If you are a federal employee and are disabled, injured, or ill and find that you are no longer capable of performing your job, you may be entitled to Office of Personnel Management (OPM) disability retirement benefits.
If you are anxious to submit your application to get financial security as quickly as possible, you might be wondering how long the OPM disability process will take. Our federal OPM disability retirement attorneys explain how long it typically takes to complete the OPM application process.
A Quick Review of the OPM Disability Retirement Process
The vast majority of federal employees fall under the Federal Employment Retirement System (FERS). Through this system, federal employees who cannot work due to a medical condition may be able to receive disability benefits.
The Key Requirements of a Successful OPM Disability Application
Chances are, you’re reviewing this page because you haven’t heard back from OPM regarding your application status. Before we discuss OPM’s timeline for processing disability, you should confirm you have met all the critical requirements for disability retirement under FERS.
First, you need to have completed at least 18 months of federal civilian service under the FERS retirement system. Prior military service is generally not creditable, although there are some exceptions.
Second, you need to have a disabling medical condition. It does not matter whether the disabling condition is a disease or injury. What really matters is that the disabling condition prevents you from successfully performing the “critical duties” or “essential functions” of your position.
Additionally, your disabling medical condition must be expected to continue for at least one year. Short-term illnesses and disabilities do not qualify you for disability retirement.
Third, your agency needs to be able to certify that it tried and failed to accommodate your disabling medical condition.
Agencies can pursue accommodations in various ways, including:
- Providing you with a change of schedule or office equipment,
- Reassigning you to a similar position with more favorable physical requirements, and
- Allowing you to work from home at least some of the time.
Finally, you need to apply for social security benefits before applying for disability retirement. Also, remember that there’s a strict time period for submitting a disability retirement application.
Specifically, you have only one year to submit your FERS disability retirement application after your agency separated you from federal service. If you don’t act by that deadline, your application will probably be rejected, leaving your financial future in a precarious state.
OPM Disability Processing Time
The average OPM disability processing time can take as little as three months from start to finish. At Pines Federal, we can complete applications in as little as six weeks.
Completing the OPM application is an interactive and complex process that requires the OPM specialist to gather vital information from the applicant to draft documents. When you work closely with an experienced attorney, you can complete the application in a timely manner.
If you left your federal position over 30 days ago, you might still qualify for OPM disability.
To submit your application, you will need to request forms from the federal agency you worked for. An experienced attorney can work with the federal agency to ensure that the documents are completed as quickly as possible to get your case processed.
[DOWNLOAD] OPM Disability Retirement for Federal Employees
Four Factors that Can Affect Your FERS Disability Retirement Timeline
Once you submit your OPM disability retirement application, you will need to wait an average of six to twelve months for it to be processed and to receive a decision. However, the FERS disability retirement processing time may take shorter or longer depending on OPM’s backlog and the unique details of your application.
Factor #1: OPM’s Current Caseload
One key factor is OPM’s current backlog. OPM reviews retirement applications on a first-come, first-served basis. As such, you need to wait for OPM to process older applications first.
Earlier in 2022, OPM’s backlog rose to more than 36,000 cases. Fortunately, as of November 2022, it has dipped to only 23,849. Regardless, you can expect this backlog to delay the processing of your application significantly.
Factor #2: The Complexity of Your Application
Some disabling conditions are fairly straightforward. Others are far more complicated.
Federal employees with multiple disabling conditions or progressively worsening conditions will need to obtain more medical paperwork from more medical providers. If you fit into this situation, OPM will need to spend more time reviewing the details of your medical history.
Furthermore, employees with complex medical histories also tend to have long and detailed accommodation histories with their respective agencies. And that means more accommodation-related paperwork for OPM to review.
Factor #3: The Number of Errors in Your Application
A successful OPM disability retirement application requires input from several different actors. The employee must carefully submit their paperwork. Similarly, the employee’s medical providers must write clear, legible, and consistent medical information.
Finally, the employee’s former agency must provide detailed records and various documents. Even a small error by one of these parties will lead to significant delays.
OPM encounters errors in applications all the time. Some of the most common errors include inaccurate federal service dates, unsigned forms, missing forms, and mismatches between forms. Even something as simple as a question regarding the applicant’s marital status can cause significant delays.
Factor #4: Delays in Communicating with OPM
When OPM reaches out to retirement applicants or agencies to obtain more information, slow response times often result. Federal HR personnel, in particular, frequently drop the ball when communicating with OPM about a former employee’s disability retirement application.
The best way to cure these bureaucratic delays is with effective legal representation. A competent OPM disability retirement attorney will proactively engage with OPM and federal agencies alike to ensure that your application does not get delayed.
Contact Our Experienced OPM Disability Retirement Attorneys
Our federal employment lawyers have decades of experience helping clients with their OPM disability retirement cases.
We know that even a minor error can affect the outcome of your case. For such reasons, we are dedicated to helping you obtain approval of your claim at the initial stage so that you can receive the retirement benefits you need without dealing with appeals.
However, we can help you regardless of where your disability retirement application is. Even if you are simply waiting for OPM to update your disability retirement status, we can assist. Our team has the knowledge, skills, and experience needed to help you get the best possible results for your case.