Eight Issues Federal Staff Should Know About FERS Incapacity

Employees who are laid off may continue to develop an FERS disability if they can demonstrate that they have qualified to do so. Most importantly, they must demonstrate that their disability has prevented them from providing useful and efficient service in their position.

Federal employees enjoy a solid set of rights relating to their employment. But perhaps most importantly, federal employees are entitled to various types of retirement and disability benefits. In particular, federal employees can receive retirement benefits through the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS).

If you are unable to work due to a disability, an FERS disability pension may be an option. Here are 8 things federal employees should know about FERS disability.

What is FERS disability?

In general, the FERS is a retirement benefit program that is administered by the Federal Office for Personnel Management (OPM). In the late 1980s, the FERS replaced the Civil Service Retirement Act (CSRA) as the main benefit option for federal employees. As a result, FERS covers employees who have worked for the government since January 1, 1987, while CSRA covers employees who began their service before that date.

Disability and retirement benefits according to FERS become non-forfeitable after five years of service. However, monthly or annual payments (so-called annuities) do not begin until an employee has reached a “minimum retirement age” (MRA). An employee’s MRA depends on when they worked for the government and how long they’ve been on duty.

“Disability” is a special type of FERS retirement available to employees who, due to an illness or disability in their current position, are unable to provide useful and efficient service.

1. You must have served at least 18 months to qualify for an FERS disability

There are several conditions you must meet to qualify for FERS Disability Retirement:

  • At least 18 months of federal community service;
  • You have suffered a disability in your employment that prevents you from providing useful and efficient services.
  • The disability will last a year or more;
  • Your agency has considered you for another position with the same grade or salary level.
  • Your agency cannot do justice to your condition. and
  • You have applied for social security benefits.

Please note that the retirement pension from the FERS basic pension plan does not vest until after five years, but the disability pension only after 18 months.

This shorter period of time is helpful for employees who become disabled and unable to work shortly after starting their service. Note, however, that even if you’ve been in the service for 18 months, you will not qualify if you also meet the other eligibility requirements.

2. You must apply for an FERS disability within one year of the end of your employment

In addition to the above requirements, federal employees have a deadline for when they can apply for an FERS disability. Ideally, you should apply for a FERS disability before you leave your job. However, if this is not possible, you have one year after your departure to do so. As long as the OPM or your agency receives your application within this period, you will meet this requirement.

3. You still need to apply for FERS disability even if you are already receiving Disability Social Security benefits

The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) offers benefits for employees who are classified as “severely disabled” by the Social Insurance Authority (SSA). The SSA determines disability based on several factors, including whether

  • You work when you apply;
  • Your condition severely limits your ability to perform basic work-related activities.
  • Their status is shown in the list of “Deactivation conditions”.
  • You can do the work that you did before. and
  • You can do other types of work.

Federal employees who qualify for SSDI usually also meet the requirements for an FERS disability. However, approving social security benefits does not automatically give you FERS benefits. You still need to apply for disability benefits.

4. You cannot receive benefits under the FERS and the Employee Compensation Office at the same time

The Office for Employee Compensation Programs (OWCP) also offers benefits for federal employees injured in the workplace. These benefits include medical care, compensation for lost wages and assistance with returning to work.

Although you may be trying to claim both FERS disability and OWCP benefits, you can only choose one at a time. If you choose to receive OWCP benefits, all FERS disability benefits that you receive will be discontinued. These payments can resume when you stop receiving payments from OWCP.

5. Don’t assume that your doctor will help you with your application

A large part of your FERS disability application is your medical records. Even if your case appears to be a guaranteed result, it may not be. So it is very important to have strong medical evidence to support your application.

When contacting your doctor about your application, do not assume that he will be able to help you with all of the necessary documents. Doctors are busy too, and even if you’ve seen the same one for 10 or 20 years, their ability to help you may be limited.

6. If the OPM approves you for FERS disability, you may have to pay for regular medical exams

After the OPM approves your disability pension, you may need to undergo regular medical examinations. The OPM will request these examinations on a case-by-case basis, depending on the nature of your illness. If so, you are responsible for paying for these medical examinations.

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Completing these exams and updating your medical information using the OPM is a requirement for additional benefits.

7. If your benefits are denied, you can appeal the decision within 30 days

If the OPM denies your benefits, you have the option to submit additional information. This is your opportunity to provide more evidence of your disability claim. In general, you have 30 days from the date the OPM denies your claim. In some cases, you may be able to ask for 30 additional days to collect more evidence.

If the OPM denies your appeal (also known as a re-examination request), the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) will hear your case. There an administrative judge will review the evidence and make a decision.

What is the Merit Systems Protection Board?

The MSPB oversees the federal earnings system, which regulates the hiring, firing and promotion of federal employees. Any action by a government agency that affects the working life of its employees can be reviewed by the MSPB.

As a court-like agency, the MSPB is like a mini-court system that handles complaints from federal employees related to their employment. The MSPB does not deal with discrimination, unfair labor disputes, or other cases administered by any other federal agency.

8. You will not automatically lose your FERS benefits if you are laid off

Many federal employees believe they will lose their FERS benefits if the agency they work for fires them. As a result, federal employees sometimes believe they should resign if they suspect an incoming dismissal.

However, this is wrong; Employees who are laid off may continue to develop an FERS disability if they can demonstrate that they have qualified to do so. Most importantly, they must demonstrate that their disability has prevented them from providing useful and efficient service in their position.

A case called Delceg v. OPM was exactly about this situation. The U.S. Postal Service fired a worker for non-disability-related misconduct. Upon appeal to the MSPB, the worker proved that a pre-existing knee injury prevented him from doing a “useful and efficient” service before he was released. As a result, the MSPB granted retirement to disabled workers.

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