Letter to: Blum
Connecticut General Statutes §7-432 provides, "Any member shall be eligible for retirement and for a retirement allowance who has completed at least ten years of continuous service if he becomes permanently and totally disabled from engaging in any gainful employment in the service of the municipality." Peter Blum, chairman of the State Employees Retirement Commission, asked Attorney General George Jepsen to interpret the phrases "permanently and totally disabled," "in the service of the municipality" and "gainful employment" in C.G.S. §7-432. In the past, applicants were required to provide: 1.) a disability application; 2.) medical progress reports and diagnostic results; 3.) an accident report, if any; 4.) a Form C0-649 from the applicant's physician; and 5.) correspondence that indicated whether any other employment was available. Prior to 2011, the Retirement Services Division found that an individual qualified as "permanently and totally disabled from engaging in any gainful employment in the service of the municipality," if the individual could not physically perform the duties of the position and no alternate position was immediately available for which the applicant was qualified. In 2011, the statute was amended, to include the language that "[f]or purposes of this section, `gainful employment' shall not include a position in which a member customarily works less than twenty hours per week." Currently, a disability retirement application will not be approved, if there is any other position within a municipality that the applicant could perform, regardless of whether that alternate position is available or is a position that the applicant is qualified to perform. The amended standard has resulted in greater denials of disability retirement applications. "Having administered the statutes as newly interpreted for more than a year," wrote Jepsen, "the Commission has now essentially asked my office to opine on whether the `historical' interpretations or the `new' interpretations are correct." Jepsen opined that neither interpretation is clearly wrong. Changed interpretations can result in disparate treatment based only on the date of the disability application. Jepsen recommended that the commission refrain from changes to the earlier interpretation, unless and until the legislature takes action to amend the statutory definitions.