The number of police and firefighters requesting disability benefits from the state pension fund has tripled in the past fiscal year, with 79% saying they cannot do their jobs due to the syndrome. post-traumatic stress.
The number of claims has exploded since George Floyd was assassinated by then-Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin in May 2020, sparking days of protests, riots and arson in the Twins. Cities.
The Minnesota Public Employees Retirement Association, known as PERA, received 119 disability benefit claims in 2019; 236 in 2020; and 165 in the first six months of 2021.
The vast majority of claimants are police officers, PERA CEO Doug Anderson said.
“We rarely get more than 10 applications a month and we’ve had as many as 40 for a while,” Anderson said.
The numbers started to stabilize in April, with requests reduced to around 20 per month.
Almost 100% of PTSD disability claims are approved by PERA through a 2019 state law. This allows the employee to receive 60% of their salary – the average of their five most earning years. high – tax-free up to age 55, and the city must continue to provide them with health insurance until age 65.
Then, armed with the PERA approval, many employees apply for workers’ compensation benefits.
When workers’ benefits are combined with disability benefits, they can be added to a full salary.
Anderson said he was “not too” concerned about the increase because as long as it is a one-time thing, the Police and Fire Department pension plan – with 25,000 members – can handle the increase. wave.
“It’s not really going to change the direction of the plan,” he said. “The plan is really, really well funded right now and getting better – should get better.”
He said he would be worried if the trend continued.
PERA funds just posted their best investment performance since 1984, with returns of over 30%, bringing their total assets to over $ 40 billion for the first time. But the PERA actuary suggested that PERA lower its current yield assumption to 7.5%. The liabilities of the police and fire regime are 88% funded, which corresponds to the asset / liability ratio, with a target of 100%.
The high percentage of claimants complaining of PTSD during the post-Floyd flare is higher than usual, Anderson said, although trauma claims have increased even before 2020.
State law was changed in 2019 to make it easier for police and emergency responders to apply for a PTSD-related disability as a result of their work; now the presumption is that if they suffer from PTSD, it is work related.
As a result, almost all PTSD requests are approved by PERA.
If two doctors say the person can’t do the job, it’s hard for PERA to counter. PERA can do an independent medical examination and have members speak to a psychologist or psychiatrist to validate claims, but that often doesn’t carry as much weight as the member’s doctor, Anderson said.
The League of Minnesota Cities is concerned about the increase in disability claims as the number of disability retirements versus regular retirements has increased over the past five years.
All but nine of Minnesota’s cities have workers’ compensation coverage through the League Insurance Trust, a self-insured membership co-op.
Adding to the expense: State law requires that cities continue to provide the person with the same level of health insurance benefits until age 65, even if the person finds other employment.
Anne Finn, public safety lobbyist for the League of Cities, said the number of disability benefit claims has increased since the law was changed to make PTSD a presumed condition.
“It has really sped up the number of people receiving workers’ compensation and PERA service disability,” she said. “It is unsustainable from a fiscal point of view.”
The League has convened a task force to tackle the problem.
Although more than half of PERA claims come from Minneapolis employees, they are not the only emergency responders making claims for PTSD.
“The Minneapolis situation, I think, has created new claims of PTSD statewide,” Finn said. “There are police officers who were not involved in the civil unrest, who I think were so confused by what happened that we are seeing bigger trends statewide.”
Lawyer Ronald Meuser Jr., who represented About 200 Minneapolis police and firefighters who have filed workers’ compensation claims since Floyd’s murder, also represent a large number of PERA candidates, Anderson said.
Finn said it was “disturbing” that the same lawyer – Meuser – and the same doctor were used for “almost all of the claims”.
“I think employees are consistently receiving the same advice from him, regardless of their prognosis,” she said.
Meuser said Finn was correct that his company handled the vast majority of PERA and workers’ compensation claims, but said they had “dozens” of mental health clinicians and a number of experts who deal with agents statewide.
“On the other hand, the League uses a bunch of (swear words),” he said. “They routinely refer these gentlemen to one or two of their doctors who, in 98% of these cases, never find they are suffering from PTSD.”
League insurance trust administrator Dan Greensweig said that figure was not accurate, but that he did not have the actual percentage at hand. He said the League receives a significant number of complaints that are not properly documented with a proper diagnosis.
Meuser said the League was upset because it had failed to get PERA to deny more claims. Meuser said PERA has started performing enhanced and independent assessments of about half of applicants, but continues to approve most applications. This is because people are actually suffering from PTSD, he said.
“So maybe they need to clean their house rather than throw stones at the complainants’ barn,” Meuser said.
Finn said the League has a responsibility to protect both city workers and taxpayers. She said there is a misconception that PTSD ends a career.
“We would like to see more focus on promoting treatment and people’s well-being,” she said. “We would like to see the energy put into healing people instead of proving they are sick. And I’m not at all trying to downplay the reality that these jobs put people at risk and expose them to mental injury… and PTSD is absolutely real, but it’s treatable.