Is it Hard to Get Federal Disability Retirement?

What are the benefits of applying for FERS disability retirement and how do federal employees qualify for it?

It can be difficult to get Federal Disability Retirement if you are unfamiliar with the process, but ultimately, the benefits of Federal Disability Retirement are worth the effort.

Receiving Federal Disability Retirement can seem like a daunting task. There are a lot of eligibility and qualification requirements, and initial denials have been increasing. But don’t forget there are some steps you can take to increase your chances of success. Understanding all of the requirements, consulting with an expert, and being prepared to appeal, if necessary, can help you navigate this process and increase your chances of getting the benefits you deserve!

What Is Federal Disability Retirement and Who Qualifies for It? 

Federal Disability Retirement is a benefit available to federal employees who have an injury or illness that prevents them from performing their job. This benefit is provided by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), who determines whether or not you are eligible. 

In order to be eligible for this benefit, you must be a FERS career federal employee, with at least 18 months of creditable service, and an injury or illness that prevents you from fully performing your job.

To qualify for Federal Disability Retirement:

  • You must have a diagnosed medical condition, which is defined as a health impairment resulting from a disease or injury, including a psychiatric disease
  • Your medical diagnosis must be expected to last 12 months or one year 
  • Your disability must cause a service deficiency in performance, attendance, or conduct, after a period of useful and efficient service 
  • There must be a relationship between the service deficiency and the medical condition such that the medical condition has caused the service deficiency
  • Your disability does not have to be work related, but it does have to have arisen or worsened while in your federal position
  • Your agency must be unable to accommodate you without removing any of the essential functions of your job description
  • Your agency must be unable to reassign you to a vacant position, at the same pay and grade level, within your commuting area, that you are qualified for

How Do You Apply for Federal Disability Retirement? 

The application process for Federal Disability Retirement can be confusing, even for seasoned federal employees with years of experience filling out important documents. To apply for Federal Disability Retirement, you must fill out the SF 3107 Application for Immediate Retirement and the SF 3112 Documentation in Support of Disability Retirement. 

Both of these forms will be filled out by you and your federal agency. You should maintain an open line of communication with your agency throughout the application process to ensure a smooth and successful transition.

If you are still on the rolls or within 30 days of your separation, you will submit your disability retirement application to your agency. If you have been separated for more than 30 days, you will submit your application directly to the OPM. You must apply for Federal Disability Retirement within one year of separating from your agency.

What Are the Benefits of Receiving Federal Disability Retirement? 

Federal Disability Retirement provides four main benefits that last until age 62, at which point your disability retirement will automatically transfer into your regular FERS retirement.

A Secure Monthly Annuity

While on Federal Disability Retirement you will receive a monthly annuity at 60% of your high-3 average for the first year, and 40% of your high-3 average for every year after until age 62. Your high 3 average is your highest 36 consecutive months of basic pay and will be calculated by the OPM.

Creditable Years of Service

You will continue to receive creditable years of service while on Federal Disability Retirement, like you would have if you were still working in your federal position. This is a huge benefit as these creditable years of service will significantly increase your regular FERS retirement annuity. 

Work in the Private Sector

You will have the ability to work in the private sector while on Federal Disability Retirement and earn up to 80% of your old position’s current salary on top of your Federal Disability Retirement annuity. This allows you to make even more income in retirement than you would have been making in your federal position alone. 

Continuation of Health and Life insurance

You have the option to maintain your health and life insurance while on Federal Disability Retirement, to continue coverage for you and your family. This can make a huge difference to those treating a disability and worried about increasing medical costs. 

How Long Does the Process Take? 

The Federal Disability Retirement application process can vary from applicant to applicant. Oftentimes, the OPM will request additional documentation from applicants in order to finalize their application which can lengthen the process. Additionally, a long backlog may also contribute to delays. We typically see it take anywhere from 8-12 months to receive an initial decision from the OPM.

If you received an initial denial from the OPM, you can appeal that decision which will add more time to the process. It’s important to note that the OPM does not have a timeline that they have to stick to when making decisions, and there are often long periods of silence from the OPM during the process.

Who Can Help Me with the Application Process?

Your agency may assist you throughout the application process, but they have likely never encountered a disability retirement application before. Because of this, they can make mistakes on your application that could cost you months or years in the approval process. 

An experienced legal team can ensure that your application is complete and accurate and can help you navigate the often-confusing processes and OPM requirements.

Are There Any Other Options if I Don’t Qualify for Federal Disability Retirement? 

If you don’t meet the eligibility or qualification requirements for Federal Disability Retirement, there are many other options to help ease the stress of working through a disability. 

  • Social Security Disability Insurance is an option if you are totally disabled and are unable to work. This benefit is based on your social security credits and earnings.
  • OWCP Federal Workers Compensation is an option if you were injured on the job. You could be eligible for wage loss payments, a schedule award, or medical payments.
  • You could choose to retire early on an MRA+10 if you have at least 10 years of service but your annuity will be reduced by 5% for each year you are under 62. You can reduce or eliminate this reduction if you postpone your annuity.
  • An individual long-term disability insurance policy can be used to fill the gaps in employer coverage or provide you with financial protection if your workplace doesn’t offer this type of coverage.

Leah Bachmeyer-Kille is the Appeals Attorney at Harris Federal Law Firm. She graduated from the University of Kentucky College of Law in 2013 and has been working full time at Harris Federal since. She is passionate about improving the lives of federal employees. Contact Leah at (877) 226-2723.