By Angela

Suggestions to My State Legislatorscomputer, woman3

June 5, 2009

Dear State Lawmakers,

While I’m afraid it may be too late to help me, I write this in the hopes of seeing changes for people with disabilities who are battling the state retirement systems (SERS, STRS, PERS) right now…and those who will be fighting long after, unless changes are made now. I’ve been told by several lawyers that our state’s retirement systems are allowed to get away with unfair practices because they have written so much power to themselves in their bylaws. It is not fair for organizations to give so much power to themselves that they are legally able to hurt those people whom we entrust the education and future of our children….and there is no recourse.

If changes that protect school & public workers’ rights cannot be made, then I suggest that these organizations disband the disability portion and leave it to social security. The federal government program is more reasonable than this state’s retirement programs. Besides this, these retirement systems collect money for disability, then have the power to unfairly deny their members and pass off the cost to the federal government when we have to apply for SSI, Medicare and other services which these retirement systems should be providing.

Please consider the following:

#1. School/public employees are forced to pay into state retirement systems instead of social security. When a disability occurs after employment has ended, the former employee cannot apply for benefits. People paying into social security can apply for disability benefits anytime. So why don’t the state retirement systems run their disability benefits the same way?

#2. When you file for disability, these retirement systems are allowed to send a person to as many of their own doctors as they want…consistently getting the answers they want which is…”send this person back to work.” The opinions of a person’s own treating doctors are not given much credibility or weight as the doctors hired by the retirement system (i.e., doctors who consistently find that there is “nothing wrong” with the applicant). This gives the retirement system too much control over the outcome.

Again, let’s look at social security. They send evaluation forms to the treating doctors to fill out and send back. They only use their own doctor in their evaluation once in the beginning…not over and over again as our state retirement systems do.

#3. The by-laws and policies of our retirement systems are not easy to get and view, leaving people with questions the victims of whomever answers the phone and has an opinion – an opinion which always favors the best interests of the retirement system.

#4. Lawyers who are experienced at representing the disabled against the retirement system are not easy to find. Legal aid will not help with these cases, and most lawyers who handle these cases want money up front and all along the way. Most people simply give up against such a monopoly, turning to spouses or family to take care of them. But what happens to those who are alone? What happens to those whose family member/spouse decides being caregiver is too stressful on them financially, physically and emotionally? Then what happens to the disabled individual?

#5. In our state, you only have 1 chance to appeal decisions made by these state retirement systems and 90 days to submit medical evidence to counter their decision; these systems, however, can drag the process out as long as they want. At least with Social Security, you can appeal all you want.

#6. These organizations are able to terminate a person’s disability pension & health insurance before allowing time to make a judgment on the person’s appeal. This can jeopardize the person’s ability to have their basic survival needs of housing, food, medical care, etc. While there may be programs which can help with these things, it often takes 3 – 5 months to be approved. By this time, the disabled person’s life becomes more unstable and harder to recover from.

#7. With these state retirement systems, you are appealing the same people who denied you. There are no neutral parties supervising or providing checks and balances.

I urge you to draft new legislation to reform our state’s retirement systems – SERS/State Employees Retirement System, STRS/State Teachers Retirement System, PERS/Public Employee Retirement System – particularly regarding their bylaws and practices regarding disability coverage. Flaws in these retirement systems make disability too easy to deny with no recourse for the disabled.

Angela Cramer

© Angela Cramer, 2008-2009

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

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