Step increases during disability

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Q. I am a veteran of the armed forces and a civilian federal firefighter of Hawaii and have about 13 years government time under FERS.

While on duty in 2010, we were in route in the fire engine and an oncoming vehicle lost control and collided with the fire engine, causing substantial injuries to myself and the crew. The majority of the kinetic energy was absorbed by me because the point of impact was where I was seated.

I sustained injuries to my lumbar area in my lower back and injuries to my left limb, for which I’ve undergone a major back surgery, countless doctors’ visits and therapies, etc. I am still recovering from the injuries and presently on modified light duty at four hours a day, five days a week. I was on total disability for about 2 years and noticed that my retirement investment into my Thrift Savings Plan was at a freeze or standstill, where an injured employee could not invest into their TSP while on leave without pay. I also noticed that while on total disability, an injured employee goes into LWOP status, which human resources said affects your within-grade increases to where you are not entitled to move up in step increases.

Is there a new law that helps with retirement benefits for workers hurt on the job? After intensive research, I stumbled across an article by Stephen Barr dated Oct. 10, 2003, informing that President Bush signed legislation that will help make up any shortfall in retirement benefits for federal employees who are disabled or injured while on the job. It mentions the new law will change the way a federal employee’s benefits are calculated during a disability by increasing the pension benefit provided under FERS to cover any shortfall.

Is there also any new law or standard act that helps with entitlements for step increases for workers hurt on the job? Ever since I was injured on the job in 2010, and because of the injuries I sustained I was on total disability in LWOP status not by choice, the opportunity to move up in step increase passed me over twice. As co-workers who were hired the same day as me moved up in step increase, I was denied. Can you advise?

A. I’m not aware of any law that would “help make up any shortfall in retirement benefits for federal employees who are disabled or injured on the job.” However, as the result of a court case, there was a change in the way disability retirement benefits are calculated. Go to www.opm.gov/retire/pubs/bals/2010/10-105.pdf and read the Office of Personnel Management’s Benefits Administration Letter that describes enhanced disability and survivor annuity computations under CSRS and FERS.

To the best of my knowledge there haven’t been any laws, regulations or standards that would alter the way that step increases are earned.

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