Who is covered under the VRS Disability Retirement Plan?
The Virginia Retirement System (“VRS”) Plans 1 and 2 offer disability retirement benefits to certain government employees who participate in the program. You should check with VRS to clarify your coverage, but most commonly, covered employees include:
- Public school division employees such as teachers, administrators or clerical employees;
- Employees of VRS-participating local governments, such as a city, county, town or commission;
- State employees hired before January 1, 1999 who did not elect to transfer to the Virginia Sickness and Disability Program; and
- Members of the Judicial Retirement System.
*State Employee covered under the Virginia Sickness and Disability Program (VSDP) are subject to different long-term disability options.
How Does VRS Define Disabled?
To be eligible for VRS Disability Retirement, you must be unable to perform your covered job on a permanent basis.
Virginia Code Section 51.1-156(E) sets the basic standard for defining a disability under Disability Retirement. The VRS Medical Board shall find that:
(i) the member is and has been continuously, since the effective date of retirement, mentally or physically incapacitated for the further performance of duty;
(ii) the incapacity is likely to be permanent; and
(iii) the member should be retired. A member shall not be retired for disability for any condition which existed at the time of becoming a member unless medical evidence, convincing to the Board, supports the fact that the pre-existing condition has worsened substantially.
To establish this standard, VRS typically requires that you be under the current and regular care of a doctor and that you are compliant with your treatment options.
When Can You File for VRS Disability Retirement Benefits?
It is important that you act quickly to preserve your rights. You can apply while you actively are working. However, you must apply within 90 days of your last day of employment, or if you are on leave without pay, you must apply prior to 24 months of consecutive leave. Also, if you withdraw your member contributions and the end of your employment, you will not be eligible to apply. Before filing for Disability Retirement, you also should consult with VRS to see if an option of regular retirement might be available and more beneficial in your case.
Can I Apply for VRS Disability Retirement If I Am Receiving Worker’s Compensation Due to a Job Injury?
Yes. Employees with-work related disabilities may be eligible for a Work-Related Disability Retirement Benefit when their injuries are determined to be compensable under the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act. (Based on your separate claim with the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission.) However, work-related claims are subject to a different set of rules that can be very complex and case specific. Your benefit will be adjusted and offset by workers’ compensation benefits that you receive.
Can I Apply for VRS Disability Retirement and Social Security Disability (SSDI)?
Yes. VRS Disability Retirement recipients may be obligated to apply for SSDI benefits. If successful, SSDI benefits will be applied as an offset to VRS benefits.
How Do I Apply for VRS Disability Retirement?
VRS has a specific application package that must be completed to begin the process. Questions about the necessary forms should be directed to your human resource officer and the VRS (1-888-827-3847). An initial consultation with an attorney can be helpful in navigating the process and ensuring that you have provided the necessary medical information.
Can I Appeal a Denial of VRS Disability Retirement?
The VRS appeal process has multiple tiers and requires timely action at each step. The first appeal option is to request another VRS review, whereby you may supplement your application with additional medical evidence for consideration by the Medical Board. If VRS denies you a second time, your next appeal option is to request a hearing before an informal fact finder/hearing officer. The hearing officer is a third-party attorney who holds an informal hearing before a court-reporter. At the hearing, you may offer your own direct testimony, call witnesses and introduce new medical evidence. You are allowed to hire an attorney to represent you at this hearing and qualified representation could make a substantial difference in the quality of your presentation and argument. You are not allowed to present additional evidence after the hearing.
Following the hearing, the Medical Board will review and comment on the additional evidence, and the hearing officer will send a recommendation to VRS. VRS then makes a final case decision approving or denying benefits.
If VRS issues a denial as a final case decision, you then may seek review of the record by appealing to Circuit Court. This type of review is not the equivalent of a new trial, so it is important that present all of your evidence prior to the conclusion of the informal fact-finding hearing.