Article Series - Part 1
On several occasions, the lawyers at Meuser Law Office, P.A. have been contacted by individuals who have applied for PERA benefits on their own and been denied. When filing an application for PERA Police and Fire Plan or Corrections Plan disability benefits, there are several pitfalls that can occur when you are applying by yourself. Applying for PERA disability benefits is not always as simple and straightforward as it should be. It is important to know there are some very complicated rules that apply. The laws governing these types of benefits are extremely complex and specialized. It’s easy to make mistakes and those mistakes can cost you tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of benefits. Making mistakes during the application process can result in a denial of your claim, or it can result in substantial delays in getting your benefits. This is the first in a series of articles detailing some of the most common mistakes made when applying for PERA Police and Fire Plan benefits.
Applying for the Wrong Type of PERA Disability Benefit
In addition to PERA retirement benefits, there are several different types of disability benefits available to members of the Minnesota PERA Police and Fire and Corrections plans. When applying for disability benefits, PERA members may receive one of four different types of disability benefits: 1) regular disability 2) duty disability, 3) permanent and total disability, and 4) duty permanent and total disability benefits.
Duty Disability benefits are available for Minnesota police officers, firefighters, and correctional officers who have sustained an injury or illness that is expected to prevent the member from performing his or her normal duties for a period of at least one year, and whose injury or illness incurred during, or arose out of the performance of inherently dangerous duties specific to police officers, firefighters, or corrections officers. Which duties are “inherently dangerous” are not always clear.
Alternatively, regular disability benefits are available for PERA Police and Fire Plan and Corrections Plan members who have a physical or psychological condition expected to prevent the member from performing his or her normal duties for at least a year. The disability can be a non-work related injury or illness, or an injury that is work-related, but that was not incurred during the performance of inherently dangerous duties.
Total and Permanent Regular and Duty Disability benefits are available to members of the Minnesota Police and Fire and Corrections plans who meet the criteria for regular or Duty Disability, and who also demonstrate that they are expected to be disabled from performing any substantial gainful employment for a period of at least one year.
PERA Police and Fire Plan Duty Disability benefits are payable at a base rate of 60% of your high-five salary, or the average your highest five consecutive years or earnings. A determination of eligibility for Duty Disability benefits also triggers your employer’s responsibility to continue to pay your health insurance premiums through age 65, in accordance with Minn. Stat. § 299A.465. Police and Fire Plan Duty Disability benefits are non-taxable for five years or through age 55, whichever is longer. Police and Fire Plan Regular disability benefits, on the other hand, are payable at a base rate of 45% of your high-five salary, and these benefits are taxable. Applying for a regular disability benefit when you may be eligible for a Duty Disability benefit can cost you tens of thousands of dollars a year.
PERA Police and Fire Plan Total and Permanent disability benefits - both regular and duty - are payable at the same rate as non-total and permanent disability benefits. However, PERA Total and Permanent disability benefits are non-taxable for life, and both benefits provide for a no-cost automatic survivor benefit. While there are advantages to applying for a Total and permanent disability benefit, there are also disadvantages. For instance, members have a higher burden of proof in demonstrating that they cannot engage in any substantial gainful employment, rather than demonstrating that they cannot perform the normal duties of a police officer or firefighter. In many cases, the coordination rules that apply to PERA disability benefits and workers’ compensation benefits also make it less financially advantageous to apply for a Total and Permanent disability benefit.
Under the Minnesota PERA Corrections Plan, Duty Disability benefits are payable at a base rate of 47.5% of a member’s high five salary, and regular disability benefits are payable at a base rate of 19% of a member’s high five salary. Applying for the wrong benefit can cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars every month.
Due to the complex coordination rules between workers’ compensation and PERA, there are also some cases where it is actually more financially advantageous to forego a PERA Duty Disability benefit, and to file for PERA retirement, instead.
Every PERA disability case is unique, and our recommendations are based on your unique circumstances. A knowledgeable PERA attorney, can help you determine whether you should apply for a duty disability benefit or a regular disability benefit, and whether you should apply for a “total and permanent” disability benefit. Applying for the wrong type of benefit can result in substantial delays in getting your benefits, or it can result in a denial of your claim. This mistake can cost you tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Meuser Law Office, P.A., has proudly and successfully represented hundreds of police officers and firefighters throughout the state of Minnesota for PERA Duty Disability claims. It is far cheaper and faster to get your application right the first time, rather than having to appeal an adverse decision to get the benefits you’re entitled to. The PERA lawyers at Meuser Law Office, P.A., handle PERA Police and Fire and Corrections Plan disability claims at all stages of the process - from the beginning of the application phase all the way to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. We strongly encourage any Minnesota police officer, firefighter, or corrections officer who is considering applying for PERA duty disability benefits to meet with us a for a consultation before beginning the application process. Experienced legal representation can help save you time and money in getting approved for the benefits you’re entitled to.
If you have a Minnesota Police and Fire Plan or Corrections Plan PERA Duty Disability claim, contact the attorneys at Meuser Law Office, P.A. for a free, no-obligation legal consultation. Our knowledgeable attorneys will help you understand the often confusing PERA Duty Disability benefit law and ensure you receive the full benefits you are entitled.