Seven Important Facts About FERS Disability Retirement
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Seven Important Facts About FERS Disability Retirement

Oct 12, 2021 | Articles, Federal Disability Retirement

By Molly Friedman, Esq., 301.563.6685

In order to apply for FERS Disability Retirement (FDR) benefits, there are some basic requirements.

Fact One: You must meet basic eligibility requirements

Applicants must have at least 18 months of Federal Civilian Service that is credible under the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS). You must submit your application while you are still a federal employee or before one year after the date of your separation. Additionally, your disability must be expected to last at least a year. While making you unable to work for a period of time, temporary hospitalization may not qualify you for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Fact Two: Your agency must be unable to accommodate you in your current position and consider you for other vacant positions

Your agency is required to fill out several forms as part of your FDR application. A critical document is the Agency Certification of Reassignment and Accommodation Efforts.  The requirement is twofold. First, your agency must indicate that they are unable to accommodate you in your current position, including noting what, if any, accommodation efforts have been made.  Second, your agency must indicate that it has considered you for any vacant position that you are eligible for in the same agency at the same grade or pay level within the same commuting area. If you refuse to engage in the reasonable accommodation process or refuse a qualified position that you are medically able to do, your FDR application will be in jeopardy.

Fact Three: Supportive medical evidence is crucial to a winning application. 

The most important part of your FDR application is the medical documentation from your treatment providers. OPM will look to the medical professionals regarding your symptoms and limitations. It’s essential to have an open and honest conversation about the symptoms you are experiencing during your medical appointments. This includes appointments that may not be directly related to the medical condition you feel is causing you to be unable to work. A remark from an unrelated specialist indicating that you reported no issues in a particular area of your body could be picked up by OPM and used to discredit your claims.  Review your treatment records, and if you feel that they are inaccurate, reach out to the provider to request clarification or a correction.

Fact Four: It’s difficult to win an FDR application while you are still working

By filing for disability retirement, you are signaling to your agency and the Office of Personnel Management that you are unable to keep working due to your disability. As part of the application process, it’s essential to gather the medical evidence that supports your inability to work, as noted above. The longer you continue to work after a doctor indicates you are unable to work due to your disability, the weaker your case may become. Before starting the application process, you must be ready to stop working or significantly slow down.

Fact Five: You Must Apply for Social Security Disability (SSD)

As part of the application process for FDR benefits, you must apply for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA). You are not required to win SSD benefits to be found eligible for FDR benefits.   Social Security Disability has a stricter definition of disability than FDR benefits. While FDR benefits are focused on your ability to perform your own position, SSD requires that you be unable to perform any work in the national economy.

The good news is that an award of SSD benefits can be beneficial for your FDR application. It places the burden of proof on OPM to show that you are able to work, in contrast to the decision from another federal agency (the Social Security Administration) that you cannot.  However, an award of SSD benefits does not guarantee an award of FDR benefits and vice versa.

Fact Six:  Your annuity changes after the first 12 months of benefits

FDR benefits are calculated based on your high-3 average salary. For the first 12 months, your benefits are calculated at 60% of your final average high-3 salary. The annuity amount you receive will be reduced by deductions for health insurance premiums, life insurance, other options you select, as well as 100% of any Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits you receive. After the first 12 months, your FDR benefit amount changes. Your benefits are calculated at 40% of your high-3 and are offset by only 60% of any SSD benefits you receive.

For a detailed discussion of how FDR benefits are calculated, check out this blog entry.

Fact Seven:  There is no “typical” or “correct” disability  

Our clients often ask if the type of disabling condition they have “counts.”  Whether your diagnosis is based on a physical concern or mental and emotional health, the most important measure is whether the symptoms and limitations prevent you from performing useful and efficient service and that those symptoms and limitations are documented. Additionally, a misconception is that you can only be disabled by one condition. If you are experiencing multiple medical conditions, the cumulative effect can be debilitating. You don’t need to “choose” which is your “disability” for the purposes of your FDR application.

Here at Andalman and Flynn, we have experience working with Federal employees with many different medical conditions and work to understand the unique challenges and relevant medical evidence. Please contact us for a free consultation to discuss how we may be able to work with you through the application process and navigate all of the facts.

About Andalman & Flynn, P.C.: Founded in 1998 in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, Andalman & Flynn has forged a distinguished reputation for legal excellence. The firm represents individuals seeking disability benefits throughout the country and practices family law throughout Maryland and the District of Columbia. The firm focuses on cases that impact the rights of everyone and is there for clients when responsive legal help is most critical. The firm has provided legal analysis on national and local television and radio, and their attorneys often testify before legislative bodies and are routinely invited to contribute to prominent legal publications. For more information about Andalman & Flynn, please visit the website at or call 301.563.6685.