What is PERA?
If you’re a Minnesota police officer or firefighter, or a Hennepin County paramedic or emergency medical technician who been injured or suffered an illness, you may be eligible for disability benefits through the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) if you are unable to perform your normal job duties for a period of a year or more. Under PERA, there are two basic types of disability benefits: duty disability benefits and regular disability benefits. Only an attorney skilled and experienced in Minnesota PERA will be able to fully investigate your claim, determine the differences, and get you the compensation you deserve.
To qualify for regular disability benefits under Minnesota Statutes section 353.656, subd. 3, you must have a physical or psychological condition that is expected to prevent you from performing your normal duties for a period of at least a year. The disability can be non-work related, or it can be the result of a work injury incurred while performing duties that are not specific to protecting property or safety, or duties that are not inherently dangerous. Regular disability benefits are paid at a rate of forty-five percent of your average monthly salary benefit during the highest five consecutive years of earnings, otherwise known as the “high five.”
To qualify for duty disability benefits under Minnesota Statutes section 353.656, subd. 1, you must meet a higher standard. You must have a physical or psychological condition that is expected to prevent you from performing your normal duties as a police officer or firefighter for a period of at least a year. In addition, the disability must be the direct result of an injury incurred during, or an illness arising out of, the performance of your duties. Those duties must present inherent dangers that are specific to police officers or firefighters. Duty disability benefits are paid at a base rate of sixty percent of your average monthly salary benefit during the highest five consecutive years of earnings, i.e., your “high five.”
There are many advantages to receiving duty disability benefits. These benefits pay at a significantly higher rate than regular disability benefits, and are tax-free, which potentially results in a savings of tens of thousands of dollars. In addition, if you have in excess of twenty years of service, you receive a three percent increase for each year of service you have in excess of twenty years. However, timing and age is an important factor in determining when to apply for the benefit. An application for duty disability benefits generally must be filed before you reach the age of 55, or you may be precluded from receiving this benefit. Therefore, if you are nearing the age of 55 and think you may have a duty disability claim, it's imperative that you call Meuser Law Office, P.A. to discuss your rights as soon as possible.
In addition, if you are found to be eligible for PERA duty disability benefits, you are also eligible for Continued Health Insurance Coverage under Minnesota Statute section 299A.465. This coverage requires your employer to pay its share of your insurance premiums until you reach the age of 65. This could result in thousands of dollars of savings in medical and insurance bills.
What are the effects of the recent changes made to PERA?
The Minnesota Legislature enacted significant changes to PERA that were effectuated this summer. Among these changes were delayed cost of living increases and increased penalties for early retirement. In response to these imminent changes, many police officers and firefighters throughout Minnesota chose to retire this summer to avoid being affected by the unfavorable changes to the law. This trend has been of some concern to those of us who represent injured workers in the context of PERA. By choosing to retire, a number of these police officers, firefighters, and state workers have potentially jeopardized their claims for duty disability benefits, healthcare benefits under Minnesota Statutes section 299a.465, and those benefits available under the Minnesota Workers' Compensation Act.
When should you retire under PERA?
Unfortunately, deciding which benefit to apply for and the application process itself can be extremely confusing and complicated. An application for duty disability benefits may be denied due to a technicality or a failure to submit the proper documentation to PERA. It’s easy to make mistakes that have the potential of costing you hundreds of thousands of dollars. One of these critical decisions is whether and when to retire under PERA because retirement can preclude you from receiving benefits you were otherwise entitled to.
In fact, if you file for retirement, you may jeopardize the vast majority of your benefits. In this way, what you don’t know can cost you. Therefore, if you’ve ever had a work place injury, you should not file for retirement without first talking to the experienced attorneys at Meuser Law Office, P.A. Even if you've already retired, you still may qualify for Continued Health Insurance Coverage under Minnesota Statute section 299A.465 up to 18 months after your date of retirement. Meuser Law Office, P.A. has represented hundreds of police officers and firefighters across the state of Minnesota. The value of PERA duty disability benefits, healthcare continuation, and workers' compensation benefits often exceeds several hundred thousand dollars.
Even if you don't think you qualify, you might be surprised to find out that you are entitled to benefits under PERA. Call our office to set up a free, no obligation consultation and discuss the details of your specific situation.