Break in service and vested time


Q. I am a 29-year-old federal employee and I may have to move at some point in next few years because of my husband’s work or if I go back to school. I have been working for 2½ years; if I leave, I am hoping to return to a job in the federal government at some point). I am wondering how vesting works for my FERS annuity. Will I have to work a consecutive five years to keep both before I can leave, or do I bank that time if I decide to come back? For example, if I work for 3½ years then leave and come back two years later and work for 30+ years, will I keep what was put into my annuity during my first 3½ years when I come back?

A. You have to have five years of service to be vested in the retirement system. Those years don’t have to be consecutive. For example, if you left after 3½ years, came back after a two-year break, and worked for 1½ more years, you’d be vested. If you took a refund of your retirement deductions when you left, you’d have to redeposit that amount, plus accrued interest.


About Author

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


  1. I have worked for the veterans affairs for 3.5 years. Thinking of taking a job in the community but working at the va part time 16 hrs per week. Can you acquire a vested status while working part time for the next 1.5 years?

  2. Hello!

    I am working at the VA as an intermittent employee. I currently do not receive benefits. Will I still be considered “vested” if I work for 3+ years, or does that only count if I am fulltime?

  3. Hi! I also work for the VA Hospital as a permanent employee. This October will be three yrs of consecutive employment.
    1. How many years would I need to be vested?
    2. If I decide to have break in service to work for private sector, how many yrs do I need to have completed first? Thanks

    • To be vested in the retirement system, you have to have three years of creditable service. Once vested, you could leave and work elsewhere. However, to be eligible for a retirement benefit, you’d have to have a minimum of 5 years of creditable service.

  4. Kozfey Murray on

    I would like to get my retirement from my years with the VAMC .How can this happen? I am at my actual retirement age as of December 16th.

    • Assuming that you’re a current employee, which retirement system are you in, CSRS or FERS? What is your date of birth? How many years of service do you have?

  5. Wayland Strickland on

    I have 10 years with the VA, and I paid my military deposit (14 years, 9 months, 18 days), so my total time is 24 years 9 months. I’m leaving to return to school full-time. If I come back after 3-5 years, I’ve been told I would be starting over, e.g. all that time is gone b/c of the break in service? Is that true?

    • No, it isn’t true. As long as you don’t ask for a refund of your retirement contributions and military deposit, you would get full credit for all that time when you return to work for the federal government.

  6. Mr. Jones, I worked for DoD for 4 years between 1991-1995. I withdrew my annuity contributions when I left. After 22 years elsewhere, I am considering returning the Federal workforce. Would I be able to “buyback” my 4 years of civil service by paying back my annuity with interest? If I could, it would seem I’d only need to work one year to be eligible for a 5 year deferred retirement. It seems most former civil servants can do so, but I appear to fall in a null zone according to OPM website. The language below is from OPM (and also repeated in instructions on the SF 3108):

    ‘Historically, if you receive a refund of FERS deductions after the effective date of your FERS coverage, you could never redeposit these funds, and the period covered by the refund would not be used to establish title to an annuity or in calculating the annuity benefit.
    However, one of the provisions of PL 111-84 allows individuals who were covered under the FERS system on or after October 28, 2009, to make a redeposit for refunded FERS service. If the redeposit is not paid, the service is still used toward title and in the average salary computation, but not to compute the annuity benefit.”


    • You are misreading the language. What it means is that if a FERS employee who took a refund of his retirement contributions returns to government service on or after October 28, 2009, he CAN redeposit that money. What it doesn’t say is that he would also have to pay the accrued interest.

  7. Well, that is wonderful news. Thank you very much. The amount I withdrew was very small after just four years, so interest should not be a big issue even after all these years. Key for me is now knowing that once I redeposit the money that:
    1. I will be starting my federal service with 4 years FERS civil service credit;
    2. Work one year and I am 5 year deferred retirement eligible;
    3. Work three years and my high three is much better since salary in 1994 was not so great; and if I
    4. Work five more years I would be eligible to maintain FEHB (assuming I enroll immediately upon re-entering the federal work force). [Actually I did have FEHB those first four years I worked, so maybe I would only have to work one more year to be eligible to carry over FEHB?]

    Thank you again for your very helpful and incredibly prompt reply.

    • Glad to be of help. P.S. if you were enrolled in the FEHB program when you left and immediately reenroll when you return to work for the government, those two periods will be treated as if they were continuous.

  8. Of help? Your answers regarding these federal benefits and how they apply to my situation were much more than that. They were enormously beneficial to me and may have helped steer me towards federal service as I re-chart the last chapter of my career. I don’t know how you stay on top of all these inquiries and respond with such promptness and authority, but you are a treasure.

  9. Hello, I worked for the National Labor Relations Board (FERS) for 4 years and left to work with California MTA and California Department of Justice (CalPers). My question is do either of those California state agencies have reciprocity with the Federal government? If no, would I be able to purchase the 1 year left to vest in FERS?

  10. Sir, Your information has been helpful. Thank you for your time. So that I am clear, the five year rule for FEHB means that any total of five years prior to retirement allows one to take FEHB into retirement. So if I have 10 years of continuous federal service and was enrolled in FEHB the whole time, I could leave federal service for 15 years, the return to federal service at age 61, work for a year, and then retire with health benefits?

  11. Sam - Concerned Fed on

    Quick question:
    I have had multiple breaks in service due to military service since I joined civil service in 1999. I bought back my 84-92 active duty time and have continued to buy back all of my other military time from those breaks…my question is about health benefits continuing into retirement. This year I had a three month LWOP for military service and I’m looking to retire in less than five years. (My MRA is in 3yrs/2mo, and I’ll have 30 years of service) Will that three months LWOP trigger a requirement that I serve five more years in order to take my FEHB into retirement? Or, does USERRA protect me in that regard as well?

    • USERRA has nothing to do with it. To be eligible to carry your FEHB coverage into retirement, you have to be covered for the 5 consecutive years before you retire. As long as you were enrolled in the program before you went on LWOP and re-enrolled on your return, your enrollment will appear to have been seamless. Assuming that the FEHB enrollment periods before and after your LWOP total 5 years before you retire, you can carry that coverage into retirement.

    • If I left federal service as a with 15 years, promoted t0 GS 6 step 7 but left before 1 year at that grade . Will I be reinstated or paid at that same level if I am rehired. Didn’t have annuity payment, but did receive about $1500 when I resigned.

  12. Cynthia Edmonds on

    I worked for the VA for 7 years (plus 3 years of military service) for a total of 10 years. I am going back to the VA after a 2.5 years. When I am hired back, will I be hired back with the 10 years of service and will I have to start at the bottom of the GS scale (when I left I was a 5-5).

    • Any years of service that were credited to you before will be credited again when you return. If you are being reinstated, it will be at the same grade and step you had when you left. If you are going into an entirely different position, that might not be the case. Then you’d have to negotiate.

  13. I worked for a federal agency for 9 months to and left due to personal reason and to finish grad school. After I was done with school came back to same federal agency. I requested to get those 9 months that I previously worked with the agency credited I order to received a promotion faster, however the agency stated that I could not get those 9 months credited to me because the break in service was longer than 52 weeks. what the agency is saying it is correct? if the agency is wrong could you please point me in the right direction in how to get those 9 months credited? like under what regulation I would be able to support my case. Thank you.

  14. Sir, I worked for the Federal Government from 11/19/2012 to 06/08/2019 continueouly. I resigned my last position on 06/08/2019. On 10/15/2019 I was hired by another federal agency , so I had a break in service of 4+ months. When I was initially hired on 11/19/2012, I completed an SF 813 (Verification of a Military Retiree’s Service In NonWartime Campaigns or Expeditions) which was verified by my previous agencies and my SCD date for annual leave was established at 04/19/2008 (4 years and 7 months of additional eligible time used for leave). My new organization set my new SCD at 03/16/2016 when I in-processed. I questioned this for two reasons: 1. none of my previous federal time (6 years, 6 months) was taken into consideration in calculating my current SCD. 2. The campaign period that was withheld during this tour had been verified several times over the past 6+ years as I moved to different agencies (no break in service) for promotions etc. but my current agency indicated it was computed with errors. Currently I have not received clarification on these issues. Here is my question, do I lose credit for my previous period of federal employment (as it related to SCD (leave) because of my break in service? Also what regulations govern breaks in service related to leave? Any information you can provide would be great. Thanks Joe

    • No, you won’t lose credit for that period of prior service. It must be included when determining your total amount of service and used in the computation of your annuity when you retire.

  15. Hello, I am a GS employee and was trying to make it to 5years for full vesting because I took advantage of the military buy back program.

    I am at 4 years now and have been diagnosed with carpal tunnel and can no longer perform my duties at work.

    Can you please tell me what will happen if I’m forced into disability retirement before I hit 5 years?

    Thank you

  16. I worked with the VA from 2004 to 2017, worked at a private sector from May 2017 to January 2020. I have returned back to the VA mid January of this year and was placed at a lower GS than I had been previously and am working the same job. When I questioned why I was being offered a lower GS than I had been before the response I get is due to the break in service of over a year it’s like you started over again. Is this correct?

    • They can offer whatever they want. You are free to reject the offer and ask for a better one. Logic is not on their side.

  17. Mr. Jones,

    I am a special category employee with 15 years of SCE time. I am looking at moving and taking a regular FERS job and eventually coming back to finish my 5 years of SCE time to lock in 20 years for early retirement and to not loose my 1.7 per year FERS. What are the rules on special category break in service?

    • I’ve searched far and wide and haven’t come up with an definitive answer. The only bits and pieces I’ve encountered suggest that breaks no longer than 90 days might be the limit, other than when called to active duty in the military.

  18. Mr. Jones
    I am 45 years old. Looking to buy back 12 years and 4 months of prior military time. I currently work in the VA system as a registered nurse, retirement under FERS. I currently have 4 years in the federal system (total of 16). If I left the federal service now , am I entitled to a retirement without penalty?

    • In order to be eligible for an annuity, you would need to have 5 years of actual service. Only then would making a deposit to get credit for your active duty service make any sense. Assuming that you stay long enough to qualify for an annuity and make a deposit to get credit for your active duty service before you resign from the government, you would be eligible for a deferred annuity when you reach your minimum retirement age. (MRAs range between 55 and 57, depending on your year of birth.) If you applied for an annuity at your MRA, it would be reduced by 5 percent for every year (5/12th of 1 percent per month) that you age under age 62. Alternatively you could wait until age 62 and apply for an un-reduced annuity.

  19. I’m planning on leaving federal service after just over 2 years. I’m almost finished paying off my 4 year military buy back. Al though I won’t be vested, my credible service should still be 6 years when I return?

  20. In 2014 I started working for the VA after a break of a year or 2. Currently, I have to pay 4.4% of my salary for FERS (Retirement Code KF), whereas before it was a lot less (0.8%). Do you know if it is possible that I be counted in the old FERS system (Retirement Code K) given that my first start date was before 2012?

    • Because you were rehired in 2004, you were automatically required to contribute 4.4 percent unless you had at least 5 years of prior creditable or potentially creditable service. If you did, you should only have to contribute 0.08 percent.

  21. Hello,
    I have a few breaks in 5 years of civil service. I was refunded 1 year and six months of that five years. I also bought back four years of military service. Could I apply for a deferred retirement and collect on the time I paid into FERS minus the time I was refunded?
    Thank you for your help

    • To be entitled to a deferred annuity, you would have to have 5 years of actual FERS service. A period of FERS service for which you received a refund can’t be included in that 5 year determination. It’s as if it never happened. As for that active duty service for which you made a deposit, it would only be counted after you met the 5 year criterion.

  22. Hi, I worked at the VA as a nurse. I was full time for 2 years. I switched to part time at 0.6 FTE. I still see deductions from my paycheck to FERS. When you mention years of creditable service, is that calculated by hours worked, days worked, or just time employed? Just wondering if I have to work 3 more years for my pension to vest or will it take longer since I don’t work full time?

  23. I have 16 years of federal service. I have to relocate to another state and May need to resign from my current t employer and apply to other agencies in my new state of residence. The problem is I have an outstanding TSP loan and may not be able to pay it back within the 90 days if I don’t land employment. What can I do or what is the worse that can happen?

  24. I have 7 years of federal service under FERS. I may leave the federal government and have my retirement contributions paid to me. if I ever return to the federal service, am I required to pay it back?

    • You would only have to make a deposit, plus accrued interest, if you want that time to be used in any future annuity computation. In other words. if you don’t make the redeposit, that earlier period of service will be treated as if it never existed.

    • Craig,

      If you leave it alone, you can collect a pension from age 60 or 62 until your death. Leaving it alone might be an outstanding investment.

  25. I’m a bit confused about the term being vested. Is it 3 or 5 years working for the federal government? I’ve been working at the VA for 4 years and bought back 4 years of military time, what does that mean as far as time for to be “vested” and time counted for retirement purposes (I’m 51)?

    • To be vested in the retirement system, you need to have 5 years of civilian service. Active duty service for which you’ve made a deposit doesn’t count toward that goal.

  26. I worked for the VA for 2 years , but could not transfer in time to go to nursing school and had to exit completely and get rehired at another VA after 3 months, I have been there for 2 years. For retirement do I have 4 years total then? I was told that since I exited out completely I only had 2 years toward retirement and being vested.

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