Sometimes the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Gets It Wrong

Feb 5, 2018


There are three chances to get an application approved for federal disability retirement. If it is denied at the initial stage at OPM, it moves to the Reconsideration stage at OPM, where you are assigned a different legal administrative assistant than before. Lastly, if your application is denied twice, the process moves to the Merit Systems Protection Board. This series of posts is going to focus on the initial and Reconsideration stages at OPM.

Harris Federal Law Firm has helped thousands of federal workers successfully obtain federal disability retirement benefits. And we’ve helped at all three stages of the process, if necessary. While most of our clients receive an approval at the initial stage, there are those that should’ve been approved but instead are denied.

Some of these denials, quite frankly, are ones that should’ve been approved in the initial stage. This series will detail some cases we’ve seen this.


The requirements for federal disability retirement are as follows:

  • You must have completed 18 months of federal civilian service creditable under FERS.
  • While employed in a position subject to the retirement system, you must have become disabled, because of disease or injury, for useful and efficient service in your current position.
  • Your disability is expected to last at least 1 year.
  • Your agency must certify its unable to accommodate your disabling medical condition in your current position and 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.
  • You must apply before your separation from service or with 1 year. Your application must be received by OPM or your former employing agency within 1 year of the date of separation. The time limit can only be waived if you were mentally incompetent on the date of separation, or within one year of this date.
  • You must apply for Social Security Disability. You don’t have to be approved, but an application for FERS disability retirement requires an application for SSD.

All of these must be met to receive federal disability retirement benefits.

The Case

A recent client of ours seemed to meet all these requirements. His employing agency noted a deficiency in service. Further, his treating physicians submitted medical evidence that his conditions were directly correlated with his inability to perform his duties as a Senior Officer Specialist for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Doctors diagnosed medical conditions such as PTSD, Seizure Disorder, Panic Attack Disorder, and Sleep Apnea. Doctors said his related symptoms of nausea, anger, nightmares, migraines, dizziness, confusion, and lack of concentration affected his ability to render useful and efficient service. They went as far to say, “the patient was not able to go back to work after his second hospitalization…[he] is not able to work, or work in any correctional facility.”

It was even made clear that the diagnosed conditions would continue for at least one year.

The FBOP was unable to make a reasonable accommodation and made no offer of reassignment.

Despite all the supporting medical evidence submitted, OPM found the claimant unqualified for federal disability retirement benefits due to:

  • His application failed to show his service deficiency was caused by his medical conditions.
  • The evidence didn’t show that his condition was disabling for at least one year.
  • There were no objective psychiatric testing or clinical findings to support his medical condition was severe enough for him to be considered disabled for useful and efficient service.



When his application was re-submitted in the Reconsideration stage, however, we were able to successfully show he did, in fact, meet all the eligibility criteria for federal disability retirement and he received an approval. The documentation submitted the first time should’ve been enough for an approval, but sometimes OPM, gets it wrong.

If you receive a denial letter in the initial stage, don’t give up.

If you need assistance with your federal disability retirement application, give us a call at 877-226-2723 or fill out this INQUIRY form. The consultation is always FREE.

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