It can be difficult when a nagging injury or illness keeps you from doing the work you have been trained for and, most likely, spent most of your adult life doing. If you are a federal employee who is facing this situation, you can apply for federal disability retirement benefits. However, you can also make mistakes that could end up costing you the right to collect monthly benefits payments.
Here are seven common mistakes federal workers make when they can no longer do their job due to a medical condition – and how to avoid them.
1. Ignoring the issue and failing to learn about your options.
A terrible mistake is to brush off your health problems and try to press on with business as usual. Doing this can only make your condition worse. It also exposes you to greater injury risk.
You should at least learn about the disability retirement benefits options available to you and decide if pursing those benefits is a choice you want to make. You can:
- Consult with a friend or co-worker who has applied for disability retirement before
- Ask your employing agency about disability retirement
- Check out the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) website
- Contact an experienced professional for information and help
2. Failing to submit a timely application for benefits.
Once you decide you should apply for disability retirement benefits, you need to get going on your application. You must submit the application within one year after you are formally separated from your agency. While that may seem like a long time, a lot of work can go into preparing an accurate, thorough application, including getting vital information from your doctors and your agency.
You won’t be able to get that information overnight. For instance, after 31 days, your employing agency may no longer have your work records. So, it could take some time to track down those records.
If you miss the one-year deadline, it is very difficult to get OPM to waive the time limit. In fact, the only way to get a waiver is to show that you were mentally incompetent and could not file your application on time – a very rare situation.
3. Assuming your agency will take care of paperwork for you.
In OPM brochures on Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) and Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) disability retirement benefits, OPM makes it clear: It is your responsibility to get all of the information you need and to file your application on time.
Because it is not your agency’s responsibility, getting the paperwork finished for your application may not be high on its priority list. So, you need to take charge.
According to OPM, your employing agency should complete three forms:
- Supervisor’s Statement (SF 3112B),
- Agency Certification of Reassignment and Accommodation Efforts (SF 3112D), and
- Disability Retirement Checklist (SF 3112E).
OPM suggests (and we agree) that you ask your agency to fill out these forms and return them to you so that you can submit them directly to OPM along with your application.
4. Failing to make a timely visitor to your doctor.
As part of your disability retirement benefits application package, you must include a Physician’s Statement (SF 3112C). The statement should contain a diagnosis of your medical condition, prognosis and treatment plan.
This form must be dated no more than 60 days from the date you submit your application to OPM. So, you need to visit your doctor and ensure he or she has the information needed to provide a timely statement to OPM.
5. If you are not eligible for disability retirement, failing to consider other options.
As you review your situation, you may realize that you are not eligible for federal disability retirement benefits for one reason or another. For example, to be eligible under FERS, you must have worked as a career employee or career conditional employee for at least 18 months. You may fall short of that requirement.
If you are experiencing pain due to work, it would be a mistake to not consider other options such as federal workers’ compensation benefits. These benefits can help you to get medical treatment and replace a portion of the wages you can’t earn because of your condition.
However, unlike disability retirement benefits, these benefits are only available to you if your injury or illness is work-related.
6. Not filing for Social Security Disability benefits.
To be eligible for disability retirement benefits, you must first apply for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits. Also, in your application for disability retirement, you must document that you have applied for SSD benefits.
You should know that the decision on your SSD benefits claim will have no impact on your disability retirement benefits claim. You can still qualify for disability retirement even if you are denied SSD benefits. (In fact, that’s very common.)
7. Failing to appeal a denied application.
After you have collected all needed information, completed all required forms and submitted the most complete and accurate application possible, OPM may still deny your disability retirement claim. However, You can appeal the decision.
On appeal, your case will be reviewed by a different OPM legal administrative specialist. This specialist may ultimately reach a different decision on your claim. If not, you can take your appeal a step further and seek review by the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).