FERS DISABILITY PRIMER

Introduction

Federal Employees and Civil Service Employees struggling to work with a serious illness or injury, may be entitled to Disability Benefits under the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) or the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), respectively.  A Disability Retirement Annuity provides these benefits in addition to the coverage you receive through your Basic Benefits Plan.

How Do I Know If I Am Eligible For FERS/CSRS Disability?

You do not have to be completely incapacitated in order to receive a FERS/CSRS Disability Annuity.  You are eligible to apply for disability benefits if you no longer can perform your job as you had always performed it due to a physical or psychological illness or injury.  Remember that your disability must be diagnosed and documented in detail by your treating physician before you file.

In terms of eligibility, FERS and CSRS have similar requirements.  For FERS claims:

  • You must have completed at least 18 months of service on-the-job;
  • You must have become disabled while working in that system;
  • Your disability must be expected to last at least one full year;
  • The Employing Office (your employer) cannot accommodate you in your current position (i.e., regardless of any special considerations afforded you by your Employing Office, you still cannot perform your job as you had before); and,
  • You must not have turned down an offer or reassignment with the same pay grade, pay level or tenure in the same commuting area.

For CSRS claims:

  • You must have at least five years of service on-the-job;
  • You must have become disabled while working in that system and must prove you cannot perform your duties;
  • Your disability must be expected to last at least one full year;
  • The Employing Office (your employer) cannot accommodate you in your current position (i.e., regardless of any special considerations afforded you by your Employing Office, you still cannot perform your job as you had before); and,
  • You must not have turned down an offer or reassignment with the same pay grade, pay level, or tenure in the same commuting area.

When Should I File For My Disability Annuity?

Time deadlines are important when filing for FERS or CSRS disability; missing a deadline may adversely affect the outcome of your claim. If you decide to file for FERS or CSRS disability benefits, you must do so within one year of your separation from service. (Please note: you could be separated from service even while receiving Federal Workers’ Compensation benefits.)

How Much Money Will I Receive From My FERS/CSRS Disability Annuity?

When it comes to figuring out what your monthly disability benefits are, there is a formula.  That formula is different depending upon your age, pay grade, and years of service.  Your disability benefits are calculated when you go out on disability, then again after you’ve been collecting disability for 12 months, and then again when you turn 62 years old.

If you satisfy the criteria for immediate voluntary retirement or you are at least 62 years old, and have under 20 years of service, use the formula below to calculate your earned annuity:

Take 1% of your high-3 average salary and multiply it by your years of service.

If you are 62 years old and have 20 years of service or more, use this formula to calculate your annuity:

Take 1.1% of your high-3 salary and multiply it by your years of service.

For those who become disabled who are not at least 62 years old, and are not eligible for voluntary retirement, your benefits will be calculated as follows:

For the first 12 months, you will receive: 60% of your high-3 salary MINUS 100% of your Social Security disability benefits for any month you received Social Security disability benefits.

Then, after the first 12 months, you will receive: 40% of your high-3 salary MINUS 60% of your Social Security disability benefits.

(FOR FERS ONLY: You are required to file for Social Security disability benefits, and must show proof of filing for Social Security disability benefits in order to file for FERS disability benefits.)

How Is My High-3 Salary Calculated?

The first and most important thing to understand is that your salary means your base pay.  It does not include any money you received for overtime or bonuses.

To figure out your high-3 salary, you take the average of your highest base pay for any three years of consecutive service.  While your highest base pay usually falls within your last three working years, it may be that you earned a higher salary at an earlier period in your career.  If that is the case, your high-3 will be based upon that higher number.

Can I Work While Receiving FERS/CSRS Disability Benefits?

If you are 60 years old or older, you can work and earn as much income as you want – without any restrictions from OPM.

If you are under 60 years old, you still can earn income.  However, you cannot earn more than 80% of your base FERS/CSRS salary.

Can I Receive Social Security Disability Benefits While Collecting FERS/CSRS Disability?

The short answer is yes, but OPM will reduce your FERS/CSRS annuity by all or a portion of what you receive in Social Security benefits.  Basically, here’s how it works:

  • If your FERS/CSRS disability annuity was calculated using 60% of your high-3 salary, OPM will reduce your monthly annuity by 100% of your Social Security disability benefit.  (In other words, whatever you receive from Social Security will be subtracted from your FERS/CSRS disability annuity.)
  • After the first 12 months, when your FERS/CSRS disability annuity is calculated using 40% of your high-3 salary, OPM will reduce your monthly annuity by 60% of your Social Security disability benefit.  (In other words, 60% of whatever you receive from Social Security will be subtracted from your FERS/CSRS disability annuity.)

Can I Receive Workers’ Compensation Benefits While Collecting FERS or CSRS Disability?

No, you cannot receive Workers’ Compensation benefits and FERS/CSRS disability benefits at the same time unless you are receiving a Scheduled Award from the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs.

A Scheduled Award generally is given to someone who has lost a bodily function (such as eyesight or hearing) or who suffers dismemberment (such as the loss of an arm or leg).

However, even though you cannot receive both FERS/CSRS disability benefits and Workers’ Compensation benefits at the same time, you should apply for both. That way, even if you elect to receive Workers’ Compensation benefits and not FERS/CSRS disability benefits, at least your FERS/CSRS disability claim will be on file with OPM should you change your mind.  (Remember, if you choose to receive a FERS/CSRS disability annuity, your application MUST be submitted to OPM within one year of separation of service.) It is wise to seek the advice of a Federal Workers’ Compensation attorney before receiving Workers’ Compensation benefits.

After I Begin Receiving FERS/CSRS Disability Benefits, Will I Need To Submit To Additional Medical Examinations?

If you are under 60 years old, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) may review your disability eligibility and may require you to have additional medical examinations.  Or, OPM may require additional medical support documentation on your condition.  Please note that you will be responsible for all fees relating to additional medical exams and reports.

If you are over 60 years old, OPM will not review your disability eligibility unless you request it. (Typically, FERS/CSRS employees request OPM to review their disability eligibility when they want to re-join the federal work force.)

What Happens If I Am Under 60 Years Old And I Recover From My Disability?

If you recover and are under 60 years old, your FERS/CSRS disability annuity will stop at the end of one year from the date of the medical support (the last time your doctor treated you), or when you re-enter the federal work force, whichever comes first.

How Do I Re-enter The Federal Work Force?

If you recover from your disability, you can apply for re-employment.  There is no guarantee that you will get your old job back.  However, you may be eligible for priority placement under the Interagency Career Transition Assistance Plan (ICTAP).  You must be proactive about applying for re-employment, and you will need to contact your former agency (employer) or the OPM.

If you plan to apply for re-employment, you must do so no later than one year after your disability annuity ends.


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FERS Question of the Week

QUESTION: Can I collect Workers’ Compensation and FERS disability at the same time?

ANSWER: No, you cannot collect both benefits at the same time. However, you should review both benefits programs to see which pays out more. If you elect to collect Workers’ Compensation, it still is a good idea to file for FERS since the FERS deadline firmly is one year after separation from service. At least your FERS application will be on file at OPM should you chance your mind about which benefits to collect.

Disability Criteria Under FERS/CSRS

For federal employees seeking to make a disability claim under the FERS/CSRS disability retirement system, sometimes just knowing whether you are eligible to make such a claim can be confusing and complicated.

And although the terms defined in the FERS Disability Manual are meant to help you determine disability eligibility, sorting through those definitions can be annoying, at best, and impossible, at worst, when you are struggling to deal with an illness or injury.