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Types of Grants for Ohio Police & Fire Disability
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In the event medical and/or psychological disabilities prevent you from continuing to work as a police officer or firefighter, you should be aware of the benefits provided by the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund. Below is a summary of the types of grants offered by the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund.
Chapter 742 of the Ohio Revised Code sets forth the law governing the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund ("Police & Fire").
Ohio police officers and firefighters are eligible for benefits under Police & Fire if they are no longer able to perform their official police or fire duties as a result of a physical or mental disability, or a combination of disabilities.
To be eligible, you must have made contributions to the Police & Fire fund, or if you are no longer actively contributing to the Police & Fire fund, then you must have kept your contributions on deposit and you must file the disability application within one (1) year from the date you are placed on administrative leave or terminate your employment (this is the date you last earned regular salary, compensation, or earnings by either working or using accumulated time to remain on normal payroll status). For instance, if you are receiving workers' compensation benefits, but not receiving a salary from your department, you will have one (1) year to file your disability application. Failure to comply with the 1-year deadline will result in a denial of your application. However, it is not necessary to terminate your employment before applying for a disability retirement.
There are two (2) types of disability grants under the Ohio Police & Fire Disability Pension Fund. Police & Fire classes its retirement grants as either (1) service-incurred or (2) non-service incurred. In either class, you must no longer be able to perform your official police or fire duties due to a physical or mental disability, or a combination of disabilities.
According to Ohio Revised Code 742.38(D)(1) and (2), if the performance of your official duties has caused your disabling condition and you are an eligible Police & Fire member, then there is no minimum of service required to be eligible for disability retirement. In other words, your coverage is effective from the first day you began your police officer or firefighter duties (i.e. "day-one" coverage). Police & Fire divides service-incurred disability retirement grants into types: (1) permanent and total awards; and (2) partial awards. These awards vary according to the degree of disability and the loss of earning capacity.
Statutory Presumption. Under Ohio Revised Code 742.38(D)(3)(a), Police & Fire presumes that certain types of disabilities are "duty-related." For instance, cardiovascular, chronic respiratory, and heart diseases are presumed to have occurred in the course of your employment as a police officer or firefighter. In order for this presumption to apply, however: (1) you must have a report of your pre-employment physical on fire (or file the report with your application) with Police & Fire; (2) the report of your pre-employment physical confirms that your condition did not exist at the time you became a Police & Fire member; and (3) no other competent evidence reveals that the disease existed at the time you became a Police & Fire member.
Also, Ohio Revised Code 742.38(D)(3)(b) provides that a member of a fire department who becomes disabled due to a diagnosis of cancer is presumed to have contracted the disease in the course of his/her employment under certain circumstances. The presumption can be rebutted under R.C. 742.38(D)(3)(c)(i)-(v) if the firefighter had the type of cancer before joining the fire department; if the firefighter had significant exposures outside the scope of the employment that would otherwise have been a cause or progression of the cancer; if competent scientific evidence proves the firefighter’s claimed exposures to specific carcinogens would not have caused the type of alleged cancer; if the firefighter was not exposed to a Group 1 or 2A carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer; and if the firefighter is 70 years of age or older.
Firefighter members of OP&F should also take notice that if you have been diagnosed with cancer, you likely also have an Ohio workers’ compensation claim, as well, that can be filed and approved. See Ohio Revised Code 4123.68(X)(1), and BWC Form C-265.
Under Ohio Revised Code 742.38(D)(1)(a) and (b), permanent and total disability means you are unable to perform either your official police or fire duties, or the duties of any gainful occupation for which you are reasonably fit by training, experience, and accomplishments, and there is no present indication of recovery. Under 742.39(A), the annual benefit for a permanent and total disability is 72 percent of your average annual salary.
"Average annual salary" is defined as being the average of the three (3) highest years of salary, earnings, or compensation, regardless of when in your career the highest years occurred, but is subject to certain statutory and administrative limitations. Accordingly, not all salary, earnings, or compensation may necessarily be used in the calculation. The calculation of the average annual salary is used for all calculations of disability granted by Police & Fire.
Under Ohio Revised Code 742.38(D)(2), partial disability means you are disabled to the extent you are unable to perform your official police or fire duties and your earning capacity is impaired. It is anticipated you will be able to supplement your benefit with earnings from other gainful employment.
Calculations of partial disability awards are set forth in Ohio Revised Code 742.39(B) and are made as follows:
If you have fewer than 25 years of service credit, the annual benefit payable under a partial disability grant is set by the Police & Fire Board of Trustees to be a certain percentage of your "average annual salary." The maximum percentage the Board can award someone with fewer than 25 years of service is 60 percent.
If you have 25 or more years of service credit, then the Board of Trustees determines your partial disability. The amount of your annual benefit, however, is set by law to be equal to your normal service retirement pension, but cannot exceed 72 percent of your "average annual salary." The way to determine the annual benefit is to multiply the average annual salary by a percentage equal to 60 percent plus 1.5 percent for each year of service from 26 to 33. For instance, 28 years equals a 64.5 percent award (60 percent for the first 25 years, plus 4.5 percent for 3 additional years at 1.5 percent for each of those 3 additional years).
According to Ohio Revised Code 742.38(D)(4), if your disability is not job-related, you may qualify for an off-duty disability retirement benefit. To be eligible, you must have at least five (5) years of service credit. You may purchase or restore credit in order to meet the five-year requirement.
To be eligible for an off-duty disability retirement, the disability must prevent you from performing your official duties and impair your earning capacity. The Police & Fire Board of Trustees sets the annual benefit to be a certain percentage of your "average annual salary" but, according to Ohio Revised Code 742.39(C), cannot exceed 60 percent.
The "Disability Evaluation Panel," consisting of the Board's Disability Committee and expert physicians (including vocational evaluators), meets once a month to review applications for disability benefits, and to prepare written recommendations for action by the full Board of Trustees. From the date you file your application with Police & Fire, it may take five (5) months before the Board of Trustees hears your application.
If the Board of Trustees denies your application for benefits, or if you disagree with the grant awarded at the initial determination hearing, you may file a written notice of appeal within the appeal period. Ohio Administrative Code 742-3-05(E) sets forth the appellate process. If you have not already undergone a vocational evaluation as part of the initial determination process, Ohio Administrative Code 742-3-05(E)(3) provides that a vocational specialist will evaluate you as part of the appellate process. The Board of Trustees meets once a month with its medical advisor and vocational expert to hear appeals.
Ohio Administrative Code 742-3-05(F) provides a process allowing a member who is receiving less than the maximum partial or off-duty disability to request reconsideration if he or she believes that the disability has worsened. If you are already receiving either less than the "maximum" partial disability benefit based on fewer than 25 years of service credit, or less than the "maximum off-duty" benefit, and your earning capacity becomes further impaired or eliminated due to a deterioration of the disabling condition(s) for which you were placed on retirement, then you can apply to have the Board of Trustees review the partial disability grant. Such a review may result in an increase or decrease in monthly benefits. However, Police & Fire cannot reconsider your grant for conditions not covered by the disabling condition originally listed.
Your effective date of retirement is the day following the last day for which you earned compensation by working or used accumulated time to remain on active payroll status. However, if you fail to terminate employment within the time period prescribed by Police & Fire, your disability grant will be rescinded and no longer effective.
Once you file an election to accept the disability benefit granted, Police & Fire sends a short form to your employer, requesting verification of your termination and separation pay information. About three (3) weeks from the date Police & Fire receives the completed short from and all other required information from your employer, Police & Fire will calculate your benefit and begin paying you an estimated amount. Up to one year after retirement, you should receive your exact benefit with any adjustments made to reflect any over or underpayments of interim benefits.
The above information is intended solely as an overview. It is advisable to contact a Columbus workers' comp attorney from Zamora & Hogan Co., L.P.A. to assess the merits of your individual claim.
Please call us at (614) 344-6822 to discuss the specifics of your case.