A Lifeline for Air Traffic Controllers: Understanding Federal Disability Retirement Benefits

by | Mar 18, 2024

air traffic control tower

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimated that more than 1,400 air traffic controllers — or about 10% of the workforce — would depart in 2024 due to issues like staffing shortages, hazardous work environments, health concerns, and exhausting work hours. With so many preparing to leave the profession, it’s crucial to explore sustainable financial options for those affected.

Understanding the Crisis: Staffing Shortages and Health Risks

A 2023 article from the New York Times explored how extreme staffing shortages, caused by years of employee turnover and budget constraints, are resulting in increased fatigue and higher rates of errors in the industry. This shortage is not only putting strain on the existing workforce, leading to exhaustion and demoralization, but also increasing the risk of close calls at airports.

Common complaints submitted by air traffic controllers to the FAA include:

  • Fatigue, exhaustion, and excessive caffeine intake working six-day weeks and 10-hour days due to staff shortage
  • Health concerns due to deteriorating work facilities and equipment
  • Mental health problems like depression and prolonged stress
  • Physical health problems like sleep apnea, alcoholism, chronic chest pain, memory loss, and panic attacks
  • Unsafe working environments due to physical and verbal assaults from other over-worked controllers

If you’re facing these challenges, you’re not alone, and several sustainable options are available to you. Thankfully, an option like Federal Disability Retirement allows you to focus on your health without sacrificing your financial stability.

Exploring Solutions: Federal Disability Retirement

Federal Disability Retirement is a unique benefit provided to all federal employees, including air traffic controllers, who may find themselves unable to perform at least one essential job duty due to a medical condition or injury. If approved, it allows you to retire early from your federal job and receive financial support. It’s important to note that your illness or injury doesn’t have to be caused by work to be eligible, and mental health conditions qualify.

While on disability retirement, you’ll receive four main benefits as means to help secure your financial future:

  • You will receive a monthly annuity. This is calculated based on the average of your highest three consecutive years of basic pay, commonly referred to as your high-3. The first year, you’ll receive 60% of your high-3, and every year after until the age of 62, you’ll receive 40%. For example, if your high-3 was $85,000, the first year your annuity would be $51,000 (60% of your high-3). Then every year after until age 62, your annuity would be $34,000 (40% of your high-3).
  • You will also gain additional years of creditable service on top of your current years of service. Each year on Federal Disability Retirement counts as a year of service.
  • Another benefit is the option to work in the private sector and earn up to 80% of your old position’s current salary. Combined with your monthly annuity, you could potentially earn more than what you were making at your federal job. Continuing with our previous example, if your federal job paid $85,000 and you accepted a job in the private sector, you could make up to $68,000. In combination with your annuity of $51,000, you’d receive $119,000 in total, which is more than what you earned before.
  • Lastly, you have the option to continue your health and life insurance coverage. You and your family’s health care needs will continue to be taken care of while on this benefit.

Federal Disability Retirement can be a smart option if you’re an air traffic controller looking to retire early due to an injury or illness and maintain a strong financial plan. If you’re interested in taking the next steps to secure your federal benefits, it’s important to determine if you’re eligible.

Next Steps: Eligibility and Legal Help

In order to be eligible for Federal Disability Retirement, you must meet 3 basic requirements:

  • Be a FERS career employee
  • Have a medical condition that is impacting your job
  • Have at least 18 months of creditable civilian service

If you meet these eligibility requirements, you may qualify for disability retirement. Applying without legal support can be difficult and can hinder your chances of approval, though. The application process is extensive and full of legal complexities that often leave applicants confused and overwhelmed.

At Harris Federal, we have a team of experienced professionals who can guide you every step of the way, from application to approval. The last thing you need to worry about is securing your benefits when struggling with a medical condition or injury. We know exactly what the OPM is looking for and how to build a strong case that maximizes your chances of approval. Contact us today for a free case evaluation and consultation. Ready to secure your future? Reach out and find the peace of mind you deserve.

Message us & find out if you qualify today!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Recent Articles

Yes, You Can Work after Federal Disability Retirement

Have you looked at your Federal Disability Retirement annuity, a knot of uncertainty coiling in your stomach as you question - will it be enough? Have you ever wondered if you could keep working after being approved for Federal Disability Retirement? You can work...

The 4 Key Benefits of Federal Disability Retirement

Imagine a lifeline, a beacon of hope for your future when you're struggling with an injury or illness that’s impacting your federal job. That lifeline is Federal Disability Retirement. If you can't perform at least one of the essential functions of your role, you...

6 Key Reasons Why Your Disability Retirement Application Was Denied

Have you recently applied for Federal Disability Retirement, only to receive a denial? The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is denying more initial applications than ever. However, it's important to understand that a denial does not mean the end of the road for...

Federal Employee Resources

Our ever growing library of federal employee resources give you the knowledge you need to make smart choices about your future.


Frequently Asked Questions

Get the answers you need on-demand, from a team of federal employee benefits professionals.

View FAQ

Federal Benefit Webinars

Twice per month we host webinars to help federal employees better understand their benefits and answer their questions LIVE.

See Webinar Schedule

Benefit Guides

From guides to detailed charts, these educational resources will help clarify confusing federal employee benefits topics.

See our resources