When it comes to federal disability retirement, understanding the role of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is critical. As an employee working for a federal government agency, you're likely familiar with OPM and its responsibilities, but may not realize how they can affect your federal disability retirement plans.
Through this blog post, we hope to shed some light on how OPM decides your CSRS or FERS disability retirement application—and provide valuable information, so you know what steps need to be taken when it's time for you to start thinking about retiring due to a disability.
What is the Office of Personnel Management (OPM)?
The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is a federal agency responsible for overseeing and managing the civil service employment and retirement programs. It works to recruit, hire, and retain the best-performing employees across all federal agencies to provide quality and efficient government services. OPM's mission is to create an efficient and merit-driven civil service system that ensures federal agencies can access high-performing individuals in every role.
OPM provides training and support to ensure employees are equipped with the skills needed to excel as part of their government departments and offices. The agency also creates policies, standards, and procedures that help ensure only qualified and well-performing personnel are hired and retained as federal employees. In addition, OPM sets civil service pay levels appropriate for positions within each federal department it serves. Ultimately, OPM strives to create a civil service system that meets both employee needs and those of the broader public sector.
What Are The Eligibility Requirements for Federal Disability Retirement Benefits Under OPM Regulations?
Under the Civil Service and Federal Employees Retirement Systems (CSRS and FERS) are regulated and enforced by OPM, Federal Disability Retirement Benefits under OPM's regulations are available to any federal employee with a disability that prevents them from performing the basic functions of their current federal employment position. Under the prevailing FERS statute and regulations, you must have completed at least 18 months of creditable service in a FERS-covered position with a federal agency to be eligible. You must provide medical documentation showing that your disabling condition, which prevents you from further performing your job duties, is expected to last at least one year from its diagnosis date.
Additionally, you must have submitted all required paperwork within 12 months of being separated from federal employment due to your disability, usually for medical inability to perform the duties of your position of record. Meeting these three requirements is essential for becoming eligible for FERS Disability Retirement Benefits under OPM regulations.
How to Apply for Federal Disability Retirement Benefits
Applying for FERS Disability Retirement benefits can be complicated and time-consuming, but it doesn't have to be. An experienced attorney can guide you and your treating physicians through the process efficiently.
It starts with filing a completed Standard Form (SF)-3112A with your employing federal agency's Human Resources component or, if you are no longer employed by the United States Government, directly with OPM and providing them the necessary medical documentation to prove eligibility. Needed documents can include medical records and doctors' statements that attest to your disability and its expected duration.
In addition, applicants are required to submit an SF-3112B, involving a detailed description of how their medical condition affects their ability to perform their job duties. The application must also prove that workers' compensation laws shouldn't cover the disability. (If there is a question whether an employee's work caused or exacerbated the employee's disability, they should also file a Workers Compensation Claim through their employing agency if they are still employed at the time the claim is filed or directly with the Department of Labor's (DOL) Office of Workers Compensation Programs (OWCP) after federal employment has concluded. The employee will then receive the benefit (Workers Comp. or Disability Retirement) that are qualified for that pays more (typically Workers Comp), and the lower paying benefit will be held in abeyance until such time the former employee is no longer eligible to receive Workers Compensation, as which point, disability retirement annuity payments will commence.
While it's never easy to apply for disability benefits, putting together the proper documentation can make all the difference in getting approved for those much-needed benefits by OPM.
Understanding the Medical Documentation Needed to File a Successful OPM Disability Retirement Application
Gathering accurate and thorough medical records is crucial to filing a successful OPM disability retirement application. Understanding exactly which documents are needed is the key to success during this process.
Applicants need to review information about requirements for medical evidence of disability for OPM disability retirement to understand better why certain medical documents must be included and how some extra documentation can make your claim more compelling.
What Should I Do If My Federal Disability Retirement Application is Denied?
If your Federal Disability Retirement application is denied, it's essential to remain calm and explore your options. Specifically, you have 30 calendar days from the initial decision denying your application in which to request OPM reconsideration of their adverse initial decision. In that reconsideration process, you can bolster the medical evidence you originally submitted to OPM with your application. If you receive an adverse OPM reconsideration decision, you have 30 calendar days to file an appeal with the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board for a hearing before an administrative judge. If you are unsatisfied with the MSPB's Initial Decision, you can file a written Petition for Review (PFR) with the full MSPB within 35 days of the Initial Decision. Thereafter, if you are unhappy with MSPB's Final Decision on PFR, you can timely file a petition for review with the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Federal Circuit), the second highest federal court in the United States, and, if ultimately unsuccessful before the Federal Circuit, a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court of the United States.
You can do several things to strengthen an appeal, including gathering additional medical evidence or obtaining an opinion from a vocational expert. Additionally, you can seek legal advice and representation through the disability retirement process from a knowledgeable attorney specializing in federal disability retirement cases.
An experienced attorney can provide valuable insight and assistance to help strengthen your appeal and increase your chance of success.
Defend Your Rights & Your Career
In short, understanding how OPM works when it comes to federal disability retirement is essential for any employee who is considering filing for benefits. Knowing the eligibility requirements and how to apply successfully are vital steps in making your case to OPM, so ensure you have all the necessary information before beginning your application process. With the help of an experienced federal employment attorney, you can ensure that your federal disability retirement application has a better chance of being approved by OPM.
At The Law Firm of John P. Mahoney, Esq., Attorneys at Law, PLLC, our team of experienced attorneys can help you navigate the complexities of the OPM disability retirement application process. We'll work hard to ensure that your rights are enforced, and your career is protected every step of the way. Contact us today at (202) 350-3881 to schedule an initial phone consultation and learn how we can help with your federal disability retirement benefits.