Q&A – How Long is the entire Federal Disability Retirement application process?

by | Jun 21, 2022

Last Updated January 31, 2023
federal disability retirement application process

Our recent webinar covered the Federal Disability Retirement Application Process. This is an especially important topic that brought up a lot of great questions during the webinar.

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This article outlines some of those questions and goes in-depth into the answers. Our hope is to help you understand the entire Federal Disability Retirement application process so you can make educated decisions moving forward.

If you have any other questions that are not answered in this Q&A regarding the Federal Disability Retirement Application, we recommend that you check out our other posts in our Q&A series.

Q: How long is the entire Federal Disability Retirement application process?

A: Once we receive your case materials it can take around 1-4 months to submit your application to the OPM. The OPM’s processing times can vary depending on their backlog so, it can take anywhere from 6-12 months to receive an initial decision from the OPM for Federal Disability Retirement. If you happen to receive a denial, you have multiple levels of appeals to appeal the decision. These appeals can add a significant amount of time to the application process depending on how many stages your case requires. When necessary, our firm can assist federal employees all the way through the MSPB.

Q: What if the OPM doesn’t approve my application for Federal Disability Retirement?

A: Don’t worry! You have thirty days from the date of the denial letter to submit an appeal for reconsideration to the OPM. You can request the OPM make a new decision based off the evidence they have, submit new evidence, or request a 30-day extension to gather new evidence to submit. Learn more about your appeal options.

Q: Can I start the process even if I don’t have a doctor’s letter yet?

A: A doctor’s letter that states your diagnosed medical disability and restrictions is imperative to your Federal Disability Retirement application. Which is why we recommend that you speak with your medical provider prior to starting your application, to ensure they will be able to provide the supporting documentation that is needed for your case.

Q: On the SF 3112C Physicians statement who can submit the letter to support the claim along with the medical documentation?

A: Any professional who is treating you for your medical condition can submit documentation to support your Federal Disability Retirement case. They do not have to have a medical degree, but they do have to be treating you for your disability.

Q: Can I add documents to my Federal Disability Retirement case after it is received by the OPM?

A: Yes, you can add supplemental and supporting documents and medical information to your application up until a decision is made by the OPM. The more supportive evidence that you can provide the OPM, the better. You cannot, however, remove any materials that are already in your file.

Q: Will it help my Federal Disability Retirement application if I have a VA Disability Rating?

A: If you are applying for Federal Disability Retirement and submit medical documentation from your VA Disability Rating, that could serve as supporting evidence to show that you have a disabling medical condition. However, it does not guarantee an automatic Federal Disability Retirement approval from the OPM. Learn more about VA Disability.

Q: Can I submit a Federal Disability Retirement application without a valid Reasonable Accommodation decision from my agency?

A: No, in order to qualify for Federal Disability Retirement, you must provide documentation stating that your agency is not able to reasonably accommodate you. A reasonable accommodation under the OPM must be an existing position within the same pay/grade level and be within your commuting area. Learn more about the reasonable accommodation process.

Q: Is telework considered a Reasonable Accommodation?

A: Telework is considered a Reasonable Accommodation as long as all functions and tasks of the job remain the same and can be completed remotely.

Q: What happens if you resign from federal service due to a medical condition before a reasonable accommodation is decided on?

A: If you resign before finishing the reasonable accommodation process then the OPM can argue that the Federal Agency was never given an opportunity to see whether an accommodation or reassignment was possible, or not, and therefore one of the critical elements in proving eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits cannot be met or established.

Q: Can I decline a reasonable accommodation?

A: If you decline a valid reasonable accommodation from your agency then you will no longer qualify for Federal Disability Retirement. Keep in mind that a valid reasonable accommodation must fit within the listed criteria by the OPM. Learn more about what qualifies as a reasonable accommodation.

Q: Can taking too much sick leave be considered a service deficiency?

A: Yes, if an attendance deficiency is present and documented in your record it may benefit you in your Federal Disability Retirement case.

Q: Does the OPM calculate my High 3 Average?

A: Yes, the High 3 Average is calculated by the OPM and can be found on your SF-50. It is calculated based on your highest 36 consecutive months of basic pay, however, there are many factors that can affect the final number. Learn more about high 3 average calculations.

Q: Is locality pay considered in my High 3 Average calculation?

A: Yes, your regular pay along with your locality pay is included in your high-3 average.

Q: If I am separated before a Federal Disability Retirement approval, will I still receive my back pay?

A: Yes, if you are separated before your case is finalized then you could be eligible for back pay from your last date in pay status. Back pay is paid out separately after your case is finalized, before you receive your Federal Disability Retirement monthly annuity. To learn more about back pay, click here.

Q: If I am separated before a Federal Disability Retirement approval, will I still be able to have my insurance reinstated and reimbursed?

A: If you are separated prior to your approval then the OPM will reinstate your health insurance and give you the option to have it reinstated retroactively. If you choose to reinstate your insurance retroactively, then you will have to pay premiums, but your insurance will cover any out-of-pocket expenses that occurred during that time.

Q: Do I pay survivor benefits on Federal Disability Retirement?

A: If you are married when you submit your Federal Disability Retirement application, you will need to elect a survivor benefit option. For the purpose of Federal Disability Retirement, the spouse is the only qualifying survivor. The following are three survivor benefit options-

  • Maximum Survivor Annuity- this option results in a 10% reduction in your monthly annuity equaling a 50% benefit for your spouse
  • Partial Survivor Annuity- this option results in a 5% reduction in your monthly annuity equaling a 25% benefit for your spouse. If this option is chosen, a special election form must be signed by the spouse and notarized.
  • No Survivor Annuity- this option results in zero reduction from your monthly annuity leaving no benefit for your spouse. If this option is chosen, a special election form must be signed by the spouse and notarized.

Q: If I get married while on Federal Disability Retirement, will I be able to elect a survivor annuity and add them to my insurance?

A: Yes! You have 2 years from the date of your new marriage to make a new survivor election. To learn more about your survivor benefit options, click here.

Q: What is the impact of military time on Federal Disability Retirement?

A: If you are a veteran, you have the option of buying back your military time which will provide additional years of creditable service to your regular retirement. However, those years must have been paid in full prior to your separation from the federal government for those years to qualify. If you were disabled while on active duty and received a disability rating, you may be able to receive Veterans Administration Disability.

Q: Does being in LWOP status and collecting benefits from OWCP disqualify you from submitting the application for federal medical retirement?

A: Being put on LWOP status and receiving OWCP benefits can actually be used as supporting evidence for your case. It is important to keep in mind that you can not receive OWCP Federal Workers’ Compensation at the same time as Federal Disability Retirement. However, that does not mean that you cannot apply for Federal Disability Retirement. You can go through the entire process and put the benefit on hold until you go off OWCP Federal Workers’ Compensation. Then you will be able to automatically switch from receiving OWCP payments to receiving Federal Disability Retirement instead.

Q: What is the relationship between SSDI and OPM Disability Retirement?

A: To receive Federal Disability Retirement, you must apply for Social Security Disability Insurance, but you do not have to be approved for SSDI in order to qualify for Federal Disability Retirement. If you do receive SSDI, there will be an offset between the two payments. The first year, Federal Disability Retirement will be reduced by 100% of your SSDI and years 2+ your Federal Disability Retirement will be reduced by 60% of your SSDI. This can be a confusing topic, learn more about this offset.

Q: Can I withdraw from my Thrift Savings Plan while on Federal Disability Retirement?

A: When it comes to your Thrift Savings Plan while on Federal Disability Retirement, you have three options:

  • Leave it and it will continue to accrue interest
  • Roll it over into another retirement account or private sector product
  • Withdraw it, however, you may incur a penalty depending on your age

Deciding which option is best for you will depend on your age and circumstances, which is why we recommend that you consult a financial expert or contact the TSP administration directly. To learn more about the TSP, click here.

Q: Can I still apply for Federal Disability Retirement if I am already 62 years old?

A: If you are already 62 years old then you meet the age requirements for immediate voluntary retirement or “regular” retirement. You will receive your FERS pension at 1% of your high-3 salary multiplied by your years and months of service. If you have over 20 years of service at this time, you receive 1.1%.

Q: What happens to my FERS disability retirement at age 62?

A: Once you hit your FERS retirement age at 62, your Federal Disability retirement will automatically update and convert over to a regular retirement. Your FERS pension is based on your high-3 salary and creditable years of service. This is great news because you would have received additional creditable years of service for the time you were on Federal Disability Retirement.

Here’s the basic calculation: If you have less than 20 years of service (including years on Federal Disability Retirement) you’ll receive 1% of your high-3 salary for each year of service. If your service equals more than 20 years, you’ll receive 1.1% of your high-3 salary for each year of service.

If you have more questions that were not answered in this Q&A, check out our other resources, as they may provide answers to your questions.

If you have specific questions regarding your Federal Disability Retirement case, then contact us today to schedule a FREE consultation.

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