Q. I am 53 and have 27 years in a law enforcement officer position covered by 6-C Special Retirement and am eligible (by both time and age) to retire. I was injured on duty and required surgery. I have been on OWCP for five months. I have been assigned an OWCP nurse case manager.
My doctor told me yesterday that he does not feel he can approve me to return to my position due to my injury and subsequent surgery. He is referring me for a Functional Capacity Exam, after which he will make his decision. (This is probably moot anyway, as I don’t think the agency’s medical people at HQ will sign off on me returning to an LEO position — because I now have a plate and pins in my hand.) My nurse case manager is notifying my DOL OWCP claims examiner of these proceedings and mentioned “vocational rehab” and “find you another position.”
First question: What should I legitimately expect from this process if my agency proceeds per established policy and procedure? What are its obligations as far as offering me an appropriate position?
Second question: When the time comes and I have exhausted my options, which is my better choice, FERS disability retirement for an LEO disabled on duty or my regular FERS retirement? There is a great deal of confusion surrounding disability retirement for LEOs disabled on duty (e.g., do I lose LEAP? Can I revert to my regular retirement later? If I accept a lower-paying position, with the OWCP paying the salary difference, will I lose out when I do retire under FERS?).
A. If you cannot perform the key elements of your position, your agency is required to exhaust all reasonable efforts before recommending disability retirement. (Go to www.opm.gov/retire/pubs/handbook/C060.pdf and scroll down to Section 60A2.1-4.) Further, it must make every effort to retain your services through reassignment to an available position for which you are qualified. (Scroll down to Section 60A2.1-5.) In either case, accommodation or reassignment, your entitlement to LEAP would depend entirely on the nature of the position you occupy.
Whether it would be better for you to accept disability retirement or regular retirement is a decision you’ll have to make. If you accept regular retirement, your annuity will be calculated using the more generous formula used for special category employees: 0.17 x your high-3 (which includes LEAP) x 20 years of covered service + 0.01 x your high-3 x all remaining years and full months of service. If you apply for disability retirement, you would also have to apply for Social Security disability benefits. If you were approved for disability retirement, for the first 12 months, you’d receive 60 percent of your high-3 (which includes LEAP), minus 100 percent of any Social Security disability benefit to which you are entitled. After the first 12 months, you’d receive 40 percent of your high-3 (which includes LEAP) minus 60 percent of any Social Security disability benefit. As a disability retiree, you would be required to provide periodic proof of your continued disability. If you were found to be recovered (or you exceeded the maximum earning limit in a calendar year — 80 percent of the current rate of pay for your position), your disability annuity would end and, because you already have the age and service needed to retire, you’d be given discontinued service retirement.
Because there are a lot of variables that can affect the relationship between OWCP and retirement, I suggest that you take the time to read through OPM’s chapter on the subject at www.opm.gov/retire/pubs/handbook/C102.pdf.