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Serving New York Educators Since 1921

If You Are No Longer Able to Work

A Guide for Making Disability Retirement Decisions

Eligibility Requirements | The Disability BenefitApplying for Disability
If You Are Critically Ill | Working While on Disability | If You Recover and Return to Active Service | Other Considerations

If you’re forced to stop working because of a serious illness or injury, you and your family will be faced with difficult questions. NYSTRS staff will help you make informed decisions about your benefits and will guide you through the retirement process. Call the System at (800) 348-7298, Ext. 6010 if you are in this situation.

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible to receive a NYSTRS disability retirement benefit, you must meet all of the following requirements:

Tiers 1 and 2 

  • Have at least 10 years of New York State service credit. (If you are Tier 2, you must have at least five of the 10 years since last becoming a member.)
  • Be totally and permanently incapacitated from further teaching.
  • Stop teaching because of the disability.

Tiers 3–6

  • Have at least 10 years of New York State service credit. (Note: The 10-year requirement is waived if the disability resulted from an on-the-job accident.)
  • Be totally and permanently incapacitated from all further gainful employment.
  • Have filed a disability application with NYSTRS within 12 months of the last date you were on the payroll. If you are placed on a leave of absence without pay for medical reasons, you may file a disability application no later than 12 months after the date your medical leave ended.

Tier 3 members with at least five years of credit who leave teaching because of a disability and who are eligible for primary Social Security disability benefits are eligible for a NYSTRS disability benefit under Tier 3 (Article 14). The service requirement is waived if the disability resulted from an on-the-job accident.

The Disability Benefit

For All Tiers

A disability retirement benefit is generally one-third of your final average salary. However, the benefit may be more or less depending on your age and service credit. For an estimate of your disability retirement benefit, please refer to your most-recent Benefit Profile, or contact the System.

Applying for Disability

All disability retirement applications and medical documentation are reviewed by the NYSTRS Medical Board, which determines whether applicants are eligible for disability retirement. The Retirement Board may require you to be examined by a physician chosen by the Board.

To obtain the necessary application for disability retirement:

You may file your notarized application with NYSTRS as late as your effective date of retirement. Do not delay. You can file the application before collecting the necessary medical documentation.

You can remain on payroll while the disability application is pending. Your retirement date can be the day after your last paid day of work.  

If you die before your effective date of retirement, payment will still be made if all of the following apply:

  • You selected the Declining Reserve Option (4%) (Tier 1) or the Largest Non-Declining Lump Sum Option (Tier 2–6 members) on the application you filed with NYSTRS;
  • You otherwise qualified for a disability retirement; and,
  • The Retirement Board determines the illness specified on your application was directly related to the cause of your death.

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If You Are Critically Ill

The Question:

If you are critically ill, have a life expectancy of less than one year and meet the disability retirement eligibility requirements, should you stay on the payroll and be covered by an in-service death benefit, or retire and select an option providing a payment to your beneficiary?

The Answer:

With few exceptions, if you have 10 or more years of service, you should file for disability retirement immediately regardless of your age. In most cases, the lump-sum payment a beneficiary would receive in the event of your death would be significantly more than the in-service death benefit paid out had you not retired.

Under Tier 1, the appropriate option to select is the Declining Reserve Option (4%). Under Tiers 2–6, in most cases you should select the Largest Non-Declining Lump Sum Option. Contact NYSTRS before making your final decisions.

The Difference:

Staying on Payroll vs. Retiring

Depending on your tier, the disparities between an in-service death benefit (obtainable by staying on payroll) and an option payment (available by retiring) can be substantial. Consider this example for a Tier 4 member:

For a Tier 4 member, age 60 with 24 years of service and a salary of $80,000, who stays on payroll and dies in service, the death benefit is:   $240,000
Return of required member contributions and interest: $60,000
The total payment is: $300,000
If the member retires, selects the Largest Non-Declining Lump Sum
Option and dies in retirement, the payment to the beneficiary is:
In addition, the Paragraph 2 death benefit (see below), paid if death occurs during the first year of retirement, is: $120,000
The total payment is: $480,000  

By retiring, the payment to this Tier 4 member's beneficiary is increased by: 


Note: In lieu of either benefit, you may receive an accelerated death benefit that would pay you an amount equal to the death benefit payable if you died on the last day of reportable service. To be eligible, you must qualify for a disability retirement benefit (although the service requirement would be waived) and have either a) a terminal illness resulting in a life expectancy of no more than 12 months, or b) a medical condition
requiring extraordinary care or treatment.

Before making any decisions, we strongly urge you to discuss your situation with a System representative by calling (800) 348-7298, Ext. 6010.

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Filing for Disability Protection     

If you have been diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition, or are having surgery or treatment for a medical condition, consider filing a disability retirement application. Doing so provides an important safety net for you and your beneficiaries.

To file for protection, complete the Application for Disability Retirement (RET-54.1) and Medical Information Summary form (RET-54.1B) from the Disability Retirement Application Package, available on the Retirement-Related Forms page of our website. On these forms, you should:

  • Indicate on the application or in a cover letter that you are filing for protection only;
  • Indicate the medical condition necessitating the retirement;
  • Leave the requested date of retirement blank; and,
  • Select either the Declining Reserve Option (Tier 1 only) or Largest Lump Sum Option (Tiers 2–6).

The forms, which require notarization, must be received by NYSTRS prior to death. If sent by registered or certified mail, the postmark date is the received date. Otherwise, it is considered received on the date of delivery to NYSTRS.

If your condition improves and the protection is no longer needed, you can rescind the application and return to active service. Or, if you decide to retire for disability, you will have 30 days to change your option following approval by NYSTRS’ Medical Board.

Paragraph 2 Death Benefit     

If you are a Tier 2–6 member who retires within a year of leaving payroll and are not otherwise employed in the interim, the Paragraph 2 In-Service Death Benefit provides the continuation of the death benefit in retirement as follows:

1st Year: 50% of the death benefit in effect at retirement.
2nd Year: 25% of the death benefit at retirement.
3rd & Ensuing Years: 10% of the death benefit at age 60 or at retirement if earlier.

Working While on Disability

Tiers 1 and 2 

Although Tier 1 and 2 members must be totally and permanently incapacitated from further teaching service, they may work in other employment while on disability; however, there is a limit on earnings.

  • The amount you may earn during a calendar year is limited to the difference between your final average salary (or, if greater, the salary you would be receiving had you continued in service) and the amount of your retirement benefit. This calculation considers only employment; other income is excluded.
  • If you exceed the earnings limit, your disability benefit will be reduced to reflect the excess earnings.
  • Once each year the System will request a report of your gross earnings from all employment.
  • If NYSTRS’ Medical Board determines you are no longer disabled, your disability benefit will be discontinued and you will be restored to active status under your original tier of membership.

Tiers 3–6

  • You must be totally and permanently disabled from all employment to qualify for, and continue to receive, a NYSTRS benefit.
  • Once each year the System will request a report of your gross earnings from all employment. Employment may jeopardize your disability retirement.
If You Recover and Return to Active Service

Before you begin your disability retirement, you may want to discuss with your employer the possibility of remaining on an employer-approved leave of absence without pay, so that if you recover you can return to active service.

Also, in some situations, you can be placed on a preferred eligible list of candidates for appointment if a vacancy occurs. You should contact your employer for more information.

If you return to work for an employer reporting to the System, your disability benefit may cease. Your membership will be restored to active status under your original tier of membership. You will then begin to accrue additional credit toward a future benefit.

Other Considerations
  • Update your beneficiary designation for your NYSTRS benefits and your private insurance policies.
  • Contact Social Security at (800) 772-1213 or www.ssa.gov to discuss your eligibility for Social Security benefits.
  • Review your private disability and life insurance coverage.

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