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Disability Retirement and Position Descriptions for Federal Employees

November 4, 2017

By Kimberly H. Berry, Esq., www.retirementlaw.com

Our law firm handles many different types of federal retirement issues in our representation of federal employees. One of the more frequent types of federal retirement cases that we often handle involves the representation of federal employees in the disability retirement process before their various federal agencies and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Federal employees filing for disability retirement are typically covered under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) or the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). 

This article discusses the connection between federal employee position descriptions and disability retirement before OPM. 

6 Considerations

In this context, federal employees should consider the following questions before they pursue OPM disability retirement:

1. How serious are the federal employee’s medical issues and are they linked to the federal employee’s position description duties?

2. When making a disability retirement decision, keep in mind that OPM will evaluate their continued ability to work with their medical condition in the context of the duties described in the employee's position description. If the medical disability is not deemed serious enough, or not fully supported by medical documentation and evidence, and is not sufficiently linked to an inability to “usefully and efficiently” carry out their job duties, then OPM may deny the disability retirement application.

3. How long is the medical disability realistically expected to last? OPM requires that a medical disability be expected to last at least one year in duration. When considering whether to file for OPM disability retirement, it is important for you to consider the expected duration of the federal employee's medical disability. Disabilities with known shorter duration could be problematic for federal employees in the application process.

4. Can a federal employee survive on a reduced annuity?  If a federal employee is considering filing for OPM disability retirement, it is important understand that this type of retirement usually provides the individual with a lower monthly retirement annuity in comparison to full retirement. As a result, we recommend that you obtain benefit estimates from your human resources representative and consult with a financial advisor about the impact of a potential reduced annuity prior to filing for disability retirement.

5. Are there modifications to a federal employee’s current position that can be made to allow the federal employee to continue to work?  Oftentimes a federal agency will work with a federal employee to provide them with a reasonable accommodation (i.e., change in duties, hours, telework or other adjustments) that can make the federal employee's current position and medical condition workable. This can often be the best solution, even if it is only a short-term solution. As a part of the disability retirement process, the federal agency is required to certify that it is unable to accommodate the federal employee's disabling medical condition in their present position. The agency must also certify that it has considered the federal employee “for any vacant position in the same agency, at the same grade or pay level, and within the same commuting area, for which [you] qualified for reassign­ment.”

6. Do your medical professionals believe that you should not continue in your current position? This is a critical consideration when filing for OPM disability retirement. In most cases, physicians will be open with their patients about whether they think it is a good idea to keep working in their current federal employment position. There are at least two reasons to discuss a possible filing for OPM disability retirement with a federal employee's treating medical provider(s). First, the health of the federal employee should be of primary importance and a consideration when determining whether continuing in a job hinders or impedes the individual's recovery. Second, physicians and their medical opinions are necessary and, in fact, crucial in the disability retirement application process with OPM. OPM will require a physician’s statement about the medical issues, and the physician’s statement can either make or break the outcome of your disability retirement application.

Conclusion

When considering OPM disability retirement, it is important to obtain the advice and representation of legal counsel. You can contact our law firm through www.retirementlaw.com or by telephone at 703-668-0070, to schedule a consultation to discuss your individual federal employment retirement matter. Please also visit and like us on Facebook.

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