By Angela

Disability: How One School Employees Retirement System
Really Serves Those Who Serve Children

1. Applying for Disability – 2005

a. Evaluationsschool-bldg1

b. Denial

2. Appealing Disability Denial – 2006

3. 2007 Re-Evaluation

4. Request for Part-time Work

5. 2008 Re-Evaluation

a. SERS Neuropsychologist

b. SERS Neurologist

c. SERS Psychiatrist

6. Appealing Disability Denial – 2009

a. SERS letter 2009-02-19

b. Survival Ideas

7. Speaking Out for Change

a. Personal Letter to State Legislators

b. Suggestions to My State Legislators

When a person becomes unable to work due to a disability, one automatically thinks about applying to Social Security to receive money for disability either from SSI or SSDI. This is not the case for some people who work for organizations such as school systems or other public systems. These organizations have their own retirement systems. Money is taken out of their employees’ paychecks and, rather than going into Social Security, it goes into a different retirement system, such as School Teachers Retirement System (STRS), School Employees Retirement System (SERS), or Public Employees Retirement System (PERS). In my case, this money was paid into SERS since I worked for the school system.

These systems operate separately from Social Security, as well as from system to system and state to state. And they have their own rules and ways of doing things. I’ve heard many people say things like, “My aunt was a retired school teacher and she was well taken care of by her retirement system.” I guess I really didn’t think of much beyond this. I had worked for a university and 2 school districts for a total of about 14 years. I thought if anything ever happened to my school job, I knew that I was a hard worker and would deal with it by working for whomever and wherever I could. After all, I also had money which had also been paid into Social Security.

The scenario I did NOT expect was to be hurt and disabled a month after the program I coordinated for the Cantor School District the past 12 years had been discontinued due to budget cuts. Of course, at the time I was hurt, I was only concerned about getting well so I could focus my attention on getting another job. Despite receiving medical care, massage, acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments, and physical therapy, often several times each week, my problems were getting worse, not better.

I was having difficulty sitting up for much longer than 15 minutes at a time, could barely walk 15 feet into the kitchen without feeling like I was going to collapse, had difficulty getting more than just a few words out of my mouth without stuttering, had difficulty remembering what other people were saying or what I said in conversations while they were happening. My 2 months of health insurance coverage had ended.

Months went by and I saw one doctor after another, none of whom could figure out what was wrong or what to do to help me get better. Although my family doctor of 10 years knew there was something seriously wrong, she was unable to get anyone to listen to the point of coming up with an adequate explanation for my difficulties. After a neuropsych exam from a man of questionable ability and integrity (see Dr. Twittworth, Neuropsychologist), my search for answers and solutions became even harder. I needed to know what was medically wrong so that I could receive appropriate treatment and get back to the task of finding a job.

In the midst of all of this, I had to find another lawyer. I fired my first lawyer because my problems were now greater than just making sure my car got fixed. His capabilities did not seem to extend beyond this to deal with the kind of medical problems I was having, and he seemed to be more interested in the chiropractor, who referred me to him, getting paid with the Med Pay check from my insurance company.

I was also trying to figure out how I would survive financially since my savings account was quickly being depleted. Although I was receiving a 75% reduction in fees since I had no health insurance or income, I could not afford to pay for medical bills. I looked into getting disability from Social Security, but discovered that even though I held prior jobs where I had paid into Social Security, a person needed to have a certain number of credits within the past 10 years in order to apply for disability through them. As one person explained, I was simply one of those unfortunate souls who “fell through the cracks.”

Not until 8 months after the accident did it occur to one person who was working with me, that perhaps my situation wasn’t so bad after all. He reasoned that since my paycheck had been spread out over the summer months when my accident occurred, money was being paid into the retirement system, which meant that I was still a member paying into retirement at the time I was hurt. Therefore, I should qualify for disability. He called SERS and was told that this was correct and I could submit an application for disability.

I submitted reports from a number of doctors who were treating me and anxiously awaited a decision. The stories above describe my experiences.

© Angela Cramer, 2008-2009

Clipart is the property of Jupiterimages made available through subscription:
© Jupiterimages Corporation, 2008-2009


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