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Federal Disability Retirement FAQs

Federal government and U.S. Postal Service employees who cannot perform the duties of their jobs because of injury or illness may qualify to collect federal disability retirement benefits. However, as with many federal programs, obtaining these benefits can be a complex process.

The Harris Federal Law Firm helps disabled federal employees across the country to get through this process and deal with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which administers the federal disability retirement program.

If you are seeking federal disability retirement benefits, we offer the following answers to frequently asked questions in order to help you to better understand the process that lies ahead. To discuss how we can assist you, please contact us today and set up a free initial consultation.

Who is eligible for federal disability retirement benefits?
Federal disability retirement benefits are available to civilian federal workers, including employees of the U.S. Postal Service, who are disabled by injury or illness and can no longer provide “useful and efficient service” in their current position. There are several steps to proving your eligibility.

To obtain federal disability retirement benefits, you must have:

  • Completed at least 18 months of federal civilian service that is creditable under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS)
  • Sustained a disability that is expected to last at least one year
  • Obtained certification from your employer stating that the employer is unable to accommodate your disabling medical condition in your present position, and there is no vacant position you are qualified to be reassigned to in the same agency at the same grade or pay level and within the same commuting area.

You must apply for benefits before you leave your job or within one year from your separation from service. To obtain a waiver of this time limit, you would have to demonstrate that you were mentally incompetent on the date of separation or within one year of this date.

You must also apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. If your application for SSDI benefits is withdrawn for any reason, the OPM will dismiss your FERS disability retirement application upon notification by the Social Security Administration.

Do I need to be hurt on the job to get federal disability retirement benefits?
No. It does not matter how you became disabled if you are otherwise eligible for federal disability retirement benefits. However, a job-related injury may make you eligible for federal workers’ compensation benefits, which we can also help you to obtain.

Your qualification for federal disability retirement benefits is based on your inability to perform your current job or any other available work for which you are qualified.

Obtaining retirement benefits anticipates that you will not return to work. Federal workers’ compensation benefits, on the other hand, assist an injured worker during recovery in anticipation of a return to work. So, you must show that your disability is expected to last at least one year before you can obtain federal retirement benefits.

If you are younger than 60 years old and receive federal disability retirement benefits, and you recover from your injury or illness, your benefits will end. If you eventually are reemployed in a federal service position equivalent to what you held at retirement – despite your disability – then you will be deemed to have “administratively recovered.” Your retirement benefits will stop.

Retirement benefits also end if, in any calendar year, you earn income from wages or self-employment that equals at least 80 percent of the current rate of basic pay in the position you retired from. Benefits resume in succeeding years if you do not earn at the rate of 80 percent of your former job’s current basic pay.

How can an experienced professional help me with my federal disability retirement claim?
An experienced federal disability retirement professional can take on the burden of applying for and aggressively pursuing federal disability retirement benefits for you. This can be a tremendous help during a difficult time.

Many claims are initially delayed or denied for technical reasons. Benefits that are approved are sometimes calculated incorrectly. We can prevent this from happening or seek to correct it for you when it does.

Just to apply for federal disability, you must complete the following forms:

Your employing agency is supposed to help you complete these forms and forward them to OPM. However, it is your responsibility to make sure OPM has all the information that is necessary to make a decision on your claim. This includes providing all of the required forms and supporting documents.

Unfortunately, our experience tells us that some employing agencies are not very interested in helping you and not particularly experienced with this process. You will also want to keep in mindthat your employing agency does not advocate your claim through the adjudication processes at OPM. Once it leaves their office, they are hands-off.

A hired professional is not required at this stage. However, an  experienced professional from a firm that focuses on federal disability claims and understands the ins and out of applying for federal retirement benefits can provide significant assistance.

If you are like most federal employees, you have no experience with OPM before applying for benefits. Even your agency’s human resources department may only have limited experience. Our office, on the other hand, deals with OPM on a daily basis.

For example, if documentation is missing from your application, your agency’s personnel office should obtain what is required by contacting the federal record centers. If the personnel office fails to obtain this information, OPM will take steps to obtain it once it receives your retirement application and records. However, the time it takes for one or both offices to locate and obtain missing information will delay processing of your application – perhaps for weeks.

A representative experienced with federal disability retirement can help you to avoid delays or mistakes in your application from the start. If you have already filed your application, and it has been denied, or if you have been granted benefits that are incorrect, an experienced professional can help you to appeal the decision.

What steps are involved with the process of obtaining federal disability retirement benefits?
Applying for federal disability retirement benefits is a multi-step process that relies on several government workers doing their jobs efficiently and correctly.

The personnel office within the agency where you are employed is supposed to prepare your application for federal disability retirement benefits with your help and forward it to the agency’s payroll office, where additional information is to be added to your file. Then, your application is forwarded to the OPM to be processed.

Your agency’s personnel office must take the following actions to process your retirement application:

After your agency’s human resources department completes its work, the payroll office must:

  • Authorize your final paycheck and lump sum payment for unused annual leave.
  • Prepare your SF 3100, Individual Retirement Record, which reflects service, salary history and annual retirement contributions.
  • Forward all retirement documents to OPM.

Once OPM receives your application, it must:

  • Obtain any information missing from your retirement documents.
  • Determine your eligibility for an annuity and continued health and life insurance coverages.
  • Compute the amount of your annuity.
  • Send you materials concerning your survivor benefit election and your annuity start date.
  • Authorize your annuity payment, which is paid by the Department of the Treasury.
  • Send you an annuity statement.

OPM will notify you when it receives your application and provide you with a civil service claim identification number (a seven-digit number preceded by “CSA”). You must use that identification number whenever you contact OPM about your annuity.

How long does it take OPM to process a federal disability retirement application, and what if my claim is denied?
The OPM says that, as of August 2013, the average processing time is 102 days from the date it receives your final paperwork from your agency’s personnel and payroll offices. If you need to appeal a decision, you have much less time to do so.

The OPM states that, if your retirement records are complete, and it does not need to obtain additional information from you or your former employing agency, your claim might be processed faster than the average time.

However, your application may take an extra three to four weeks if OPM needs to contact your agency about information that should have been included in your retirement package, or if the OPM needs to contact you to make a benefit election such as whether to make a service credit deposit.

If you wish to appeal a decision by the OPM, you must request reconsideration in writing. It must be received by OPM within 30 calendar days after the date of OPM’s initial decision. The notice you receive about OPM’s decision should include full instructions for requesting reconsideration.

Your request for reconsideration should provide additional information about your claim, including new evidence to support your claim of disability or information that was omitted from your original application. OPM will review your amended file and render its final decision, which is sent in writing to you and your former employer.

At this point, if necessary, you have 35 days from the date of OPM’s reconsideration decision to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).

In some unusual cases, the original consideration of a benefits application will be conducted at the highest levels within the OPM and, instead of reconsideration, your appeal goes directly to the MSPB.

Can you help me if I don’t live in Kentucky, Texas or D.C.?
Yes. The Harris Federal works with people across the country from offices in Lexington, KY, and in Washington, D.C., and Austin, Texas.

Since we assist workers with federal benefits, the programs and their rules and regulations are consistent across the country.

We have helped thousands of federal employees across the nation to obtain the benefits they have earned.

Our past clients range from a U.S. Postal Service City Carrier in Reform, Alabama, to a USPS City Carrier in Racine, Wisconsin, to dozens of federal workers in California.

For example, we have obtained more than $276,000 in federal workers’ compensation and federal disability retirement benefits for a DHS Investigator from Glendale, Arizona, and more than $87,000 in federal workers’ compensation and federal disability retirement benefits for a USPS clerk from Lisbon Falls, Maine.

We have obtained federal disability retirement benefits for clients from Alaska and Hawaii, and just about every other U.S. state.

Please take a moment to read our client testimonials from individuals across the country. Their messages range from a few words of thanks to discussions of how much work our passionate team put into their case and what it meant to them.

Do you support federal worker unions?
Yes, as the nation’s leading firm focusing on federal disability retirement benefits, we understand the importance of federal labor unions and the support they provide to workers. In fact, we offer an education program to work directly with union membership to advise them about benefits the federal government provides to them.

Members of our team, many of whom have earned such distinctions as being a Chartered Federal Employee Benefits Consultant (ChFEBC), are available to speak to federal union groups at national, regional and local meetings.

After speaking to the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), which represents more than 150,000 federal employees in 31 federal agencies and departments, we were able to offer NTEU members significant discounts on professional services regarding their federal disability retirement benefits applications and appeals.

If you are a federal employee union member, we can help you by starting with a free initial consultation. Simply contact us today.

If you represent a union, please contact us about being a part of your next convention, workshop or other educational program.