Disability retirement vs. regular retirement


Q. I’m a letter carrier with 32 years of federal service under FERS. I have 2½ years to go before I meet my minimum retirement age. I’m considering disability retirement because my health has been keeping me from work. What will I lose or gain (pros and cons) between regular retirement and disability retirement. Which is stronger financially?

A. FERS disability retirement provides the greater benefit, even for employees with as many years as you have. Note: If you file for FERS disability retirement, you must also file for Social Security disability benefits.


About Author

Reg Jones was head of retirement and insurance policy at the Office of Personnel Management. Email your retirement-related questions to fedexperts@federaltimes.com.


  1. If you take regular retirement, as an LEO with 23 years of service you’d receive 39.1 percent of your high-3. If you were approved for disability retirement, for the first 12 months, you’d receive 60 percent of your high-3, minus 100 percent of any Social Security disability benefit. After the first 12 months, you’d receive 40 percent of your high-3, minus 60 percent of any Social Security disability benefit. Note: It can takes months for OPM to process a disability retirement case.


    • Mr. Jones,
      I am a Federal LEO with 25 years of covered service. I have a medical disability which prevents me from preforming my duties as a law enforcement officer. My question is would it be wiser for me to file a regular FERS retirement or a disability retirement? I believe if I file regular retirement I would get 39% of my High 3 plus SSI. My local field office doesn’t have an HR department so my office is no help.
      Thank you,
      Flying FAM

      • Start by finding out which avenue will be the best for you financially. If you retire your annuity will be based on the following formula:

        .017 X your high-3 X your years and full months of service
        If you have reached your minimum retirement age, you will also be entitled to the special retirement supplement, which approximates the amount of Social Security benefit you earned while a FERS employee. Even if you haven’t reached your MRA you’ll be entitled to the SRS, which approximates the amount of Social Security benefit you earned while a FERS employee. That benefit will continue to age 62 when you first become eligible to apply for a Social Security benefit.

        If you apply for disability retirement, you’ll also have to apply for Social Security disability benefits. Then your your FERS annuity will be based on this formula:

        For the first 12 months: 60 percent of your high-3 minus 100 percent of any Social Security disability benefit
        Thereafter to age 62: 40 percent of your high-3 minus 60 percent of any Social Security disability benefit
        At age 62: your FERS annuity will be converted to a regular annuity. Any Social Security disability benefit to which you are entitled will continue.

        While applying for a regular retirement is a snap, applying for disability retirement involves a lot of paperwork, a medical exam, and a long wait before you get an answer.

  3. How do you know if you qualify? I am struggling sitting or standing at work(USPS). I am also a disabled vet. I’ve been with the USPS for 29 yrs and I’m 55yrs old.

    • You would have to apply for disability retirement and, if you are covered by FERS, you would also need to apply for Social Security disability benefits. You’re agency personnel office is responsible for helping you through the process.

  4. Krista Weyer on

    I worked as a PMR for 5.5 yrs and then as a PTF clerk for the last 13 yrs. I’m 54 yrs old, and due to a shoulder injury (that has yet to be proven a OWCP case) I’m unable to perform all of the duties of my job and I meet all of the criteria for disability retirement. Am I going to lose the contributions I’ve paid into? And how will my retirement benefits be calculated?

  5. 54 years old, 25 years as a mail carrier. Facing separation not being able to return to work within one year. Is disability retirement the best option or should I try for accomodation in a position suited to my limitations. I will be unable to work as a mail carrier. There is no guarantee the USPS will try to accomodate me. Thank you.

    • While accommodation may be a possibility, you should apply for disability retirement now while your agency can help you complete the necessary paperwork.

      • Thank you. I will be getting someone to help me with completing the necessary paperwork. I am currently receiving owcp benefits, which as long as they last may be better than electing disability retirement. I am trying to figure out the financial implications of each to make the best decision. There will be a significant third-party offset and my owcp benefits will be suspended until it is cleared. I don’t know how this period of suspended benefits will affect any separation, light-duty job offer, or vocational training activity. Medical clearance for return to any duty is still uncertain. I am reading as much as I can, but there is a huge amount of information. Can you give me any direction for any of these concerns?

  6. I am a registered nurse working for a county hospital for 13 years. I am 49 years old and was diagnosed with lupus a year ago. What are my options about getting disability retirement when I turn 50 in a few months ? and what are my chances of getting social security disability ?

  7. I retired after two injuries and got Disability Social Security in 2008 and at my regular social security date in 2012 my payment was changed to regular social security. Am I still considered disabled and should an insurance that had a rider to pay policy premium still pay my premiums?

  8. Raymond Bisares on

    I recently turned 62. Four years ago, I had my disability retirement approved by USPS. Unfortunately, social security did not approve my disability and didn’t receive any monthly benefit until I turned 62 and that was at the non disability dollar rate. Does my USPS disability retirement monthly annuity increase to what a voluntary immediate retirement is? And, since I turned 62 several months ago, will OPM process a lump sum payment to cover those several months.
    Thank you.

    • Here are the rules for FERS disability retirees:
      At age 62, your disability benefit will be recomputed. An artificial retirement benefit will be calculated as if you had worked to age 62, Therefore, actual service will be added to the time you spent on the disability rolls to age 62. The total time will then be multiplied by 1 percent (1.1 percent if your actual service plus time on disability equals 20 or more years of service). The total percentage amount will be multiplied by your high-3 at the onset of your disability, increased by all FERS cost-of-living adjustments payable from that time to age 62. If that benefit is greater than the one you were receiving, you’d be entitled to a make-up payment. If it isn’t, you wouldn’t.

  9. I’m a Federal Employee with 27 years of service. The career field I’m in keeps injuring my shoulders. I’m currently getting ready for my fourth rotator surgery. I recently spoke with a lawyer who recommended I apply for Federal Employee Disability Retirement. I’m 54 years old. I will start to collect my Military Retirement at age 60. Do you have any advice? I’m also a injured veteran and if I’m excepted by FEDR will it effect my VA money? Thank you.

  10. Mr. Jones, thank you for responding back. If there is anything else you can provide knowledge wise I would appreciate it. As I stated this is a scary decision for me to make. I don’t know how the health insurance will work or how the life insurance will work? I of course have both of these as a federal worker which I pay for but what happens if I’m excepted into the FEDR? Do I keep them? Does the amount get taken out of my pay? Is the FEDR better then trying to finish working until retirement age? Thanks again for your help.

    • If you are approved for disability retirement, your coverage under the FEHB and FEGLI programs will continue. Deduction for those coverages will be taken from your annuity. In most cases, the benefits available to FERS disability retirees are greater than those for employees who retire on a regular annuity. Note: When you apply for FERS disability retirement, you must also apply for Social Security Disability Insurance. If you don’t OPM won’t even consider your application.

  11. One last question I hope you don’t mind. If I’m accepted into FEDR and lets say I’m also accepted for Social Security Disability Insurance would I be able to work part time in the civilian work force? or is there no working allowed at all? Thank you again!

    • According to OPM, “Earning capacity is considered restored if, in any calendar year, the annuitant’s income from wages or self-employment or both equals at least 80 percent of the current rate of pay for the position occupied immediately prior to retirement.” If you exceed that amount, your FERS disability annuity would stop. The rules are much stricter for Social Security Disability Insurance. To continue receiving SSDI benefits, you cannot engage in any substantial gainful activity.

  12. I am 58 years old, a 100% disabled veteran, and although I have been on a career appointment I took a term appointment in DC to increase my high 3 for retirement purposes. My term appointment will end two months before I turn 60. I think my agency will extend my appointment at least to allow me to reach age 60. If I retire before age 60 I will get a hefty reduction in retirement pay. My health is deteriorating, and although a doctor wrote a reasonable accommodation letter for telework my supervisor did not allow complete telework. I don’t think I will be able to continue working and commuting until age 60 and I could apply for disability now and I believe I would be approved, but for personal financial reasons I prefer to wait until age 59. My understanding is that it takes about a year to get approval or denial of a disability retirement under FERS.
    Is this the best way to proceed, to wait until I am 59? And would it be more financially beneficial for me to receive disability retirement versus regular retirement at age 60?

    • There is no reason to delay applying for disability retirement. The benefits you’d receive if approved would be the same whether you had only 18 months of service or as many years as you have. When you apply for disability retirement you must also apply for Social Security disability benefits (SSDI), otherwise OPM won’t process your application.

      • Thank you for your reply. I have one other question. If I apply for SSAN benefits and I am denied but was approved for FERS disability, what would happen if I applied for and received widows SSAN benefits from my spouses SSAN benefits. Would my FERS disability be reduced by the amount of the widows SSAN benefits or only from my personal SSAN benefits?

  13. I forgot to add I was eligible to retire in 2018 and have been working from home for the last 3 years or more due to my disability. Degenerative discs, rotator surgery in need of total knee replacements. I use walking aids in and outside the home. I believe I have the time but not the age. I need advice on how to retire medically. What steps do I take? I am under FERS and partially CRS

  14. I have 31 years working for the U.S.P.S. I am 54 years old and I’ve torn my rotator cuff 3 times! Once on the right and twice on the left! All of my injuries were approved on the job injuries and after talking to my doctor he said that it would be best to go out for disability retirement!

  15. In March 2020, If you become retirement eligible under FERS (60 years old), but have a disability, should you retire or apply for federal disability retirement?

    • You’ll have to compare what you’d receive from a regular retirement with what you’d receive from a disability retirement. If the difference in favor of a disability retirement is small enough, it might be sensible to take regular retirement. That way you’d save yourself the paperwork and doctor’s bills needed to establish your eligibility.

      • So, I have been told, that if eligible for retirement within a few months, and the disability paperwork is filed and has to go to OPM, which might take 9 months to 1 year to approve, that because I was eligible for retirement that I could not get disability retirement. So, are you saying that is not the case?

  16. 40yr old TSA worker on the job for 14yrs dealing with mental health issues that affect work with TSA but most likely not qualify for SSD. Would I be able to apply for retirement disability?

    • Yes, you would. Your local personnel office can explain how you do that and provide you with the necessary paperwork.

  17. Kandra Larsen on

    I have worked for a school system for 14 years and have had rheumatoid arthritis for 13 years.

    What would be better:

    1. disability retirement through the state
    2. regular retirement along with disability through social security

    And, if you are approved for disability through social security Or the state – can you receive/extend your medical insurance coverage?

    Thank you.

  18. Hi Mr Jones…I was approved for ssdi benefits while on owcp from the USPS. I’m 61. Will be 62 in February of 2021. Should I apply for retirement disability or regular disability…and what would happen to the owcp payments and my pension…also is annuity and pension the same thing….thanks so much…need help ASAP…confused.

  19. Once you hit 62 and they re-calculate your retirement is it at 60% or 40% and do they still deduct Social Security? do you get both full Social Security and 60%or 40% of your Highest three? Will they still deduct Social Security?

    • When you reach age 62, an artificial retirement benefit will be calculated as if you had worked to age 62. To do this, actual service will be added to the time you spent on disability retirement. The total time will then be multiplied by 1 percent (1.1 percent if your actual service plus time spent on disability equals 20 or more years of service). The total percentage will then be multiplied by your high-3 that existed at the onset of your disability, increased by any FERS COLAs payable from that time to age 62. You will continue to receive your Social Security benefit. Note: Social Security deductions are never taken from retirement annuities.

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