I’ve been getting a lot of emails from employees who wonder if they would qualify for disability retirement. In this column, I’ll lead you through the criteria the Office of Personnel Management uses to make that determination.
Let’s start with the bottom line. You may be eligible for disability retirement if you are so disabled by disease or injury that you can’t provide useful and efficient service in your current grade or pay level. The disease may be physical or mental, and the injury can have occurred on or off the job.
“Useful and efficient service,” according to OPM, is acceptable performance of the critical and essential elements of the job or the ability to perform at that level, and satisfactory conduct and attendance. In other words, less than this level of service would require your agency to take remedial action.
To qualify for disability retirement:
• Your medical condition must have caused the service deficiency.
• Your disability must be expected to last for at least one year.
• You must apply for disability retirement either before you leave government or within one year of that date. If you are unable to do so, your guardian or other interested person can apply on your behalf.
However, just because you meet these criteria doesn’t mean that you will be granted disability retirement. There’s one more hurdle to get over. Your agency must certify that it can’t accommodate your condition in your current position or in another position at your grade or pay level for which you may be qualified.
If your agency does offer you an equivalent position that accommodates your disability and is located in your commuting area and you decline the offer, you won’t be eligible for disability retirement. Instead, your agency would be free to begin proceedings to demote or separate you.
When applying for disability retirement, you and your agency personnel specialist must fill out Standard Form 3112, Documentation in Support of Disability Retirement Application, available in your personnel office or on OPM’s website.
If you are a Federal Employees Retirement System employee, you must also apply for Social Security disability benefits. If you don’t, OPM won’t process your application. You can apply online for Social Security disability benefits by going to the Social Security website.
You must supply sufficient medical evidence to support your case. As a rule, this would come from your personal physician or physicians. That evidence will be reviewed by your agency’s medical professionals. If they agree with what has been submitted, they’ll add their concurrence to your application, which will be forwarded to OPM. However, if they don’t agree, you can still apply for disability retirement, but without your agency’s support.
If your disability retirement application is approved by OPM and your condition is judged to be permanent, no further follow-up may be required. However, if your condition isn’t permanent, until age 60 you will be required to undergo periodic medical re-evaluations to find out whether you are still suffering from the condition that led to yourdisability retirement.
Also until age 60, OPM will determine each year if you have been restored to earning capacity. You’ll have to provide information about your earnings from wages or self-employment, which OPM will cross-check with the IRS. You would be considered to be restored if those earnings exceed 80 percent of the current base pay for the position you occupied before you went on disability retirement.
If OPM determines that you have recovered from your disability or been restored to earning capacity, your annuity payments will continue for a while to allow you to seek re-employment.
If you have recovered, those payments will continue for one year. If you’ve been restored to earnings capacity, they’ll only continue for six months. Should your annuity stop, it can be reinstated if either your disabling medical condition recurs or your earning capacity once again falls below the 80 percent level.