OPM Disability Retirement FAQs
The following are some “Frequently Asked Questions”. Most of these questions are answered in greater detail in my articles, which you may read in the section entitled Articles. However, below are some questions and answers for your convenience.
What is Federal or OPM Disability Retirement?
Federal Disability Retirement is a benefit accorded to all Federal and Postal employees under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), as well as for those under the older system (if any are still in existence), the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). For FERS employees, the Federal or Postal employee must have a minimum of 18 months of Federal Service. The Legal Criteria in order to qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits are many and complex, involving multiple issues regarding the medical condition itself; the level of essential elements of the position impacted; issues involving accommodations and the requirement of the Federal Agency or the Postal Service to perform a proper level of search for a potential reassignment that is conducive to satisfying the requirement for Federal Disability Retirement purposes; and many other issues which can directly, or indirectly, impact the viability and effectiveness of an OPM Disability Retirement application. The entire process is a complex, bureaucratic maze and the advice and counsel of an Attorney who specializes in Federal Disability Retirement Law — a Federal Disability Retirement Lawyer who exclusively practices in the field of Federal and Postal Disability Retirement Law — is a good place to start when considering preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement Application.
Who Approves my Federal Disability Retirement?
The Federal Agency which approves (or denies) a Federal Disability Retirement application is the U.S. Office of Personnel Management — at least, at the Initial Stage of the Process, and the Second Stage, or what is termed the “Reconsideration Stage”. If the U.S. Office of Personnel Management denies a Federal Disability Retirement application at either the First (Initial) Stage of the Process, and at the Second (Reconsideration) Stage of the process, then it can be appealed to the Third Stage of the Process — to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board. Each of the Stages involved require a level of meticulous preparation and technical precision, and obtaining the advice, guidance and counsel of a Federal Disability Retirement Lawyer is crucial in maximizing the greatest statistical probability for success. The entire bureaucratic process involves a complicated maze of statutes and regulations which have been put in place by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, with little to no explanation as to their meaning or import, and it is important to understand and comprehend the relevance and significance of each element in the process.
What is the difference between Social Security Disability and Federal (and Postal) Disability Retirement?
The main difference between Social Security Disability and Federal (and Postal) Disability Retirement is that the criteria applied in order to obtain and be approved for Social Security Disability benefits is much higher — that of “total disability”, as opposed to the lesser standard for Federal Disability Retirement, which merely requires a showing that a Federal or Postal employee is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal position. Thus, under FERS (and the older system, CSRS), the Federal or Postal employee must establish a “nexus” between the medical condition(s) suffered, and one or more of the essential elements of one’s position with the Federal government or the U.S. Postal Service. Furthermore, during the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, it is an administrative requirement that the Federal or Postal employee must file for Social Security benefits. In all likelihood, you will be immediately denied because you are either still employed by the Federal government or the U.S. Postal Service (there are exceptions, of course) or because you have made too much income for the year in which you are filing. In any event, it is merely a formality, and the denial of your SSDI benefits will not impact your Federal Disability Retirement filing, but an approval for SSDI can have significant consequences, both in terms of having an “offset” feature with your OPM MedicalRetirement benefits, as well as enhancing the probability of a successful Federal Disability Retirement filing with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
Must I be totally disabled in order to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS, with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management?
No. Unlike filing for benefits with the Social Security Administration (See previous question and answer), the eligibility criteria in order to qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS, with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is quite different. The “proof” which must be provided in qualifying for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management involves a legal “nexus” of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the Federal or Postal employee is no longer able to perform useful or efficient service in one or more of the “essential elements” of one’s Federal or Postal position. Many people who attempt to file for Federal Medical Retirement benefits under FERS become confused by what such a standard of proof means — and, indeed, the confusion in large part stems from the inherently complex issues involved. “Total Disability” is a standard applied by the Social Security Administration. The “lesser standard” applies in an OPM Disability Retirement application. However, do not confuse the concept of “lesser standard” as meaning that it is “easier” to obtain a Federal Disability Retirement from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management under FERS. OPM is very stringent that each and every technical element of the bureaucratic process is met and satisfied, and they look for every opportunity to deny the applicant his or her rightful benefits. As such, it is important to consult with a Federal Disability Retirement Lawyer in order to enhance and increase the statistical probability of a successful outcome in preparing, formulating and filing an effective Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS, with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
In order to qualify for FERS Disability Retirement benefits from OPM, must my disability be caused by my job?
No. While the general criteria for becoming eligible for OWCP benefits is that the injury was “work related” or occurred while on the job or, in some cases, was an inherent, occupational hazard — no such requirement exists in order to be eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. You can be at the job, off on vacation, on your way into or from work, or be tending your garden in your back yard when an accident occurs; or, your medical condition can be caused by a workplace incident — or not — and you can still qualify for FERS Disability Retirement benefits. Furthermore, you can file both at the same time, or at different times, and still qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS (so long as you file no later than 12 months after separation from Federal Service if you become terminated or resign from your job, which is the Statute of Limitations in a Federal Disability Retirement case). Additionally, many people file for both benefits and get both approved — although, you must elect between the two of them, as you cannot receive both benefits concurrently. However, you can get both approved, for example, and opt to receive benefits from OWCP (which often pays more) while keeping the OPM Disability Retirement benefit “approved but inactive”, using it as a “back-up” system while on OWCP. Then, once OWCP terminates your benefits, you can turn to OPM and activate the OPM Disability Retirement benefits.
Can I work even if I am approved for OPM Disability Retirement under FERS?
As Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is not based upon the more severe and restrictive legal criteria of “total disability” (see answer to a prior question, above), the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement allow for, and even encourage, the Federal or Postal Disability Retirement annuitant to enter the workforce and further contribute by paying taxes, etc. Under a FERS Disability Retirement, you are allowed to make up to 80% of what your former Federal or Postal position currently pays, and still receive your Federal Disability Retirement benefits from OPM. Thus, by way of example, an individual who was making $50,000 per year from his or her Federal or Postal job, could go out and get a job making $40,000.00 per year, as well as continue to collect his or her Federal Disability Retirement annuity. This amount can increase each year, as the law states that you are allowed to make 80% of what your former position currently pays. Now, there are a couple of “caveats” or warnings which you should follow. For example: You should work at a job in the private sector or in a state or local government office because getting another Federal government or Postal job will effectively terminate your Federal Disability Retirement benefits. Also, as OPM is quite secretive about what your former position with the Federal Agency or the Postal Service currently pays, you will need to be careful in calculating what the 80% threshold is. And, finally, what job you decide to take on as your “second career” should be somewhat different and distinguishable from the job you retired from under a FERS Disability Retirement.