5 Steps to Filing an Application for Federal Disability Retirement

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Federal disability retirement is a benefit available to federal civil service employees and postal workers who meet certain requirements. The requirements for federal disability retirement can be broken down into six steps, based on the elements the employee must prove to show that he or she is eligible for a federal disability retirement annuity.

1. Confirm Your Eligibility

First, the federal employee or postal worker must be found "eligible." To be eligible, a FERS federal employee must have completed at least 18 months of service in a position covered by FERS. A CSRS federal employee must have five years of creditable service in a position under the CSRS (the system of federal retirement benefits until 1987).

2. Establish Evidence of Your Disability

Second, the federal employee or postal worker must be medically disabled. For the purposes of federal disability retirement, a federal employee is disabled if a medical condition has caused a "service deficiency in performance, conduct, or attendance" or an inability to perform "useful and efficient service." What does that mean? In a nutshell, you have to be unable to perform the essential functions of your current FERS or CSRS position because of the disability. You don't have to prove that you can't work any type of job.

By far, the this element is the most difficult to prove. Here is the type of evidence that will be considered:

  • objective clinical findings, diagnoses, and medical opinions
  • subjective evidence of pain and disability, and
  • any other evidence relating to the effect of the applicant's condition on her ability to perform in the grade or class of position last occupied.

Your subjective evidence of disability and pain (for example, your written statements and testimony) will be given evidentiary weight only when it is supported by competent medical evidence. For that reason, I recommend you have a lawyer's help in working with your doctor to create a well-prepared medical analysis of your condition and its effect on your ability to perform the job duties of your position.

3. Establish Continuity of Your Disability

Third, the federal employee must be able to show "continuity"; that is, that the disabling medical condition is expected to continue for at least one year from the date the disability retirement application is filed.

4. Prove You Could Not Be Accommodated or Reassigned

Fourth, the federal employee must show that he or she has not declined a reasonable offer of reassignment to a vacant position, and that the employing federal agency is not able to accommodate the disabling medical condition in the position that the employee has been assigned to.

5. File for Social Security Disability Insurance

If you are under age 62, FERS requires federal employees to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. For more information, see our section on Social Security Disability Insurance.

6. File the Application and Supporting Documentation

Fill out the following forms.

  • Form SF 3107, Application for Immediate Retirement, and

  • Form SF 3112, Documentation In Support of Disability Retirement.

When you submit these forms, include documentation that you have applied for SSDI.

Next: File a Timely Appeal

If OPM denies your application for federal disability retirement, you must appeal in a timely manner. You must first request reconsideration. If OPM denies your timely request for reconsideration, you have the right to appeal OPM's decision to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).

The FERS application process can be daunting and overwhelming for an individual applying for federal disability retirement. In addition to the elements listed above, decades of case law have refined and defined some of the above elements, and you may have to provide more or less information, depending on your unique situation. Contact a disability lawyer if you have doubts that you'll be approved for a disability retirement annuity or if you have been denied.

If Your Benefits Are Terminated

The OPM can decide that you are "restored to earning capacity" or "medically recovered" and stop paying you your federal disability retirement. This sometime happens when the civil service annuity was granted for a mental health condition in which there is a possibility of recovery or medical improvement. If OPM has terminated your disability retirement because your condition improved, you can get it reinstated if your condition gets worse again--if you are under age 62. The standards for seeking reinstatement are somewhat different depending on whether your annuity was terminated because you recovered or because you were restored to earning capacity. If you are going to seek reinstatement of previously terminated federal disability retirement benefits, you apply with the OPM.

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