Tips on Filing for CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement

Whether a man dies by a single thrust, or by a thousand small cuts, the end result is the same. (Anonymous)

In Federal Employee Disability Retirement Law for CSRS and FERS, the main thrust of an application are twofold: proper medical documentation and resolution of all accommodation issues. However, you must also be aware of the hundreds of little “pothole” issues which unexpectedly appear in the course of filing for disability retirement, and it is often such smaller issues which hinder a successful filing.

Three such issues, out of many more, are briefly discussed below:

Under FERS, must you first file for Social Security disability benefits before you file with OPM? Whether intentionally or through innocent ignorance, many HR managers are informing Federal and Postal workers that they must first file for, and receive a determination from, the Social Security office before they can file for disability retirement with the Office of Personnel Management. This is categorically untrue. While an applicant does need to file for Social Security disability benefits at some time during the process, all that is needed is the receipt that he or she has filed for it. Do not allow for misinformation to delay your filing.

The danger of cashing a $5.00 check: Under 5 C.F.R. 844.301, the Federal Regulations state in relevant part: A disability annuity under this part commences on the day after the employee separates or the day after pay ceases and the employee meets the requirements for title to an annuity. I once represented a client who had filed for disability retirement on his own, got it denied, then came to me at the reconsideration stage. Prior to coming to me, he had not worked for over a year, but had recently received a check in the amount of $5.00, which he promptly deposited into his bank account. After successfully reversing OPM’s denial and securing his disability retirement, the Office of Personnel Management began paying him his disability annuity “the day after pay ceases” – meaning, the day after he was paid the $5.00. Fortunately, I was able to have the Agency accept back the $5.00, and backdate the annuity to when he last worked. However, not all cases will necessarily end with such success. You must be aware of the laws which govern disability retirement, or you are in peril of being at the mercy of your own ignorance.

If at first you don’t succeed, try again with the assistance of an Attorney before the statute of limitations runs out: I have had many people over the years call me and tell me that they were denied at the initial stage, the reconsideration stage, and at the MSPB stage – and would I be willing to file for a Petition for Full Review – and, by the way, in the meantime, it has been over a year since he or she was separated from Federal Service. In such a case, you have limited your options by allowing the one-year rule to run its course, leaving only a shot at the appellate level to win your case. While I almost never advise an individual to forego his or her administrative right of appealing a denial decision, in certain special circumstances, it is prudent to withdraw one’s ill-prepared disability retirement application and to re-file all over again, before the one-year statute of limitations runs out. This decision, however, must obviously be made before the one-year statute of limitations has already run its course. Furthermore, such a decision must be made on a case-by-case basis, but this is precisely why it is important to view your disability retirement application as a lifetime investment, to be fully aware of the laws which bind you, and why competent legal representation is important.

There are many, many more issues surrounding disability retirement for CSRS and FERS employees. If you believe that you need to consult an attorney concerning disability retirement, please contact me at 1-800-990-7932 or email me at

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

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