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As a federal employee attorney, I am often asked why an application for FERS disability retirement can take so long for OPM to process.

This is not a simple question to answer. The nicest way to put it is that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is a bureaucracy and like all bureaucracies the wheels of justice move very slowly. OPM is certainly no exception to this rule, especially when it comes to making decisions about whether a Federal employee should be given FERS or CSRS disability retirement.If you apply it is helpful to get in the mindset of expecting a long wait rather than a quick overnight decision.OPM’s typical turnaround for a disability retirement application is within 6-9 months. Additional delays are likely if you file during the holidays when employees of federal agencies are on leave. At the end of the year applications may be held up because OPM is handling more non-disability retirements.

I often see even longer delays with applicants who work for USPS and DHS.

The process was outlined recently by Reg Jones, writing in Federal Times in an answer to a question.

“If your agency offers you an opportunity to retire early and you accept it, it will forward your application to the Office of Personnel Management, which, after a few weeks, will put you in interim pay status until it can finalize your annuity. If you apply for disability retirement, it will take time for you to provide the medical evidence and for you and your agency to complete the paperwork.

“After your application is forwarded to OPM, it will take even longer for them to review your case and make a decision. If they decide in your favor, you will start receiving your full annuity. If they decide against you, you’ll be back to square one,” Jones wrote.

If your application has dragged on more than 8 months, OPM may be taking too long to decide and you have legal rights. Yet, two cases suggest the OPM’s failure to make a decision is effectively a denial which can actually benefit you by allowing you to appeal to MSPB and get your case heard before an Administrative Judge. Since, if OPM delays your application for too long, you can assume that this implies that they are denying the claim and immediately file an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).

You should take formal steps first. Make sure to make monthly status requests. Document times of phone calls and save emails or other correspondence. Note who you spoke with when you contact the agency. Then send OPM a letter giving them notice that you are treating their silence as evidence of denial of your claim, giving them sufficient time to respond.

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Eric L. Pines is a nationally recognized federal employment lawyer, mediator, and attorney business coach. He represents federal employees and acts as in-house counsel for over fifty thousand federal employees through his work as a federal employee labor union representative.

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