135-59. Disability retirement.

(a) Upon application by or on behalf of the member, any member in service who has completed five or more years of creditable service and who has not attained his sixty-fifth birthday may be retired by the Board of Trustees, on the first day of any calendar month, not less than one day nor more than 120 days next following the date of filing such application, on a disability retirement allowance; provided, that the medical board, after a medical examination of such member, shall certify that such member 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, that such incapacity is likely to be permanent, and that such member should be retired; and, provided further, that if a member is removed by the Supreme Court for mental or physical incapacity under the provisions of G.S. 7A-376, no action is required by the medical board under this section and, provided further, the medical board shall determine if the member is able to engage in gainful employment and, if so, the member shall still be retired and the disability retirement allowance as a result thereof shall be reduced as in G.S. 135-60(d). Provided further, that the medical board shall not certify any member as disabled who:

(1) Applies for disability retirement based upon a mental or physical incapacity which existed when the member first established membership in the system; or

(2) Is in receipt of any payments on account of the same disability which existed when the member first established membership in the system.

The Board of Trustees shall require each employee upon enrolling in the Retirement System to provide information on the membership application concerning any mental or physical incapacities existing at the time the member enrolls.

Notwithstanding the foregoing to the contrary, any beneficiary who commenced retirement with an early or service retirement benefit has the right, within three years of this retirement, to convert to an allowance with disability retirement benefits without modification of any election of optional allowance previously made; provided, the beneficiary presents clear and convincing evidence that the beneficiary would have met all applicable requirements for disability retirement benefits while still in service as a member. The allowance on account of disability retirement benefits to the beneficiary shall be retroactive to the effective date of early or service retirement.

(b) Notwithstanding the foregoing, the surviving spouse of a deceased member who has met all other requirements for disability retirement benefits, except whose death occurred before the first day of the calendar month in which the member's disability retirement allowance was due and payable, and who was the designated beneficiary for a return of accumulated contributions and the final compensation death benefit as provided in G.S. 135-63, shall be paid in lieu of the return of accumulated contributions and the final compensation death benefit a monthly allowance equal to a reduced retirement allowance provided by a fifty percent (50%) joint and survivorship option, plus the allowance payable to a former member's surviving spouse, in the manner prescribed under G.S. 135-64 as though the former member had commenced retirement the first day of the month following his death. (1973, c. 640, s. 1; 1981, c. 689, s. 3; c. 940, s. 2; 1985, c. 479, ss. 192(b), 194; 1987, c. 513, s. 1; 2009-66, s. 3(f).)