135-106. Long-term disability benefits.

(a) Upon the application of a beneficiary or participant or of his legal representative or any person deemed by the Board of Trustees to represent the participant or beneficiary, any beneficiary or participant who has had five or more years of membership service may receive long-term disability benefits from the Plan upon approval by the Board of Trustees, commencing on the first day succeeding the conclusion of the short-term disability period provided for in G.S. 135-105, provided the beneficiary or participant makes application for such benefit within 180 days after the short-term disability period ceases, after salary continuation payments cease, or after monthly payments for Workers' Compensation cease, whichever is later; Provided, that the beneficiary or participant withdraws from active service by terminating employment as a teacher or State employee; Provided, that the Medical Board shall certify that such beneficiary or participant is mentally or physically incapacitated for the further performance of duty, that such incapacity was incurred at the time of active employment and has been continuous thereafter, and that such incapacity is likely to be permanent; Provided further that the Medical Board shall not certify any beneficiary or participant as disabled who is in receipt of any payments on account of the same incapacity which existed when the beneficiary first established membership in the Retirement System. The Board of Trustees may extend this 180-day filing requirement upon receipt of clear and convincing evidence that application was delayed through no fault of the disabled beneficiary or participant and was delayed due to the employers' miscalculation of the end of the 180-day filing period. However, in no instance shall the filing period be extended beyond an additional 180 days.

The Board of Trustees may require each beneficiary who becomes eligible to receive a long-term disability benefit to have an annual medical review or examination for the first five years and thereafter once every three years after the commencement of benefits under this section. However, the Board of Trustees may require more frequent examinations and upon the advice of the Medical Board shall determine which cases require such examination. Should any beneficiary refuse to submit to any examination required by this subsection or by the Medical Board, his long-term disability benefit shall be suspended until he submits to an examination, and should his refusal last for one year, his benefit may be terminated by the Board of Trustees. If the Medical Board finds that a beneficiary is no longer mentally or physically incapacitated for the further performance of duty, the Medical Board shall so certify this finding to the Board of Trustees, and the Board of Trustees may terminate the beneficiary's long-term disability benefits effective on the last day of the month in which the Medical Board certifies that the beneficiary is no longer disabled.

As to the requirement of five years of membership service, any participant or beneficiary who does not have five years of membership service within the 96 calendar months prior to becoming disabled or upon cessation of continuous salary continuation payments, whichever is later, shall not be eligible for long-term disability benefits.

Notwithstanding the requirement that the incapacity was incurred at the time of active employment, any participant who becomes disabled while on an employer approved leave of absence and who is eligible for and in receipt of temporary total benefits under The North Carolina Workers' Compensation Act, Article 1 of Chapter 97 of the General Statutes, will be eligible for all benefits provided under this Article.

(b) After the commencement of benefits under this section, the benefits payable under the terms of this section during the first 36 months of the long-term disability period shall be equal to sixty-five percent (65%) of 1/12th of the annual base rate of compensation last payable to the participant or beneficiary prior to the beginning of the short-term disability period as may be adjusted for percentage increases as provided under G.S. 135-108, plus sixty-five percent (65%) of 1/12th of the annual longevity payment to which the participant or beneficiary would be eligible, to a maximum of three thousand nine hundred dollars ($3,900) per month reduced by any primary Social Security disability benefits to which the beneficiary may be entitled, effective as of the first of the month following the month of initial entitlement, and by monthly payments for Workers' Compensation to which the participant or beneficiary may be entitled. When primary Social Security disability benefits are increased by cost-of-living adjustments, the increased reduction shall be applied in the first month following the month in which the member becomes entitled to the increased Social Security benefit. The monthly benefit shall be further reduced by the amount of any monthly payments from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, any other federal agency or any payments made under the provisions of G.S. 127A-108, to which the participant or beneficiary may be entitled on account of the same disability. Provided, in any event, the benefit payable shall be no less than ten dollars ($10.00) a month. However, a disabled participant may elect to receive any salary continuation as provided in G.S. 135-104 in lieu of long-term disability benefits; provided such election shall not extend the first 36 consecutive calendar months of the long-term disability period. An election to receive any salary continuation for any part of any given day shall be in lieu of any long-term benefit payable for that day, provided further, any lump-sum payout for vacation leave shall be treated as if the beneficiary or participant had exhausted the leave and shall be in lieu of any long-term benefit otherwise payable. Provided that, in any event, a beneficiary's benefit shall be reduced during the first 36 months of the long-term disability period by an amount, as determined by the Board of Trustees, equal to a primary Social Security retirement benefit to which the beneficiary might be entitled, effective as of the first of the month following the month of initial entitlement.

After 36 months of long-term disability, no further benefits are payable under the terms of this section unless the member has been approved and is in receipt of primary Social Security disability benefits. In that case the benefits payable shall be equal to sixty-five percent (65%) of 1/12th of the annual base rate of compensation last payable to the participant or beneficiary prior to the beginning of the short-term disability period as may be adjusted for percentage increases as provided under G.S. 135-108, plus sixty-five percent (65%) of 1/12th of the annual longevity payment to which the participant or beneficiary would be eligible, to a maximum of three thousand nine hundred dollars ($3,900) per month reduced by the primary Social Security disability benefits to which the beneficiary may be entitled, effective as of the first of the month following the month of initial entitlement, and by monthly payments for Workers' Compensation to which the participant or beneficiary may be entitled. When primary Social Security disability benefits are increased by cost-of-living adjustments, the increased reduction shall be applied in the first month following the month in which the member becomes entitled to the increased Social Security benefit. The monthly benefit shall be further reduced by the amount of any monthly payments from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, for payments from any other federal agency, or for any payments made under the provisions of G.S. 127A-108, to which the participant or beneficiary may be entitled on account of the same disability. Provided, in any event, the benefit payable shall be no less than ten dollars ($10.00) a month.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, the long-term disability benefit is payable so long as the beneficiary is disabled and is in receipt of a primary Social Security disability benefit until the earliest date at which the beneficiary is eligible for an unreduced service retirement allowance from the Retirement System, at which time the beneficiary would receive a retirement allowance calculated on the basis of the beneficiary's average final compensation at the time of disability as adjusted to reflect compensation increases subsequent to the time of disability and the creditable service accumulated by the beneficiary, including creditable service while in receipt of benefits under the Plan. In the event the beneficiary has not been approved and is not in receipt of a primary Social Security disability benefit, the long-term disability benefit shall cease after the first 36 months of the long-term disability period. When such a long-term disability recipient begins receiving this unreduced service retirement allowance from the System, that recipient shall not be subject to the six-month waiting period set forth in G.S. 135-1(20). However, a beneficiary shall be entitled to a restoration of the long-term disability benefit in the event the Social Security Administration grants a retroactive approval for primary Social Security disability benefits with a benefit effective date within the first 36 months of the long-term disability period. In such event, the long-term disability benefit shall be restored retroactively to the date of cessation.

(c) Notwithstanding the foregoing, a beneficiary in receipt of long-term disability benefits who has earnings during the long-term disability period shall have his long-term disability benefit reduced when the sum of the net long-term disability benefit and the earnings equals one hundred percent (100%) of monthly compensation adjusted as provided under G.S. 135-108. The net long-term benefit shall mean the long-term benefit amount payable as calculated under (b) above, after the reduction for Social Security benefits and Workers' Compensation benefits to which the beneficiary might be entitled, and after the reduction for any monthly payments from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, for payments from any other federal agency, or for any payments made under the provisions of G.S. 127A-108, to which the participant or beneficiary may be entitled on account of the same disability. The net long-term disability benefit shall be reduced dollar-for-dollar for the amount of earnings in excess of the one hundred percent (100%) monthly limit. Any beneficiary exceeding the earnings limitations shall notify the Plan by the fifth of the month succeeding the month in which the earnings were received of the amount of earnings in excess of the limitations herein provided. Failure to report excess earnings may result in a suspension or termination of benefits as determined by the Board of Trustees.

(c1) During the long-term disability period, a beneficiary may return to service for trial rehabilitation for periods of not greater than 36 months of continuous service. Such return will not cause the beneficiary to become a participant and will not require a new waiting period or short-term disability period to commence regardless of whether the beneficiary is unable to continue in service due to the same incapacity or a different incapacity.

A beneficiary who, during a period of trial rehabilitation, is unable to continue in service may be entitled to a restoration of the long-term disability benefit provided that the Medical Board certifies that the beneficiary is disabled in accordance with the laws in effect at the time of the Board's original approval for long-term disability benefits, either due to the same or a different incapacity, notwithstanding the requirement the incapacity has been continuous. In the event that the Medical Board determines that the long-term disability benefit should be restored, the restored benefit should be calculated in accordance with G.S. 135-106(b); should include any post-disability benefit adjustments as provided by G.S. 135-108; and shall continue as long as the beneficiary remains disabled until the beneficiary has received a total of 36 long-term disability payments. Continuation of long-term disability benefit payments beyond 36 total payments shall be dependent upon approval for primary Social Security disability benefits as required by G.S. 135-106(b).

A beneficiary who returns to service for a period of trial rehabilitation and who has continued in service for greater than 36 continuous months shall again become a participant, and any subsequent incapacity shall be treated as a new incapacity causing a new waiting period to begin. Such a beneficiary may be entitled to additional long-term disability benefits on account of the new incapacity provided the beneficiary meets all other requirements notwithstanding the requirement of five years of membership service within the 96 calendar months prior to becoming disabled or the cessation of continuous salary continuation payments.

(d) Notwithstanding the foregoing, a participant or beneficiary who has applied for and been approved by the Medical Board for long-term disability benefits may make an irrevocable election, within 90 days from the date of notification of such approval, and prior to receipt of any long-term disability benefit payments, to forfeit all pending and accrued rights to the long-term disability benefit including any ancillary benefits and retire on an early service retirement allowance, effective with the first day of the month following the end of the short-term period, or receive a return of accumulated contributions from the Retirement System. (1987, c. 738, s. 29(q); 1989, c. 717, s. 11; 1989 (Reg. Sess., 1990), c. 1032, s. 2; 1991 (Reg. Sess., 1992), c. 779, s. 4; 1993 (Reg. Sess., 1994), c. 769, s. 7.30(u); 2003-284, s. 30.20(l); 2004-78, ss. 3, 4; 2005-91, s. 6.1; 2005-276, s. 29.30B(a), (b); 2006-74, ss. 3, 4(a), (b); 2007-325, s. 2; 2010-72, s. 7; 2011-294, s. 6; 2012-178, s. 5; 2013-288, s. 7; 2013-405, s. 2; 2014-88, s. 3(i); 2015-67, s. 2.)