Last Updated: November 2017
If you are a Plan 2 or Plan 3 member of the Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS), School Employees’ Retirement System (SERS) or Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) and become disabled, you might be entitled to a monthly disability benefit. You might also be eligible for benefits from the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (Workers’ Compensation benefits), the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, the federal Social Security Administration, and your employer. For more information, contact these organizations directly.
To be eligible for a monthly disability benefit, you must be totally incapacitated for continued employment with your PERS, SERS or TRS employer and you must leave that employment as a result of your disability.
No minimum amount of service credit is required for you to be eligible for a PERS, SERS or TRS disability retirement. However, your years of service credit determine the reduction taken on the benefit.
DRS determines disability based on your condition at the time you separate from employment. If you are on any type of leave, you haven’t separated from service.
You are responsible for providing the medical information to show that you are totally incapacitated for continued employment. Your doctor must support any opinions or conclusions with objective data, such as observations recorded in office-visit notes and tests. You are responsible for all medical costs associated with qualifying for a disability retirement.
If the state Health Care Authority (HCA) provides your medical coverage, call 800-200-1004 to request information concerning continuation of coverage.
To apply for a disability benefit, take these steps:
The application review process will begin after DRS has received all three parts.
An initial determination can be made within four to six weeks of DRS receiving all three parts of the application as well as all the needed support documentation.
Please send the following documentation with your disability application:
You may apply for disability retirement from DRS before separating from employment. If you have already separated, you may still apply for disability retirement as long as you were disabled at the time of your separation.
If you receive a denial: You may petition DRS for a review within 120 days of receiving your denial letter. If your petition is denied, you will be informed of appeal procedures. You will have 60 days to appeal the decision.
If you are approved: DRS will mail you an approval letter with additional information. You must separate from employment to begin receiving your monthly disability benefit.
If you haven’t separated from employment within 90 days of your approval date, DRS will rescind its approval. If that happens, you must reapply and submit current medical evidence to be considered for a disability benefit.
Your retirement date is the first of the month following your date of separation. For example, if your application is approved May 4 and you separate from service May 15, your retirement date is June 1 and you will receive your first monthly benefit on the last working day of June.
Your disability benefit could be affected if you go to work for any public employer in Washington state. In some cases, depending on the position and the extent to which you work, your disability benefit might be suspended and you might be required to make contributions to a retirement system.
If you decide to return to work, call DRS to determine how your benefit will be affected.
If eligible, your disability defined benefit will be calculated using one of the following equations:
That said, your benefit will be reduced to reflect the difference between your age at the time of retirement and age 65.
AFC is based on your 60 consecutive highest-paid service credit months. Service credit is the credit you receive each month for working in a DRS-covered position.
Plan 3 members: You have both defined benefit and defined contribution parts to your plan. This booklet discusses accessing your defined benefit. You may access your defined contribution funds any time after you separate from DRS-covered employment. To learn more, visit the Plan 3 Withdrawals webpage.
The lump sum option is available to members whose monthly benefits would be less than a set amount. Those members may choose between a monthly benefit and a lump sum payment:
If you choose the lump sum payment, you are considered retired from your retirement plan. If you choose a monthly benefit, you can’t take a lump sum payment at a later date.
If you are receiving a monthly disability benefit, DRS might require you to undergo comprehensive medical examinations at DRS’ expense. You or your doctor must report any changes in your condition to DRS.
If medical examinations show you have recovered from your disability, DRS will cancel your disability benefit and issue an order that you be restored to duty. If this happens, you will be entitled to notice and a hearing.
You may purchase up to 24 months of service credit while on leave for a disability if you meet all the following eligibility criteria:
Payment errors: If you receive an overpayment of your benefit, you will be required to repay it to DRS. If you receive an underpayment, DRS will correct the error and pay you the amount owed.
Cost-of-Living Adjustments (COLAs): On July 1 of every year following your first full year of retirement, your monthly benefit will be adjusted to a maximum of 3% per year, as determined by the Consumer Price Index.
Federal income taxes: Disability benefits are taxed as ordinary income until you reach the minimum retirement age. You might be able to receive tax credits for the elderly or disabled as explained in the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Publication 524: Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled.
You will need to complete a W-4P form so the proper tax amount is withheld from your monthly benefit. If you don’t complete the form, DRS will apply IRS withholding rules as though you are married and claiming three exemptions. This is regardless of the number of exemptions you qualify to claim on your income tax return.
Assignment and attachment of benefits: Your disability benefit could be subject to assignment or attachment to satisfy court and administrative orders for spousal or domestic-partnership maintenance and child support or orders federal law authorizes.
DRS is authorized to divide pensions between members and ex-spouses or ex-partners based on court-ordered property division. If the divorce decree or dissolution of domestic partnership complies with the applicable law, DRS will send the property-division payment directly to the ex-spouse or ex-partner. For more information, refer to the publications Can Legal Action Affect My Retirement Account? and How Can a Property Division Affect My Retirement Account?
This document is a summary. It is not a complete description of a disability benefit. State retirement laws govern your benefit. If a conflict exists between the information in this document and what is contained in current law, the law governs.