Are you a federal employee struggling with your mental health? Do you find it difficult to perform your job as a result of your mental illness? You may be eligible for Federal Disability Retirement! Federal Disability Retirement is a benefit available to disabled FERS employees who are no longer able to continue working full-time. Physical health conditions are very common with Federal Disability Retirement, but don’t worry, mental health conditions can also qualify with the OPM. We understand how the stress of not being able to work, and not knowing what the future holds can exacerbate any mental health condition. We want you to know you’re not alone and show you how this benefit can provide the financial security you need. Throughout this article we will walk you through common mental health conditions that impact federal employees and explain how you could qualify for Federal Disability Retirement based on your diagnosis.
Common Mental Health Conditions
Here are some common mental illnesses that we see at our firm that may qualify you for Federal Disability Retirement:
- Bi-Polar Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Substance Abuse
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
These are the most common mental health conditions, but there are still many conditions not listed that could impact your life and reflect in your job. The good news is the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) does not have a specific list of illnesses or disabilities that qualify for Federal Disability Retirement, so having comprehensive documentation of your condition is imperative to your case. The most significant point to include in your application is how your illness has affected your ability to work.
For example, if you work for the US Department of Veterans Affairs and are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that worsens due to triggers caused by your job position then this mental health condition could potentially qualify you for Federal Disability Retirement. Keep in mind that your disability does not have to be caused by your work in order for it to be a qualifying medical condition for Federal Disability Retirement.
Understanding Reasonable Accommodation
Because your mental health condition is negatively impacting your work, you have the right to request a reasonable accommodation from your agency. The OPM considers a reasonable accommodation to be an adjustment made to a job, schedule, or work environment that allows a person with a disability to fully perform their job duties. Your agency must exhaust all accommodation efforts before you can be approved for Federal Disability Retirement. Keep in mind, modified or light work do not qualify as a reasonable accommodation for Federal Disability Retirement purposes.
Looking back at our Veterans Affairs worker example from earlier, a valid reasonable accommodation could be to telework from home, but all of the essential job duties must remain the same. If your agency is not able to provide this reasonable accommodation, then you can still potentially qualify for Federal Disability Retirement. If you accept an accommodation or reassignment from your agency, you will no longer be eligible for Federal Disability Retirement.
We understand that requesting a reasonable accommodation for a mental illness can be hard. Try referencing this sample Accommodation Request Letter to help.
Can Mental Health Conditions Qualify for Federal Disability Retirement?
The short answer is yes! You could be eligible for Federal Disability Retirement if you have a mental health condition that prevents you from performing at least one critical job function and your agency is unable to provide an appropriate accommodation within your current pay, grade level, and commute area. Even if you meet the qualification requirements, it is important to keep in mind that you must have substantial medical evidence that can support your Federal Disability Retirement claim.
What Evidence Do I Need?
For mental health conditions, it is important to have documentation that supports the claim that your mental condition is stopping you from fully performing your job duties. This mental health condition could have existed prior to your federal employment, but that is not required. If it did exist prior to your employment, you would need to show that it has worsened after a period of useful and efficient service. This could be a change in work performance, attendance, or conduct.
Helpful documentation can be provided by therapists, psychiatrists, and even social workers. In this documentation you must prove that your diagnosis is expected to last a minimum of 12 months and that you have been consistently treating your medical condition. It is important that you do not have any gaps in treatment as the Office of Personnel Management will take a close look at this when considering your eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement. Remember, the more evidence you have to support your Federal Disability Retirement claim, the better.
Is It Difficult to Be Approved?
As long as you have enough supporting evidence from your doctors and your agency, then getting a Federal Disability Retirement approval for mental health is not any harder than if you had a physical injury. However, many federal employees find it to be more time consuming when gathering supporting evidence since the OPM will require more in-depth documentation than they do for physical injuries.
While the process may be intimidating, do not let it deter you from applying as Federal Disability Retirement could benefit you and your family for years to come.
Our team here at Harris Federal is dedicated to ensuring that you have the best possible chance of getting approved for Federal Disability Retirement. We have successfully guided many clients through this process, and we can help you too! To learn more about how we can help, schedule a free consultation with us today.