The federal government allows employees who are unable to work due to a mental or a physical condition to retire under a disability retirement. Because it is in the best interest of both an employee and the federal government for an employee to remain gainfully employed as long as the employee can provide useful and efficient service, disability retirement should be considered as a last option. Disability retirement should be used only when attempts have been made to preserve an employee’s federal employment, and those attempts have failed.
This is the first of several columns presenting the rules for FERS disability retirement. This first column will discuss generally statutory requirements that a FERS-covered employee must fulfill in order to qualify for a FERS disability retirement. Also presented will be the criteria OPM considers in determining whether to approve an FERS employee’s application for a disability retirement.
General Disability Retirement Eligibility Requirements
An employee will be eligible for a disability retirement annuity under FERS only if the employee is disabled while performing service in a position subject to the FERS retirement rules. The employee must also have at least 18 months of creditable civilian service. This creditable civilian service includes service for which full FERS employee contributions (made via payroll deduction) were made and not refunded. Non-deduction (temporary-intermittent) service that was performed prior to January 1,1989 in which a full deposit was made is included in the 18-month minimum service requirement. Also included is refunded FERS service in which a full redeposit of FERS contributions was made after October 28, 2009.
Any FERS employee who was placed in “CSRS interim” during 1984-1986 in which full Social Security (FICA) taxes were deducted and full or reduced CSRS deductions were taken and not refunded, can count that service time towards the minimum 18-month requirement.
Note that any “non-deduction” (temporary or intermittent) service after Dec. 31,1988 in which a deposit in not permitted cannot be included as part of the 18-month minimum FERS service requirement.
Once an employee’s agency determines that an employee meets the general statutory requirements for disability criteria, the agency and the employee must then document that the employee satisfied the disability criteria required by regulations. These disability criteria are:
· A deficiency in service with respect to performance, attendance or conduct
· A medical condition that is defined as a health impairment resulting from disease or injury
· The duration of the medical condition, both past and expected, and the expectation that in all probability the disability will continue for at least one year from the date the application for disability has been filed
· The inability of the employing agency to reasonably accommodate the employee’s medical condition, and
· The agency has considered the employee for reassignment to any vacant position within the employing agency and commuting areas, at the same grade or pay level for which the employee is qualified
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The employee is responsible for furnishing sufficient medical evidence to support the application for FERS disability retirement. The employee’s medical documentation will normally be information from a personal physician. If the employee’s agency conducts the examination, the result of the examination must be furnished with the application.
Affected employees should note that disability retirement will not be approved when persistence of the medical condition that has caused the employee’s service deficiency results from a failure or refusal to accept non-invasive treatment. The non-invasive treatment would ordinarily be expected to support activities of daily living. This is the case unless acceptance of treatment conflicts with the employee’s religious beliefs.
OPM will not approve an application for disability retirement when there is reasonable expectation that recovery will occur within one year after the filing of the application for disability retirement. A FERS disability retirement is appropriate only when all the criteria have been met.
A longstanding stable medical condition that predates a recently acquired service deficiency will probably not meet the criteria for a FERS disability retirement. The agency has no further obligation under the disability retirement program to support an employee’s disability retirement if the agency’s review of the medical documentation does not support a conclusion that: (1) the service deficiency has been caused by the medical condition; or (2) the medical condition warrants restriction from critical tasks or duties of the position.
Filing the Application for FERS Disability Retirement
It is always preferable that an employee complete the application for FERS disability retirement with the employee agency’s assistance. An employee’s representative (such as a family member) may also file an application for disability retirement.
The applicant must complete SF 3107, Application for Retirement and SF 3112A, Applicant’s Statement of Disability, when applying for disability retirement benefits. The applicant also must apply for Social Security disability benefits. A receipt or a notice of approval or disapproval of disability benefits from the Social Security Administration should be submitted with the application for FERS disability retirement or as soon as possible thereafter.
The following documents must accompany the application for FERS disability retirement:
1. SF 3112A, Employee Statement of Disability
2. SF 3112B, Supervisor’s Statement
3. SF 3112C, Physician’s Statement
4. SF 3112D, Agency Certification of Reassignment and Accommodation Efforts
5. SF 3112E, Disability Retirement Application Checklist
A determination of disability is made only when the information submitted along with the application for disability retirement indicates there is a service deficiency – caused by disease or injury – of a sufficient nature to prevent useful and efficient service by the employee. OPM will allow a disability retirement claim only if the submitted documentation clearly and specifically meet the criteria as discussed above.
OPM’s Disability Division issues the decision either allowing or disallowing the disability application. Approval of an application means that the application and the supporting documents meet the criteria for disability retirement. Disallowance of an application means that the application and supporting documentation do not meet the criteria for approval. Disallowance of an application does not mean, however, that the employee may not be disabled, nor that the agency may not have difficult circumstances to resolve. It simply means that the documentation does not demonstrate that the criteria for disability retirement have been met. Notice of either an allowance or a disallowance decision will be sent to both the employee and the employee’s agency.
Separated employees who have applied for FERS disability retirement should not be on annual leave. If the employee is on annual leave, separation from federal service should be as soon as possible, no later than the end of the pay period on which the notice of approval is received.
Reconsideration and Appeal
An employee whose disability retirement application is disallowed may request reconsideration of OPM’s initial decision. A notice of the initial decision gives full instruction on how to request reconsideration. The following are the procedures pertaining to a request for reconsideration:
· The reconsideration request must be in writing and must be received at OPM within 30 calendar days of OPM’s initial decision
· When an employee requests reconsideration of the initial decision, OPM reviews the employee’s retirement file and any additional evidence submitted with the request for reconsideration, and
· A final written decision is issued to the employee and to the employee’s agency.
An employee may appeal an OPM reconsideration decision to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) under the following circumstances:
· The appeal must be filed with the MSPB within 35 days of the date of the reconsideration decision. A decision gives full instructions on how to appeal the decision to the appropriate field office of the MSPB, and
· Under unusual circumstances, a decision may be issued initially at the highest level of review available within OPM. In this case, the decision will not be subject to OPM’s reconsideration, and the employee has a right to appeal directly to the MSPB.