Do’s and Don’ts of Filing for Federal Disability Retirement

Aug 15, 2017

filingNo federal employee ever thinks (or hopes) they’ll need to file for federal disability retirement. This process is often long and confusing. There are many rules and deadlines you must follow. Below are some “do’s and don’ts” to keep in mind when filing for federal disability retirement.

filingDON’T WAIT

The main reason not to wait to file is the one-year deadline. You must apply before you are separated from your agency or within one year of the date of separation. Not only that, but the process can take a year, or more, so waiting to file only delays a decision. Also, it is generally easier to prove a case while you’re still employed so that you don’t have to rely on “post separation medical evidence”, where you must prove that “proximity in time, lay testimony, or some other evidence provides the requisite link to the relevant period”.


The Office of Personnel Management must consider the following types of evidence:

  • Objective clinical findings
  • Diagnoses/medical opinions
  • Subjective evidence of pain/disability
  • Evidence relating to the effect of your condition on your ability to perform your essential job duties

Each of these may not be enough on their own, but as a whole can provide a compelling case to OPM.


Don’t assume your doctor will support your federal disability retirement application or that they know about the process of filing for it. What your medical evidence must show is that your condition adversely impacts your ability to perform essential job duties and requirements. Be sure to inform your doctor of what the process involves exactly and what forms and medical evidence you need from them.


This is worth repeating. It’s one thing to have a medical condition or disability, but to be eligible for federal disability retirement, you must show the causal connection between your condition and your inability to perform your job duties. If you can’t, it’s likely OPM will deny your case.


Unfortunately, some individuals in your agency may not provide complete or accurate information about filing for federal disability retirement. Not out of malice, but maybe they don’t know themselves. One way this is evident is when your agency allows you to perform “light duty” work, as an accommodation. There is nothing wrong with you doing this work, however, this doesn’t constitute an “accommodation” under the law, and shouldn’t preclude you from filing, even if the agency ends your light duty work. Accommodation means “an adjustment made to the employee’s job or work environment that enables the employee to perform the duties of the position”.


Don’t overstate the case and have a lot of “fluff” thrown in or overemphasize an emotional aspect of the case. Instead, let the medical documentation and evidence speak for itself.


This doesn’t mean you must have a lawyer to apply (although helpful), it just means don’t act as something you’re not. If your application is complete and correct, let that speak for itself at OPM.

There are so many things to consider when applying for federal disability retirement. It’s often and long and arduous process. Harris Federal Law Firm has helped thousands of federal employees, in every state, get the benefits they deserve. If you would like to set up a FREE consultation to discuss your unique situation, please give us a call at 877-226-2723 or fill out this INQUIRY form.

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