Eligibility Requirements for Federal Disability Retirement and Pitfalls

Dec 8, 2017


Federal disability retirement has certain requirements you must meet to be eligible. In most cases, that’s simple to do. However, some cases have a bit more gray area. While a couple of the requirements below are cut and dry, others are not. This post will look at those eligibility standards and some common pitfalls that could occur.

“You must have completed 18 months of federal civilian service which is creditable under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS)”

  • This means that you’re paying into FERS, and having those deductions from your paycheck. One group that especially needs to pay attention to this is U.S. Postal employees. Often, USPS employees are hired initially as a contract, temporary, or part-time employee, and therefore not paying into FERS, and may not know it. One thing we always must be sure of when potentially working with a USPS employee is the amount of their creditable service under FERS.

“You must, while employed in a position subject to the retirement system, have become disabled, because of disease or injury, for useful and efficient service in your current position”

  • Useful and efficient service means “fully successful performance of critical or essential elements of the position and satisfactory conduct and attendance”. –5 CFR 831.1202 (2000)

“The disability must be expected to last at least one year”

  • This is cut and dry. If your disability isn’t expected to last a year, you don’t qualify. No way around this one.

“Your agency must certify that it is unable to accommodate your disabling medical condition in your present position and that it has considered you for any vacant position in the same agency at the same grade or pay level, within the same commuting area, for which you are qualified”

  • Common misconceptions about accommodation include what it IS and what it ISN’T.
    • It is: your employing agency can acquire or modify your equipment or devices, provide interpreters or readers, adjusting a work schedule but still having you work full-time.
    • It is not: using up sick/annual leave to supplement a FT schedule, taking away job duties (being put on light or modified duty), or giving you a PT work schedule.
  • Also, if you accept an “accommodation” in the form of another vacant position or if the agency creates a job for you, you are not eligible for federal disability retirement for the initial position you held.

“You, or your guardian or another interested person, must apply before your separation from service or within 1 year thereafter. The application must be received by either OPM or your former employing agency with 1 year of the date of separation. This time limit can be waived only if you were mentally incompetent on the date of separation or within 1 year of this date”

  • Again, this requirement is cut and dry. You have one year from the date you separate from your agency to apply. OPM is very strict on this. If you miss that deadline, you miss your chance for these benefits. The main thing here is to know the deadlines!

“You must apply for Social Security benefits. Your application for federal disability retirement under FERS requires an application for Social Security benefits. If the application for Social Security disability benefits is withdrawn for any reason, OPM will dismiss the FERS disability retirement application upon notification by the Social Security Administration”

OPM must have proof you’ve applied for Social Security benefits. A common misconception here is that you must be approved for Social Security to receive federal disability retirement. This is not true. Often, people worry they won’t get approved Social Security, so they don’t apply. These 2 benefits have different requirements, and Social Security has a much stricter set of qualifications. It’s possible and common to receive an approval from OPM and Social Security.

Harris Federal Law Firm helps federal and Postal employees nationwide with federal disability retirement cases. If you have an injury or illness that keeps you from performing your essential job duties, you may qualify for Federal Disability Retirement. Give us a call at 877-226-2723 or fill out this INQUIRY form today.

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