Q. I am 51 (I turn 52 in April) and have been a law enforcement officer for 23 years, plus four years of military time that I bought back. Because of torn retinas, I have lost all depth perception permanently and have been placed on light duty pending further medical review. I will likely be ruled unable to perform in a law enforcement position and unfit for duty. I wasn’t planning on retiring, but now it might be forced on me with a FERS disability retirement. If that is the case, what is better — to just retire voluntary, before they rule on me, or wait and go out on a disability retirement? I’m also confused on the SS supplement, unless you lose that because you’ll get SS benefits too.
A. Retiring voluntarily is a certain thing. Applying for disability retirement isn’t. There’s more paperwork involved, a longer wait for a determination and uncertainty about whether your application will be approved.
Assuming that either way would result in your retirement, you can check the math to find out which one makes better financial sense. As a regular retiree, you’d receive 34 percent of your high-3, plus the special retirement supplement once you reached your minimum retirement age. As a disability retiree, during the first 12 months you’d receive 60 percent of your high-3 minus 100 percent of any Social Security disability benefit you were entitled to. From that point forward, you’d receive 40 percent of your high-3 minus 60 percent of any Social Security disability benefit.
You wouldn’t be entitled to the special retirement supplement, even if you weren’t approved for a Social Security disability benefit.
Note: The standards for a Social Security disability benefit are much higher than those for FERS disability retirement. In the latter case, you only have to be sufficiently disabled that you can’t perform useful and efficient service in your own job or one of similar grade and/or pay. In the former, you have to be completely disabled for all gainful employment.