Disability Retirement

The City of San Diego ("City"), the San Diego Unified Port District ("Port”), and the San Diego Regional Airport Authority ("Airport") provide both industrial (work-related) and non-industrial (not work-related) disability retirement benefits for eligible Members. While benefit levels vary by plan sponsor, eligibility criteria for disability retirement benefits are generally the same for all three plans.

Industrial Disability Retirement

Industrial disability retirement benefits are available to Members who (1) become permanently incapacitated by bodily injury or illness caused by their job, (2) are unable to perform the usual duties of their job and (3) are required to retire because of that job-related condition. Members do not need to have any particular amount of service credit in order to be eligible for this benefit, but Port Miscellaneous Members must have completed at least five years of employment with the Port before they become eligible.
However, Members hired after September 3, 1982 are not eligible for an industrial disability that is the result of a preexisting medical condition or a nervous or mental disorder except under very specific circumstances.

Non-Industrial Disability Retirement

If you have at least 10 years of service credit* and become permanently incapacitated by a non-work related injury or illness that renders you unable to perform your usual job duties, you may be eligible for a non-industrial disability retirement. The cause of the permanent incapacitation must not be the result of willful misconduct or a violation of the law.
*Port General employees hired or rehired on or after January 1, 2009 are not SDCERS Members and will not begin to accrue service credit until they have completed five consecutive years of Port employment after each hire or rehire date.

Applying for a Disability Retirement

An application must be filed while a Member is on Long-Term Disability (LTD), in active service, within four months after termination from active service, or within two years after termination from active service if, during the application evaluation process, the Member establishes that he or she was continuously incapacitated from performance of duty during that entire time period.
When a Member contacts SDCERS to apply for a disability retirement, an appointment will be scheduled for the Member to meet with an SDCERS retirement counselor and disability retirement specialist. At that counseling appointment, the Member will receive a Disability Retirement Application and packet to complete. The disability packet consists of a questionnaire, several authorization forms for release of medical and personnel records, and a Doctor’s Statement of Incapacity form to be completed by a treating physician.
Note: All documents must be returned to SDCERS within 60 days of beginning the application process; failure to complete and return the application and all required documents to SDCERS within 60 days may result in closure of your application.
Once the completed Disability Retirement Application is submitted to SDCERS:
  1. All necessary medical and employment/personnel records are obtained and reviewed.
  2. The applicant is scheduled for an independent medical examination with an SDCERS Board-appointed physician. SDCERS contracts with physicians in various specialties to perform evaluations based on the physician's expertise and competence with the type of injury being evaluated.
  3. Following receipt of the physician's report, SDCERS' Medical Review Officer performs a neutral assessment of the facts to determine eligibility for disability retirement benefits. The Medical Review Officer may then refer the application to adjudication if there are substantial conflicts in the evidence.
  4. After the review process is complete, recommendations are presented by SDCERS staff to the Board's Disability Committee. The applicant is provided with a 30-day advance notice of the scheduled meeting at which their application will be heard and may submit a written response to the recommendation.
  5. At the Disability Committee meeting, the applicant is given the opportunity to address the Committee regarding their application. The Committee then makes the recommendation to the Board to approve or deny the application.

Recommendation to Approve or Deny Application

Recommendation to Approve: When the undisputed evidence demonstrates that it is more likely than not that the applicant has proven each element of their claims made in the application, staff will recommend that the Board approve the application. If the Board votes to approve the Member's application, payment generally begins within 45 days.
Recommendation to Deny: When the undisputed evidence demonstrates that it is more likely than not that the claims made in the application have not been proven, staff will recommend that the Board deny the application. If the Board votes to deny the application, the applicant is notified of the denial and their right to request reconsideration by the Board, as well as appeal of the Board action through the filing of a challenge in the Superior Court.

Referral to Adjudication

When there are substantial conflicts in the evidence, staff will refer the application to a hearing in front of a neutral Hearing Officer. This will occur without Board action. SDCERS contracts with private adjudicative agencies who assign retired Superior Court judges to hear SDCERS' disability cases. The agency used for each case is assigned on a rotating basis.  At the adjudication, the Hearing Officer hears testimony from the applicant (or their legal counsel), SDCERS, and any witnesses brought by either party. SDCERS pays for the expenses associated with the adjudication, including the Hearing Officer’s fees and court reporter. The applicant is responsible for payment of their own witness fees and attorney costs, if they choose to be represented.
The Hearing Officer reviews all documentary evidence and testimony and renders a written recommendation to the Board to either approve or deny the application. The Hearing Officer’s decision is reviewed by the Disability Committee, which then makes a recommendation to the Board to accept or reject that recommendation.

Disability Retirement Benefit Amount

If approved, a disability retirement benefit is paid as a monthly benefit in the same manner as a service retirement benefit. As with a service retirement benefit, you may also name a continuance to receive a lifetime continuance benefit in the event of your death, as well as other retiree death benefits such as the $2,000 death benefit, your DROP account (if applicable), and other payable monies.
The amount of your disability retirement benefit depends on whether or not you have been granted an Industrial or Non-Industrial disability retirement. The formula used to calculate your benefit may also vary depending on your plan sponsor and job classification. You will also receive the same annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) that you would have received if you were service retired. Please refer to your membership classification on this table for a general description of how your disability retirement benefit would be calculated.

NOTE: If you are eligible for a service retirement when you apply for a disability retirement, your regular service retirement benefit may be greater than your disability benefit. An SDCERS retirement counselor will assist you in determining the estimated amount of your disability benefit according to your particular circumstances. In any event, you will receive the greater benefit.


The information in this publication is intended to provide Members with a current and accurate summary of retirement benefits. However, it is not a legal document or a substitute for the law. The language used in this publication is not intended to create a contract between the City, Port, or Airport and any Member. The governing plan document adopted by the Member's employer governs the operations of SDCERS. Accordingly, if any information in this publication conflicts with the employer's plan document, the law, or Board Rules, then the plan document, law, or Board Rules must prevail.