabled for work in your SERS-covered job. The SERS Retirement Board’s medical advisory committee and/or the chair of the committee, reviews the examiner’s report and all records submitted with your application and makes a recommendation to the Board. The Board reviews all recommendations from its medical advisory committee for approval or denial of disability benefits and makes the final determination.

If you are granted disability benefits, you may be required to seek, obtain, or continue medical treatment and/or vocational rehabilitation for the disabling condition as recommended by the Board physician or other consultants in order to receive benefits. Benefits may be terminated or suspended if you do not obtain recommended medical treatment and/or vocational rehabilitation.

The complete process generally takes between three and five months. However, the actual time can vary depending on the number of medical conditions involved, the schedule of SERS’ medical examiners, and the medical review process.

If the application is denied, information is sent to you describing your appeal rights.

Disability recipients must apply for Social Security disability insurance if they are eligible to apply.

After three or five years on SERS’ disability, disability recipients who are capable of performing a job other than their previous job could be terminated from disability. Such termination can occur if they are capable of performing the duties of a job that can be reasonably found with pay at or above 75% of the annual compensation of their previous school job and for which they are qualified.

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There are two disability plans—the old plan and the new plan. All members who joined SERS after July 29, 1992, are covered by the new plan.

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Old Disability Plan

Under the old disability plan, your annual benefit is calculated using the following formula:

  1. The value of a year of service credit is determined by multiplying your Final Average Salary (FAS) by 2.2%. If the result is less than $86.00, then $86.00 is the value of each year.
  2. The number of years of service credit is then multiplied by this value of each year.

Your service credit includes all service credit you have at the time of your application plus the number of years between your current age and age 60. The benefit cannot be less than 30% of your FAS or more than 75%.

New Disability Plan

Under the new disability plan, the amount of your annual benefit is the greater of: 45% of your FAS, or your total service credit at the time of your application multiplied by 2.2% of your FAS. The following chart shows the applicable percentage amounts under this plan.
 

Total Service Credit Percentage of the Member's FAS
5-21 years 45.0%
22 48.4%
23 50.6%
24 52.8%
25 55.0%
26 57.2%
27 59.4%
28 or more 60.0%
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Benefit Payments

Benefit payments will be in your account on the first of the month, unless the first is a holiday. If the first is a holiday, the benefit will be deposited by the preceding business day, except for January 1, when the benefit will be available the next business day.

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SERS sends only a quarterly statement to you detailing the current gross monthly benefit and deductions and these amounts for the year-to-date.

Health Care Coverage

Information on health care coverage is provided in the Member Health Care Guide.

Updating Your Information

When corresponding with SERS, be sure and provide your full name and Social Security number.

It is important to keep us informed of changes to your personal information. Notify SERS if the following occur:

  • Your address changes
  • Your spouse or other beneficiary dies
  • Events that may terminate health care coverage for your spouse, such as divorce, or for your dependent children, such as reaching age 26

Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA)

Beginning on the first anniversary of your effective disability benefit date, you will be eligible to receive a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) of 3%. This increase is on your base benefit amount only and is added to your monthly benefit each year on the anniversary of your effective disability benefit date.

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A disability benefit under either plan stops:

  • If you return to a SERS-covered job. You must file annual earnings reports and employment information with SERS. If you return to a non-SERS covered position, you may be required to be re-examined by a SERS-appointed physician.
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  • If a subsequent SERS medical re-examination finds that you are no longer disabled. You may be required to have an annual re-examination. If the Retirement Board concurs in the recommendation to terminate the benefit, your benefit ends within three months of the Board’s determination. If you received disability benefits for less than three years, unless in treatment or vocational rehabilitation, SERS notifies your last employer before you became disabled, and the employer should restore you to your previous position and salary or a similar position and salary, unless you were dismissed or resigned in lieu of dismissal for dishonesty, misfeasance, malfeasance, or conviction of a felony. If you return to employment covered by SERS, STRS, or OPERS, and contribute for two years, you may receive up to two years of disability credit for the time you received disability benefits. You may purchase any time over two years.
     
  • Upon your death. If you die while receiving disability benefits, your qualified beneficiaries are entitled to survivor benefits. In addition, the beneficiary will receive a $1,000 lump sum death benefit. If you have designated multiple beneficiaries, the death benefit is divided equally among them.
     
  • If you request that benefits end.
     
  • Automatically, under the new disability plan. Benefits will end after a specified age OR number of months as shown in the following table:
Age at Effective Date Period Benefits Payable
Younger than 60 Until age 65
60 or 61 60 months
62 or 63 48 months
64 or 65 36 months
66,67 or 68 24 months
69 or older 12 months

At end of the period, you can apply for a conversion retirement benefit. To be eligible for health care coverage under conversion retirement, you must have at least 10 years of qualified service credit. Your qualified service credit includes the years you received a disability allowance. 

 

OBTAINING SERVICE CREDIT FOR PERIOD OF DISABILITY

After termination of disability benefits, in order to receive service credit for time while receiving disability, you must return to employment covered by SERS, STRS, or OPERS, and contribute for two years. You may receive up to two years of disability credit for the time you received disability benefits, and purchase any time over two years.

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