5 Common Myths about Federal Disability Retirement, Debunked

by | Feb 5, 2024

A federal employee debunking Federal Disability Retirement myths

Navigating the complex landscape of Federal Disability Retirement can be a daunting task, and many federal employees have misconceptions that deter them from pursuing the federal benefits they deserve. We’re cutting through the confusion of the top 5 myths to give you the clarity you need about this life-changing benefit.

Myth 1: I Have to Be Totally Disabled to Qualify

This is one of the most common misconceptions. The truth is, Federal Disability Retirement doesn’t require total disability, it requires occupational disability. This means your medical condition prevents you from performing at least one essential function of your current job. This means that even if you are still capable of doing some work, you may qualify for Federal Disability Retirement.

Some federal workers get this confused with the eligibility requirements for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which require a total disability.

Myth 2: I Can’t Work After Federal Disability Retirement

Another common myth is that you can’t work after receiving Federal Disability Retirement benefits. In reality, you’re allowed to work in the private sector as long as your earnings don’t exceed 80% of your old position’s current salary.

In some cases, you can earn more than what you’ve made prior while on Federal Disability with the combination of your disability annuity and working in the private sector.

Consider John, a 50-year-old former air traffic controller, who was forced to retire early due to degenerative disc disease. Based on his high-3 average, he received an annual annuity of $42,000 to help him cover his living expenses in his first year of Federal Disability Retirement.

John didn’t want to completely stop working, so he decided to find a job in the private sector as a safety inspector. He landed a job at a local company, which provided him with an additional source of income of $56,000 a year. John maximized his 80% earning cap since his former federal position paid $70,000.

This dual income stream of his private-sector salary and disability annuity helped him earn more than what he was making in this federal position.

In total, John made $98,000 the first year and $84,000 every year after until the age of 62 from working as a safety inspector combined with his Federal Disability Retirement annuity payments.


working in the private sector graphic

Myth 3: If I Get a Doctor’s Support, I’m Guaranteed an Approval

While having your doctor’s support is crucial, it doesn’t guarantee approval. Your medical documentation must clearly demonstrate that your condition prevents you from performing one or more of your current job duties. A simple statement from your doctor saying you’re disabled may not be enough.

Unfortunately, the Federal Disability Retirement process can often be dense and complicated, especially when it comes to medical documentation of your condition. To develop your claim and increase your likelihood of approval, various supporting forms like a physician’s statement must be submitted. That’s why working with a team of legal professionals can strengthen your case and take the load off your shoulders.

Myth 4: I Can’t Receive Any Other Benefits with Federal Disability Retirement

There’s a common myth that you can’t receive additional benefits if approved for Federal Disability Retirement. However, this is not entirely true.


It’s possible to receive SSDI while on disability retirement; however, there’s an offset between these two benefits if approved for both.

You can receive a schedule award while on Federal Disability Retirement.


You can’t receive OWCP wage loss payments while on disability retirement.

VA Disability:

You can receive VA Disability and Federal Disability Retirement if approved for both.

Myth 5: I’ll Lose My Health Insurance if I Get Approved for Federal Disability Retirement

Many fear they will lose their FEHB coverage. In reality, as a federal disability retiree, you can maintain your health and life insurance, as long as you were enrolled in the program for at least five years prior to retiring. If you have been separated from your federal position before applying for Federal Disability Retirement and have lost your FEHB or FEGLI coverage, it can be reinstated retroactively.

Federal Disability Retirement Benefits & Eligibility Requirements

Federal Disability Retirement offers life-changing benefits. If approved, you’ll receive:

  • Monthly annuity payments
  • Additional creditable years of service on top of your current service years
  • Continued health and life insurance
  • The option to work in the private sector

These benefits can make a world of difference for federal workers struggling with an injury or illness. Not only does Federal Disability Retirement provide peace of mind, knowing that your financial future is secured, but it also allows you to explore a new career, make additional income – sometimes greater than your federal job – and continue to take care of your family’s health care needs.

However, you must meet the 3 basic eligibility requirements to apply for Federal Disability Retirement:

  1. Be a FERS career employee.
  2. Have at least 18 months of creditable service.
  3. Have a medical condition that impairs your ability to perform at least one essential duty of your job.

Next Steps to Maximize Your Chances of Approval

If you’re considering Federal Disability Retirement, it’s critical to have the right legal guidance to maximize your chances of approval. Having a team of experienced professionals guide you every step of the way in the application process takes the load off your shoulders so you can focus on recovery and spending time with family.

At Harris Federal, we’ve helped more than 8,000 happy clients get approved for Federal Disability Retirement at a 99% success rate. Give us a call today to schedule a free consultation and see if you qualify for this life-changing benefit.

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