By Angela

SERS Disability Appeal 2009

a. SERS letter 2009-02-19dizzy

b. Survival ideas

On Wednesday I went grocery shopping and fixed 2 meals on the same day without taking a nap. I was very proud of myself and feeling like I was finally starting to get better. By 8:30 p.m. I became very sick to my stomach and when my head and eyes moved too suddenly, the room started to spin. Keeping my head and eyes very still, I made my way to my purse to get my anti-nausea and anti-vertigo medications, slowly made my way to bed and went to sleep.

After sleeping in late the next day, I awoke feeling much better. I still had 2 more meals to prepare so I could add to my frozen, prepared meals. Once again I surprised myself by being able to cook both of these meals on the same day, without a nap. Perhaps the vitamin B12 I had been taking for the past 5 weeks was finally starting to work. By 6:30 p.m., I had a repeat occurrence of nausea and spinning rooms, took my medication and retired early once again.

The next morning I awoke with a horrible panic/anxiety attack. Nothing specific had happened that I can remember. But I was crying uncontrollably and trying to refrain from hurting myself. All I remember of the day was calling my psychiatrist and talking to him until I felt calm. I stayed in bed, sleeping and listening to an audiobook for the next 2 days, getting up only long enough to take care of my pets’ needs, eat and go to the bathroom.

(Why am I telling you all of this? Many of you who have coped with brain injury for any length of time, will probably recognize this as the kinds of things that can happen when you don’t do a very good job at pacing yourself. You may have been told by family, friends, professionals who do not understand brain injury, fatigue and the woman-reading-letter1importance of pacing, that because you sometimes function well and sometimes don’t that you are exaggerating your problems, faking or malingering.)

I had not bothered to get my mail on Saturday, so I checked my mailbox early Monday morning. One of the letters was from SERS. It was too early for my monthly pension from them. Suddenly I had a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I opened the envelope and began reading the letter:

“All of the evidence submitted by your attending physician(s) and the SERS medical examiner(s) regarding your current medical status has been received. Upon review of this information, the Medical Advisory Committee has advised the Retirement Board that you are now capable of resuming your previous duties.”

So why hasn’t my body been informed, as well? I find the first sentence very interesting. My psychiatrist, who SERS has determined to be my attending physician, does believe that I have been coping better with my situation. It is true that it’s been a while since I last cut myself hoping that maybe this time it will be deep enough that the bleeding won’t stop or have taken an overdose of pills. There are still times that it takes a lot of fighting within myself to pick up the phone, instead of the razor blade or some pills.

He, however, has never agreed with SERS’ opinion that the medical basis for my disability is only depression. He has said to me, “Yes, you are depressed, but that is secondary to the life changes brought on by your medical condition.”

I continue reading…..

“On February 19, 2009, the Retirement Board concurred with the recommendations of the Medical Advisory Committee and took formal action to terminate your disability retirement benefit. Your monthly pension, including any provided health care coverage, will be terminated no later than May 31, 2009.”

I’m not sure what this means. Will I receive a disability check and health care coverage through May or could it end sooner than this? I don’t trust anything they do. I have learned to always expect the worst with them. It would not surprise me if they are able to terminate everything by the end of February, thereby leaving me without money or health care coverage beginning as early as March 1st.

“If you intend to appeal the Board’s decision it must be in writing, signed by you, and sent within 15 days of the date on this letter. Please follow the instructions in the enclosed leaflet regarding School Employees Retirement System’s disability appeal procedure.”

I strangely felt calm about everything. Although the lawyer had told me he could only help me if my disability pension was terminated, he had also told me that SERS could pretty much do whatever they wanted since they had written in so much power to themselves in their by-laws. Of course, I will go through the motions of appealing, but I’m already feeling like this battle is soon to come to an end and it’s strangely freeing. At least for now. Who in their right mind wants to deal with this kind of stress every year?

The following seem to be the “unspoken rules” that our state’s retirement systems (SERS, STRS and PERS) operate under based upon my experience and others whom I know:

1) Have your doctors tell us what is wrong with you;

2) We’ll hire doctors who will examine you and disagree with anything your doctors have said;

3) If you come up with new medical evidence, we will grant you disability for a little while until we can figure out a new angle to take;

4) Once we figure out how to counter your new medical evidence, we will hire our doctors to re-evaluate you and counter everything you say. Since there are no neutral parties deciding the merits of each side, we get to decide which doctors’ opinions we want to go with. We will go with the doctors’ opinions who are most aligned with our best financial interests.

5) If you somehow manage to find a doctor who does a reasonably good job at countering our doctors’ opinions, we will grant you disability until we figure out how we can counter this. Or we will determine that the nature of your disability is something else so we don’t have to look at your other doctors’ reports and

6) We will never place any of our rules or policies in writing where everyone can see them and know what they are. This will give us the ability to tell you on the phone what our policies are and conveniently change them as we need to.

7) If you are stupid enough to try to take us on, we will wear you down and put you through any hell we can until you give up. We can do this because we are the ones who make the rules and nobody can tell us what to do since we have stated in our by-laws that we get to make the decisions. So there really isn’t much you can do about it.

Ever hear the phrase “the fox guarding the hen house?”

© Angela Cramer, 2008-2009

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


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