| Read Time: 3 minutes | OPM Disability Retirement

OPM Disability Retirement Basics

There are four types of retirement for federal employees: early, voluntary, deferred, and disability. If you are a civilian employee of the federal government, your retirement benefits are provided by either the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) or the Civil Service Retirement Service (CSRS).* Regardless of which office provides your disability benefits, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) must approve all disability retirement applications.

In this blog, we will be looking specifically at federal disability retirement and the issues associated with a rejection of your application by OPM.

*Note: CSRS provides benefits for federal employees who were hired before 1987

Applying for OPM Disability Retirement

According to OPM, you should consider applying for disability retirement when you have already provided your employing agency with full documentation of your medical condition and your agency has thoroughly explored all reasonable options to retain you in a productive capacity, including accommodations and reassignment. If you are in this situation, disability retirement may be a good option.

Before submitting your application, you should review OPM’s following eligibility criteria:

  • You have completed 18 months of Federal civilian service, creditable under FERS.
  • While employed in a qualifying position under the retirement system, you have become disabled (due to injury or disease) for useful and efficient service in your current job.
  • The disability is expected to impact you for at least one year.
  • Your employing agency must certify that it cannot accommodate your disability in your current position and that you have been considered for any existing vacant positions within the same agency, at the same grade or pay level, in the same commuting area, and for which you are qualified.

If you meet these criteria, OPM also specifies that you (or your guardian or representative) must apply before your separation from service or within a year thereafter, and either OPM or your employing agency must receive the application within a year of your separation date.* You are also required to apply for social security disability benefits, and if this application for social security benefits is withdrawn, OPM will dismiss your disability retirement application.

*Note: the time limit for applying to OPM may be waved in cases where the disabled individual was mentally incompetent on the date of separation or within one year of that date.

If you meet the requirements and plan to apply for disability retirement, you must complete forms SF 3107, Application for Immediate Retirement, and SF 3112, Documentation in Support of Disability Retirement. Additionally, if you are under the age of 62, you will also need to provide documentation of your social security disability benefits application.

Will My Benefits Ever Terminate?

There are a few circumstances under which OPM will terminate your disability retirement benefits. Generally speaking, these circumstances only apply to those under 60-years old. For example, benefits may be terminated if you are medically recovered from your disability, if your income from wages or self-employment is at least 80% of the current base pay from your retired position, or if you are reemployed in Federal service in an equivalent position to that which you retired from.

One of the biggest problems federal employees face regarding the disability retirement process is a rejection of their initial application. Below we review what to do if you find yourself in this position.

The OPM Disability Retirement Appeals Process

OPM is a large organization and is responsible for over two million employees. Consequently, mistakes are made. Additionally, it is not uncommon for a doctor or other medical professional to make mistakes when documenting your medical condition, such as incorrect dates or an inaccurate description of how your condition progressed. When mistakes are made, people who should be granted disability retirement benefits are rejected.

If OPM denies your disability retirement application, it can feel like your financial stability and future, in general, are threatened. However, if you applied for disability retirement and were denied, you may have the option to appeal OPM’s decision.

Appeals can be filed with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). Appeals typically must be filed within 30 days of receiving the OPM’s decision.

Do I Need an Attorney?

While you are not required to have an attorney to file an appeal with the MSPB, it is highly recommended that you do. Consulting with an attorney can help you better prepare for the appeals process. Your lawyer can also help ensure that you have all the appropriate paperwork and that it is filed correctly and on time. At Pines Federal, we have helped many federal employees deal with OPM disability retirement rejections, and we can help you file your appeal.

To schedule a consultation with one of our federal employment law attorneys, reach out to us at (800) 801-0598 or send us a message online.

Author Photo

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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