A career full of challenges, rewards, and service to the community has earned an employee the right to retire with maximum benefits and minimum hassle. But a safety member’s retirement can be complex and time-consuming. At the very outset of the retirement process service members often wonder when it is the right time to retire and how to plan for a retirement that maximizes retirement benefits. In other instances, service members face the challenge of early retirement due to on the job disability.
Whatever your situation, retiring the right way is a tough decision for any employee. You need to have an Exit Strategy. For service members there are two key aspects to maximize benefits at the end of a career: workers’ compensation benefits and retirement benefits.
Workers’ Compensation Benefits
Foremost, workers’ compensation laws provide benefits for injuries suffered on the job and potentially future medical care for those injuries for the rest of an employee’s life. Workers’ Compensation recognizes two types of injuries: the specific injury, and the “cumulative trauma.”
Specific Injury: As the name implies, a specific injury refers to an injury that occurred at a single point in time by a single mechanism of injury. For example, injuries sustained in an automobile accident or a fall off a ladder would be specific injuries. Typically, these injuries are immediately reported during a service member’s career and treatment and compensation are pursued under the Workers’ Compensation system.
Cumulative Trauma Injuries: Cumulative trauma injuries are injuries that occur over a period of time, sometimes over a whole career. Generally speaking, cumulative trauma refers to “wear and tear” on the body. For example, members often experience long-term hearing loss, hypertension, skin cancer, and various orthopedic injuries like a bad knee or bad back. Typically, service members getting ready to retire are evaluated by medical professionals who determine whether cumulative trauma injuries have occurred over an employee’s time on the job.
Injured employees are entitled to medical treatment and compensation for the injuries that occur on the job and over the course of their career. But, to the extent possible, these injuries should be claimed and taken care of before retirement. Importantly, some individuals are so injured by their employment that they may even qualify for a “service connected disability retirement.”
There are three basic forms of retirement available to eligible service members:
Service Retirement: Otherwise known as a “regular retirement,” once you reach the requisite number of years on the job and the right age you are eligible to retire. Certain medical and survivor benefits attach to your service retirement. LACERA can help you determine at what age and after how many years of service you should apply for your service retirement.
Service Connected Disability Retirement: If a work injury or injuries prevents you from performing your regular job duties, then you may be eligible for a service connected disability retirement. This form of retirement has certain tax advantages and survivor benefits.
Non-Service Connected Disability Retirement: If you are unable to perform your regular job duties due to a non-work related injury or illness you may be entitled to benefits under this form of retirement.
Building Your Exit Strategy
To put it mildly, the interaction between the workers’ compensation system and the retirement system is complex and convoluted. But it is extremely important that you educate yourself and protect your benefits adequately.
We recommend that members take an hour for a free consultation approximately 12 months prior to the date he or she plans to retire. During consult, we discuss work history, injuries, and develop a plan to guide the member’s path to retirement. The consult is important because each case is different and each individual has different needs. Even if legal representation is unnecessary, the majority of service members find comfort knowing that they have investigated their workers’ compensation and retirement options and that they can decide their future with professional knowledge, advice, and potentially legal representation.
You only retire once, it is important to do it right.