Short answer: Yes! You do have to apply for Social Security Disability!
If you are a FERS employee and are filing for federal disability retirement, you are required to apply for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. A copy of the receipt from the SSA, or the award letter from SSA must accompany your application to the OPM.
The key here is understanding that these benefits are separate, your eligibility is determined under separate rules and you can be approved and receiving benefits from both sources simultaneously.
This is complex, but let us explain:
A federal employee is eligible for FERS disability benefits because they spent at least 18 months working and paying into the FERS retirement system, and now they are not able to continue to work for the federal government in that job any more (and the government can’t find them another job that they can do). A federal employee is eligible for Social Security Disability benefits because they pay Social Security taxes and can no longer perform any gainful employment work at all.
These differences are huge. You could be unable to perform your federal work, but able to work somewhere else in the private sector, making you eligible for FERS disability, but not SSD. If you are eligible for SSD, you generally should meet the requirements of the FERS disability from the OPM. However, the OPM DOES NOT automatically approve benefits based on the Social Security Administration’s findings. They will certainly remind you of this if you ask.
The reason the OPM requires that you file an application for SSD is to determine if they can lower their responsibility to you based on the two benefits existing simultaneously. If you are approved for both benefits, the important thing to remember is that the SSD is the primary benefit and will not be reduced. During the first eligible year (the 60% year) from OPM, your FERS payment will be reduced by whatever you get from Social Security. Every year after (the 40% years), an amount equal to 60% of your Social Security benefit will be taken out of your FERS payment.
So the short answer really is yes! You must apply for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration while filing for FERS disability retirement, but their decision doesn’t affect whether or not you will get benefits awarded from the OPM. It will only affect your federal disability amount if you are approved for both benefits, and then for the better.
Please call us for a free consultation or to speak with someone on our staff about how Harris Federal Law Firm, can help you get the most out of your federal benefits.