I recently met with a firefighter who just had celebrated her 55th birthday. Over the past few years, she has experienced increased difficulty performing her normal firefighting duties due to the worsening effects of several on-duty injuries she had sustained. Even though this firefighter’s injuries clearly met the PERA Police and Fire Plan Duty Disability requirements, she was over the age of 55 and had in excess of 20 years of PERA-covered service, and she will not be eligible for Duty Disability benefits.
PERA Police and Fire Plan Duty Disability benefits are tax-free disability benefits, payable at a base rate of 60% of a disabled firefighter or police officer’s average high-five salary for five years, or through age 55, whichever is longer. Police and Fire Plan regular disability benefits are disability benefits payable at a base rate of 45% of a disabled firefighter or police officer’s average high-five salary. The “high-five” salary is based on a firefighter or police officer’s 60 consecutive months in which his or her salary was greatest.
Among other requirements and limitations, Minnesota police officers and firefighters who have more than 20 years of service must apply for Duty Disability benefits before age 55. Police officers and firefighters who have more than 15 years of service must apply for regular disability benefits before age 55. In other words, a police officer or firefighter who is over the age of 55 can still apply for Duty Disability if he or she has less than 20 years of service, or regular disability if he or she has less than 15 years of service.
After age 55, in most cases, the actual amount of the benefit for PERA Duty Disability benefits and a regular PERA retirement pension is the same. However, Duty Disability benefits are non-taxable, while retirement benefits are taxable. In many cases, the tax advantages of a Duty Disability benefit versus a retirement benefit can be worth tens of thousands of dollars over the course of several years.
Minnesota police officers and firefighters who are ineligible for Duty Disability benefits due to the age and service limitation requirements, are still eligible for Continuation of Health Insurance Coverage under Minn. Stat. § 299A.465, if they otherwise meet the Duty Disability criteria. This benefit requires that the employer continue health insurance coverage for the disabled police officer or firefighter through age 65. In other words, even if you can’t apply for a Duty Disability benefit because you are over the age of 55, you may still be eligible for continuation of health insurance coverage benefits.
In the case of the firefighter mentioned above, ultimately I believe we'll be able to assist her in procuring health care continuation benefits, in addition to workers' compensation benefits, even though she cannot apply for PERA Duty Disability benefits. Continuation of Healthcare Coverage Benefits under Minn. Stat. § 299A.465 is a frequently overlooked benefit available to Minnesota firefighters and police officers who do not qualify for PERA Duty Disability benefits due to the age and years of service limitations. We have successfully represented dozens of retired police officers and firefighters in conjunction with claims for healthcare continuation benefits under Minn. Stat. § 299A.465.
If you are a Minnesota police officer or firefighter and you are considering retiring from service due to the effects of an in-the-line-of-duty injury, don’t wait until you hit age 55 to evaluate a potential PERA Duty Disability claim!
Meuser Law Office, P.A., proudly represents hundreds of police officers and firefighters throughout the state of Minnesota. We’ve successfully procured PERA Duty Disability benefits and continuation of health insurance coverage benefits for hundreds of police officers, corrections officers, and firefighters.
Here are a few examples of our recent successes:
•We secured PERA Corrections Plan Duty Disability benefits on behalf of a corrections officer who was assaulted by an inmate over 20 years ago, and who had developed severe post-traumatic stress disorder. She was approved for PERA Duty Disability benefits even though workers’ compensation denied her benefits.
•We were successful in securing PERA Duty Disability benefits on behalf of a firefighter who suffered a heart attack at the scene of a fire.
•We secured PERA Duty Disability benefits on behalf of a young police officer who developed disabling post-traumatic stress disorder after his involvement in several severely traumatic incidents. We also secured workers’ compensation benefits on his behalf based on his post-traumatic stress disorder.
•We were successful in procuring an award of PERA Duty Disability benefits on behalf of a police officer who sustained several back injuries in the line of duty, which ultimately disabled him from continuing to work as a police officer. We also secured a large workers’ compensation settlement on his behalf.
•We were awarded PERA Duty Disability benefits on behalf of a firefighter who sustained several back injuries, one of which was during a training exercise, that resulted in several back surgeries. We also procured a substantial workers’ compensation settlement on behalf of this client.
PERA Duty Disability and health care continuation benefits can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars! If you are a Minnesota police officer or firefighter, and concerned about your ability to continue doing your job because of the effects of a work-related injury, you should strongly consider consulting with a PERA disability lawyer to learn more about your options and your rights. A mistake can literally cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Our attorneys are experienced in PERA and workers’ compensation law and will anticipate issues to avoid extensive and drawn out litigation. To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation call Meuser Law Office, P.A. today at 877-746-5680. Our experienced attorneys will ensure you receive the maximum benefits due in your PERA Duty Disability and Healthcare Continuation benefits claim.