How do you qualify for Federal Disability Retirement in 2022?

Jun 3, 2022

Qualifying for Disability Retirement

We have updated this article to include the most up-to-date information on applying for FERS/OPM Federal Disability Retirement in 2022.

If you are a federal employee who has a medical condition that prevents you from performing “useful and efficient” service in your position, you may be able to qualify for Federal Disability Retirement. In this article we will outline the qualification standards for federal employees and help you understand if this benefit is right for you.

To qualify for Federal Disability Retirement, you must submit an application to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) supporting your inability to perform the major functions of your position due to a disability or injury. This application is reviewed by the OPM, who issues the decision and administers the benefit to those that qualify.

Defining Disability

In terms of Federal Disability Retirement, the OPM defines disability as…

“Any medical condition that inhibits an employee from continuing to complete at least one of the major functions of their current position.”

Who is eligible for Federal Disability Retirement?

In order to be eligible, you must be enrolled in the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) for a minimum of 5 years or the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) for a minimum of 18 months as a full-time career employee.

Your qualification for Federal Disability Retirement is based on medical evidence from a doctor supporting your claim that you are unable to do even one of your job duties due to a disability, for a period of at least 12 months. This means that even if you are on a light-duty work assignment, that you will still be eligible for disability retirement. In some cases, this change in work can benefit you when building a case.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t have to be a work-related injury. For example, you could have hurt your back while lifting weights at the gym which led to an injury that stops you from lifting over 20 pounds at your job. If this injury is expected to last at least 12 months and lifting over 20 pounds is one of your job requirements, then this is an injury that could qualify for Federal Disability Retirement.

Additionally, your condition could have existed before you began working in your position but worsened during your employment with the federal government.

Total vs. Occupational Disability

In order to qualify for Federal Disability Retirement, you must be able to prove that you have an occupational disability. This means that you have a disability that stops you from performing your exact job description. This is different from a total disability that would inhibit you from performing any job, anywhere. Therefore, some federal employees can qualify for Federal Disability Retirement but not Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

What kind of medical conditions can qualify for Federal Disability Retirement?

Physical and mental conditions can qualify for Federal Disability Retirement. We have compiled a list of common medical conditions from cases that have qualified for Federal Disability Retirement at our firm.

  • Physical tear (ligament, etc)
  • Car accident
  • Stroke or heart attack
  • Degenerative diseases
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Tendinitis
  • Rotator cuff injuries
  • Major Depressive Disorder
  • Bipolar Disease
  • PTSD

On the job vs Pre-existing

Any medical condition that doesn’t allow you to perform all of the essential duties of your position can qualify for Federal Disability Retirement. This medical condition could’ve arisen while on the job or be a pre-existing condition that worsened overtime. For example, you could have severe migraines that have gotten worse while working for the federal government. Since the migraines are a pre-existing condition, it could still be a disability that would qualify you for Federal Disability Retirement.

Remember, the disability…

  • does not have to be caused by work.
  • Must have worsened while employed.
  • Must be backed with medical evidence from a doctor.
  • Must be expected to persist for at least 12 months.
  • Must cause you to be unable to perform ONLY ONE of the duties of your job.

Reasonable Accommodations/Modified Work

The OPM considers an “accommodation” to be an adjustment made to a job and/or work environment that enables a qualified handicapped person to perform the duties of that position. Light and modified duty are not considered a reasonable accommodation by OPM for purposes of disability retirement.

In order to qualify for Federal Disability Retirement, OPM requires that your agency is unable to accommodate you or reassign you. A valid reassignment is a vacant existing position at your same pay and grade level within your commuting area for which you are qualified and is within your medical restrictions. Keep in mind that you are not required to accept a reassignment that does not meet these criteria.

You must meet all the following conditions to be eligible for Federal Disability Retirement:

1. You must have completed at least 18 months of Federal civilian service which is creditable under FERS.

2. 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, or your condition must have worsened.

3. The disability must be expected to last at least one year.

4. 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 for reassignment. (An employee of the Postal Service is considered not qualified for reassignment if the reassignment is to a position in a different craft or is inconsistent with the terms of a collective bargaining agreement covering the employee.) Learn more about reasonable accommodations.

5. You, or your guardian or other interested person, must apply before your separation from service or within one year thereafter.The application must be received by OPM within one year of the date of your separation.

6. You must apply for Social Security Disability benefits. Application for disability retirement under FERS requires an application for social security disability 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.

Special Provisions Considerations

If you are a special provisions employee your Federal Disability Retirement will be different so there are a few things to take into consideration when applying.

Generally Special Provisions have higher fit for duty requirements than other FERS positions. They also have stricter medication allowances since most special provision employees are considered unfit if taking any type of antidepressant or antipsychotic.

If you are a Law Enforcement Officer, then Law Enforcement Availability Pay (aka administratively uncontrollable overtime) represents up to 25% of an LEO salary and is usually included in the basic pay/High 3 calculations. However, there are some agencies and positions that do not include this in retirement calculations.

If you qualify and are approved for Federal Disability Retirement, then you will continue to receive creditable years of service until age 62 which can be beneficial to your retirement calculation.

What we’re seeing in 2022

In 2022, we have seen the OPM make more decisions based on the medical evidence of the disability claim, with less emphasis on the legal arguments. This makes it more important than ever to have in-depth documentation of all of your diagnoses and treatments from the beginning. This focus on medical evidence has also caused an increase in denials of initial applications and an increase in reconsideration appeals where strong legal arguments are imperative.

Our Federal Disability Retirement Attorneys Can Help You

Harris Federal Law Firm helps injured federal employees prepare the medical evidence and legal arguments necessary during the disability retirement application process with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

We have successfully represented 6,000+ federal employees and we have the professional experience and expertise to guide you through the entire process.

We can also help you with a reconsideration appeal to the OPM or even take on the proceedings of the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).

Call us today to schedule your FREE consultation to learn more about your benefits.

Message us & find out if you qualify today!

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

Recent Articles

Federal Employees to See Premium Increases in 2023

For federal employees receiving FEHB insurance, premiums are set to increase significantly in 2023. Thanks to the volatility of the health care industry due to the Covid-19 pandemic, rates will be increasing by an average of 7.2% according to the OPM. This is the...

How Federal Disability Retirement Affects Your Thrift Savings Plan

The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) plays a significant role in your federal retirement. You have been investing in it for years and now you're hoping it adds to the financial security you need for the rest of your life. But what if you are disabled and must apply for...

OPM Medical Reviews: What You Need to Know

If you were approved for Federal Disability Retirement, congratulations! You have successfully secured your future. But you are not completely in the clear. Once approved for Federal Disability Retirement, you will be subject to OPM medical reviews. This is an annual...

How to Financially Prepare for Federal Retirement

Retirement can be stressful because there are so many decisions to consider. Many imagine lounging on the beach reading a good book. But this is just a fantasy if you do not properly plan for your retirement. Many federal employees don’t think about retirement until...

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