What is the Processing Time for FERS Disability Applications?

Processing times vary for FERS disability retirement applications. What can federal employees expect when applying?

Federal employees who are unable to work due to a medical condition might be eligible for disability retirement benefits under the federal government’s Federal Employment Retirement System (FERS). 

However, if you are seeking FERS benefits, you may be wondering, “What is the FERS disability retirement processing time?” After answering that, you may be wondering, “Why is it taking so long? Is there a way to expedite the procedure?”

While there are many nuances and pitfalls when it comes to seeking FERS benefits that could slow you down, this article will help to clear up some of the most common questions when it comes to FERS disability retirement processing time.

Processing Time for FERS Disability Retirement

Application processing times for FERS disability retirements vary from case to case. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is capable of processing applications once received in as few as three months in some cases. Occasionally, it could take longer than a year. However, the typical duration for a decision from OPM is between six and nine months. 

What makes matters worse is that if an employee were to not hear back in a timely manner and were either removed from service or placed in a leave without pay (LWOP) status, but did not have a sufficient amount of savings, losing their ability to work could put them into serious financial trouble and/or cause concerns on health insurance and costs of treatments required for their medical conditions.

As hinted prior, there are a variety of factors that can influence the processing time of your application. The predominant contributing factor is that OPM, who is responsible for processing these applications, reviews them on a first-come-first-served basis. Coupled with the fact that OPM is responsible for all federal workers, it can take a while for your application to be processed, let alone given to a specialist for review and determination. While you cannot cut to the front of the line, you can help ensure that you do not have to wait in line again by submitting all of your papers in accordance with OPM protocol the first time.

Your employment standing with the agency is another crucial element that could affect how quickly you may receive a decision. When you submit your application, if you have been out of federal employment for more than 30 days, it may be reviewed more swiftly. This is due to the fact that you are sending your application directly to OPM in Boyers, PA, where it is processed and assigned a civil service annuity (CSA) number. Following the issuance of a civil service annuity number, the application is forwarded to an OPM specialist for review. 

Contrast this with the application procedure for someone who is still an employee or who will be separated within 30 days. In such cases, an application must pass through numerous offices at the individual’s agency before it even gets to OPM. Your application is first processed by the local facility you work for. The local facility may be responsible for completing certain required forms as part of the application before the package moves on. Furthermore, many agencies will then forward your application to their HR facility for processing and completion of the additional required information—for example, certification of time in service, leave taken and balances, accommodation efforts, and all relevant position descriptions. Following this, your application will be sent by your agency to OPM in Boyers, PA for a CSA number and a determination.

Is There Any Recourse if I Don’t Receive a Timely Decision?

There is some more recent case law that says you can file an appeal to the MSPB alleging a constructive denial by OPM on a retirement decision after 18 months. Anything before that will more than likely be dismissed without prejudice by the judge as there was no final decision by OPM. They will make you re-file once you have a final decision. 

Typically, before you can appeal a denial decision to the MSPB, there is another administrative appeal to OPM—a “Request for Reconsideration.” You have 30 days from the date of the initial denial to file an RFR to OPM’s Reconsideration Branch. You can submit additional medical information and address the reasons for OPM’s denial, attempting to correct the denial. This review could take another 6-9 months. 

Once you have this RFR decision, then you will have 30 days to file an MSPB appeal from the date of the decision. 

After you file your appeal, the MSPB will assign a docket number and select a judge, and OPM will assign a representative from their headquarters in Washington, D.C. This appointee is frequently a paralegal or a legal administrative professional, as opposed to the medical specialist who decided on your case. 

At this stage, it is important to have all of your documentation ready to be presented, as well as have a list of witnesses who can corroborate your claims. The later you present your evidence within the MSPB procedure, the more difficult it will be to get your evidence accepted into your case.

It will be the responsibility of the OPM’s designated representative to bolster the OPM’s decision in front of the court at this hearing. This is also your opportunity to present your evidence and argue your case against the OPM’s reconsideration decision. The judge will make a ruling following the hearing, which may take months.

If approved, the decision will become effective after 35 days, and the OPM will then have 20 more days to provide a letter of approval for your Federal Disability Retirement. Any qualifying back pay that you are entitled to receive will be given to you once your case has been resolved.

Streamlining the Process

A disability retirement application can take a while, but there are ways to speed up the procedure. The application packet is extensive and calls for a number of forms, letters, and other documentation—from you, your doctor, your doctor’s office, or your agency. A well-organized application that has been properly filled out and includes all the required information that OPM will be looking for will increase the likelihood that OPM will approve it and speed up the review process.

If you or someone you know is having difficulty or has questions regarding the disability retirement process, our firm handles all aspects of the procedure, including consulting, completing, and filing FERS disability retirement applications. In the event that your application has been rejected or refused, we can handle requests for reconsideration and appeals to the MSPB as well.

About the Author

Mathew B. Tully is a founding partner of Tully Rinckey PLLC. He concentrates his practice on representing federal government employees and military personnel. To schedule a meeting with one of the firm’s federal employment law attorneys call (202) 787-1900. The information in this column is not intended as legal advice.