July 13, 2024

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How Federal Employees and Postal Workers Become Eligible For Disability Retirement Through OPM

4 min read

Federal Employees an postal workers have the option to apply for disability retirement from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The purpose of this article is to summarize the key elements of an application for Federal Disability Retirement.

Eligibility. First, you must be eligible to apply. A Federal employee gains basic eligibility by meeting certain time in service requirements. For FERS employees, you must have completed at least 18 months of continuous creditable service in a position subject to FERS. For CSRS employees, you must have completed five years of continuous creditable service.

Once he or she has proved basic eligibility, the Federal Employee or USPS employee must show that he or she has a disabling medical condition. OPM will consider a medical condition – or a disease – disabling for your disability retirement application if you: 1) have a medical condition or disease; 2) that medical condition or disease results in a deficiency in performance, conduct or attendance. Another way to show that your medical condition is disabling – particularly if there is not any performance, conduct or attendance deficiency – is to prove that your medical condition or disease is incompatible with either useful and efficient service or retention in your current position.

This is the most difficult element t to prove. You should consider submitting evidence of the following in order to prove the disability element:

1) Objective clinical findings from your treating physicians and specialists, including written proof of diagnoses and medical opinions;
2) Your own evidence of pain and disability. This is called subjective evidence, and it can include a sworn affidavit from you describing how the pain of the disability also affects you. It can include statements from co-workers, family, friends – anyone in a capacity to observe your physical pain from medical conditions. The more obvious the physical pain and the more obvious the medical condition, the more likely that lay opinions of pain and disability are likely to be given weight. This type “subjective evidence” will only be given evidentiary weight by the MSPB and OPM when it is supported by competent and objective medical evidence.
3) Any other evidence that shows that your medical condition or disease impacts your ability to perform in your current civil service job, at the level expected of your grade or class.

Once the Federal employee or USPS worker has shown OPM that he or she has basic eligibility, and shown OPM that he or she has a disabling medical condition, the Federal employee/Postal worker will have to show OPM that the condition is continuous. In other words, if your disabling medical condition is expected to continue for at least 1 year from the date the disability retirement application is filed, then you will be able to meet the continuity element. This prevents employees with temporary conditions from receiving disability retirement benefits. This is the easiest element to prove, but sometimes seems to be the most easily overlooked in the application.

Accommodation/Reassignment After showing basic eligibility, disability, and continuity, the Federal Employee or USPS employee applying for federal disability retirement must show OPM that his or her employing Agency cannot accommodate the disability (under the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act and/or Rehab Act, etc). Typically this is done by submitting your completed application to your employing Agency’s HR office, who will work with the supervisor to prepare your “Supervisor Statement”. This is a form that the Agency will add to your disability retirement application and submit to OPM. One word of caution – if the Agency has made a reasonable offer of reassignment to a vacant position which you turned down, then you will not be able to receive disability retirement. If you get a job offer from your Agency or from the Office of Workers’ Compensation (OWCP), you should consider contacting an attorney who represents federal employees before making your decision. The wrong decision could have significant financial ramifications.

Application for Social Security Disability. The last major element for a thorough application for disability retirement to OPM is that the Federal Employee or Postal Employee must also apply for Social Security Disability when seeking OPM Disability Retirement. You don’t actually have to receive Social Security Disability, but if you do, then there could be a couple results. First, your OPM annuity will be reduced so that you don’t “double-dip” the federal government for the same disability. Second, if your Social Security Disability is approved before your OPM disability, you could use that as evidence supporting your OPM disability retirement application. Third, if your Social Security Disability is approved after your Federal Disability Retirement is approved, then you could end up owing OPM money, and you might be required to follow Federal Regulations known as the “set-aside” provisions.

If your initial request for Federal disability retirement is denied, you will have one opportunity to request that OPM reconsider the decision – you will have to file this request for reconsideration within thirty (30) days of the denial of federal disability retirement or you will not get any more appeals later. If your reconsideration request is denied, you will in all likelihood have an appeal right to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).

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