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Understanding the OPM Disability Retirement Process: Who are the Best Candidates for Claims?

Understanding the OPM Disability Retirement Process: Who are the Best Candidates for Claims?

The Office of Personal Management (OPM) has a tremendous amount of power over the financial well-being of injured federal employees.

  • You’re disabled enough to qualify. To succeed with an OPM claim, you need to meet a threshold of “being disabled” that’s not as stringent as the one you need to qualify for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits. To qualify for SSD, you need to show that you are totally disabled due to an illness or injury.
    If you can return to work at all, SSD benefits are probably out of reach. But if you can only do work that’s lower paying and lower level than what you had been doing, you can obtain OPM benefits. You only need to show that your disability prevents you from doing a critical component of your job
  • You suffered an injury, even if it was not at work. To qualify for workers’ compensation benefits, you generally need to be hurt at work or hurt while engaged in a work-related process (e.g. you wrenched your neck in a car accident while driving to a work meeting). When it comes to OPM benefits, you can claim disability even if your injury or sickness had nothing to do with your job.
  • You’re not working, or you’re working another job that pays 80% or less what you had been making annually. For instance, let’s say that you worked as an executive at the Postal Service, earning a $60,000 a year salary. Then you developed cramping in your legs due to diabetic neuropathy. You no longer can sit comfortably at your desk, so you got an easier job. That new position wouldn’t disqualify you as long as it didn’t pay more than $48,000 a year (80% of $60,000)
  • Your injury or illness will likely last a year or longer. This provision is similar to the one that governs Social Security Disability benefits. OPM benefits are not meant to cover short term hardship.
  • You left your job or got hurt less than a year ago. Once you leave your federal service job, you have one calendar year to file for OPM benefits. If you fail to establish your claim during this time, you will lose your option to obtain benefits. Appreciate that the OPM disability retirement process isn’t exactly lightening quick – it typically takes at least 6 months to complete.
  • Your federal employer can’t alter your work situation to allow you to continue to do your job, despite your sickness or injury. Maybe your employer could accommodate your disability. For instance, perhaps you have trouble sitting at a desk due to lower back pain caused by a skiing accident. You might be able to work at a standing desk or telecommute. If such arrangements can be made, you probably won’t qualify for OPM benefits.
  • You did not refuse to take a reasonable reassignment offer. Again, the government wants to see that you’ve tried all avenues.
  • Your physician has done due diligence. Your doctor should work up a thorough medical history, diagnose your problem, document why the problem prevents you from doing your duties and explain why restrictions are necessary given your condition.

Strategic Assistance with Your OPM Disability Retirement Process

The The Law Offices of Eric L. Pines, PLLC team can help you approach your OPM claims process in a clear, strategic and effective way. Call or email us to set up a consultation.