Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Cancellation of retirement

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Q. Can I cancel my FERS retirement application? Can I retract my retirement notification letter?

A. An agency must accept your withdrawal of a retirement application unless it has a valid reason for turning you down, which it must provide in writing. For example, someone has already been selected to fill your position or your position is being abolished and no other position exists at your pay and/or grade in the local commuting area for which you are qualified.

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CSRS retirement health benefits

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Q. I am retiring in three years from CSRS.  My husband is Air Force retired, therefore, we both have Tricare for Life and Medicare part A&B.  I currently am not carrying any health care through my employer, but I plan to retire with a third health care plan through my CSRS.  I know there is a five-year policy to have federal health care to be able to keep your insurance through retirement. However, I was told that my Tricare for Life qualifies me for the five-year federal plan coverage, and I can get the third policy during the last open season of my career and carry it through my retirement because of the time I have with Tricare.  Is this true?

A. Yes, as long as you are enrolled in an FEHB plan when you retire.

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Military buyback

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Q. I paid my military buyback off all at once.I was a seasonal part time GS04 for approximately nine months. I then got picked up for a full-time position and resigned after two days on that job. If I get my buyback money refunded, will it be taxed since it was not earned and was mine to begin with?

A: For tax purposes it would be treated no differently than any other deposit you  made for which you received a refund.

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Earnings limit increase for 2011

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Q. Since it appears there will be no COLA for Social Security next year, will they increase the earnings limit from $14,160 for 2011?

A. No.

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Deployed and contract time convert to time in civil service

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Q. I have been hearing different stories from CPOL and other civil service employees. I am a retired CW3 from the Army, 1974-1997, and I’ve been in civil service for over nine months.  My job is a logistics management specialist, 0346, support of the STAMIS system, PBUSE.  I was deployed for four months to Operation Desert Storm, and after retirement I worked as a contractor from 1997-2009 supporting the STAMIS systems for the Army. Does any of my Army contractor time (13 years) count towards civil service retirement since it was similar to the job I am currently doing in civil service? Would it increase my annual leave accrual? If so what forms do I need to fill out and submit to my CPAC?

A. While your time as a contractor may have counted when determining your qualifications for your current position or used by you as a negotiating point for setting your annual leave accrual rate before entering on duty, it cannot be counted when determining  your years of service or in your annuity calculation.

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Combined CSRS/FERS and the WEP

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Q. I switched from CSRS to FERS in 1987; don’t ask me why.  I retired when I was 55 and now have 24 years of Social Security coverage.  I will be 64 this year and am thinking about applying for Social Security — will I be WEP’d — not in terms of boo hoo but the Windfall Elimination Provision?  Also, if I work part time and have income of $20,000 or $21,000, will they refigure the WEP deduction? If yes, do they do it annually or when I am 66?

A: When you apply for a Social Security benefit, the windfall elimination provision will be applied if you have fewer than 30 years of substantial earning under Social Security. Earning additional Social Security credits won’t change that. However, your Social Security benefit will be recomputed each year to take into account any additional earnings from wages or self-employment. Note: If you exceed the Social Security earnings limit before you reach your full retirement age, your Social Security benefit will be reduced. To see how the reduction is applied, go to http://ssa.gov/pubs/10045.html.

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Retirement Portability Act and fed workers prior service

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Q. Public Law No: 106-168 permits former Federal Reserve Bank employees to receive credit in FERS if a former bank worker becomes a federal employee.  This law was included in S. 335 and signed by President Clinton on 12/12/1999. Does this law also apply to federal employees who worked for two years for the U.S. Postal Service before leaving federal service to become an employee of the Federal Reserve Bank System?   The federal employment took place before this law took effect. As a retiree of the Federal Reserve System having retired in 1995, am I entitled to have my Federal Reserve pension recalculated based on the spirit and intent of this public law?

A. No.

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CSRS Interim

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Q. My first federal employment was in 1/17/1983 as a temporary worker (NTE one year, 40 hour week).  Since it was a temp position. only Social Security was assessed.  I left for the private sector 9/21/1983 due to an impending RIF knowing full well we were the first to go. I then received and accepted an offer from the Postal Service and started 10/13/1984 ; I am still there.  I was informed that there will be a new retirement system, but no one has any information on the details, so I was placed as CSRS Interim.  FERS then became law and the CSRS Interim folks were sucked into FERS, like it or not. If the CSRS Interim folks were hired before FERS became law, then why were they not treated the same as CSRS Offset?

A. CSRS Offfset was a category assigned to former CSRS employees with five years of CSRS service who had returned to government service after being separated for at least one year. Because you did not meet that definition, you were covered by CSRS Interim. Since you did not have five years of CSRS service before FERS became law, you were automatically transferred to FERS. Because CSRS Offset employees had five years of CSRS service, they were given a choice.

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CSRS and Medicare

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Q. I am retired for nine years now and working in private industry. I will be 65 soon and would like to know if there really is any benefit in applying for Medicare. I have read every article in Social Security Administration, OPM and Medicare and they all say it is up to you. I have Blue Cross as an annuitant and don’t see any advantage to me in making the claim. What is your opinion?

A. They all say that it’s up to you because it is up to you. No two situations are the same. You’ll need to inventory your current and anticipated needs (along with any worse-case scenarios) and see if Medicare Part A, Hospital Insurance (which you are entitled to at no additional cost) and an FEHB plan will meet them. If you think the coverage is thin for things that are better covered by Part B, Medical Insurance, and the cost-benefits are in your favor, enroll in Part B. If not, don’t. However, just remember that what you think the future will be could turn out that way. Stuff happens when you least expect it.

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Medical or FERS retirement

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Q: I am a National Guard technician. I am older than 50 but not at my MRA with almost 30 of service under FERS. If I am found medically unfit to stay in the National Guard, would I retire with a medical under federal service or would I receive regular retirement as if I were involuntary separated because of my age and years of service?

A: If you are separated because of a disability that disqualifies you from membership in the National Guard or from holding your military grade, you would be eligible for disability retirement. This assumes, among other things, that you have not declined a reasonable offer of another job in your commuting area.

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Suspension of disability annuity

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Q: I medically retired from a dual-status military technician position two years ago. I receive a disability retirement. I have been working part time for a nonprofit civilian company. I have recently been asked to increase my hours to full time. When I out-processed for my disability retirement, I was told that if my salary reached over 80 percent of my salary at the time of discharge (with adjustments over time) I could lose my disability annuity. Does this amount reflect earnings at my job alone, or do I need to bring in less than 80 percent of my former salary by adding my annuity to my job earnings? I would love to go full time but do not wish to jeopardize my retirement annuity.

A: Only your earnings from wages or self-employment are counted.

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Covered positions and retirement

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Q: What happens if you’re in a covered position (6c) for eight years and move into a noncovered position? How does that work for retirement?

A: When you retire, you’ll receive credit for that period of service; however, your annuity will be calculated using the standard formula, not the enhanced one used for law enforcement officers, firefighters or air traffic controllers who complete 20 years of covered service. The additional contributions you made to the retirement fund when you were in a 6(c) position won’t be refunded to you.

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Military service and retirement

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Q: I am retired military and receiving retired military pay. I am a service academy graduate; that four years is not included in my military retirement. I just started working as a civil service employee. Can I receive creditable time for my four years at the academy for civil service retirement since it is not part of my military retirement pay?

A: You can if you make a deposit to the civilian retirement system for that time. Talk to someone in your personnel office to find out how to do that.

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Break in service

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Q: I am a civilian pharmacist in a term position with the Army. I plan on taking a permanent position with the Army within the next year. However, I would like to take two months off from the time I leave my current job to the time I start my new job. Will I retain my annual leave and sick leave that I have accrued or will this be forfeited due to the break in service?

A: Your sick leave balance would be reinstated when you are once again employed. However, any unused annual leave will be cashed out and paid to you in a lump sum when you leave.

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Social Security and retirement

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Q: I have been retired (CSRS) for more than 15 years. Because I had enough quarters from moonlighting as a teacher, I also collect Social Security with the windfall reduction. Since retirement I have worked as an educator and may soon reach 30 years of substantial contributions to Social Security. What impact, if any, will this have on my CSRS retirement payments? What impact, if any, will it have on the Social Security payments made to me? How will this impact survivor benefits?

A: The fact that you’ve continued to earn Social Security credits after retirement won’t have any effect on your CSRS annuity. Likewise, the windfall elimination reduction that took place when you retired is permanent. The fact that you later reach 30 years of substantial earnings won’t affect that. What will happen if you continue working is that your Social Security benefit will be increased based on your additional earnings. The Social Security Administration becomes aware of those earnings when you file you federal income tax return. I’m not sure what effect you think there would be on survivor benefits. They will continue to parallel you annuity and your Social Security benefit and, as a rule, increase over time.

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Leave donor program

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Q: My supervisor pulled me from the leave donor program. I still have hours in there. I have brain cancer and still have appointments, treatments and surgery. He wants a note from my doctor saying he can ask questions about my cancer. Can he do that?

A: Cutting you off from the leave donor program doesn’t sound appropriate. You’ll need to talk to your HR contact about this. I checked with OPM and to their knowledge, a supervisor cannot inquire into an employee’s medical information without your explicit permission.

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BRAC leave

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Q: My job is under BRAC and is scheduled to move by September 2011. Once the move has taken place I would expect the position would not be considered under BRAC. Since I have more than 100 hours of BRAC leave on the books, what will happen with that leave? Will I keep the leave on the books while I’m still in my same unit? Will they pay out the BRAC leave in one lump sum because the unit is no longer considered under BRAC?

A: A lump sum payment of restored annual leave is paid out when a BRAC-affected employee is separated by RIF; realigned to a non-BRAC activity; accepts an assignment to a position in any other federal agency or department outside of DoD; or placed in a DoD position at an installation that isn’t affected by closure or realignment.

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DOD firefighter and Army Reserves

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Q: I am getting ready to transition out of the army and I am doing some research on different careers. To make up for the time I need to transfer my GI benefits I plan on going into the Guard or reserves. Can I work as a DoD firefighter and be in the National Guard or reserves at the same time?

A: Yes, you can.

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Health insurance for retirees

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Q: I am a CSRS employee thinking of retiring next year. My husband is on my BCBS policy. My retirement adviser said that when I retire I have to decide whether or not I want to keep my spouse on my policy. If so, then I need to claim the minimal survivor benefit for him. However, when my husband turns 65 he may want to go to Tricare for Life as he is a retired Naval officer. If he does that, then can I cancel the minimal survivor benefit? My advisor says no. Also, if my husband decides to use his employer’s insurance rather than mine for now, can he change his mind later and can I add him back to my policy later?

A: If your spouse is covered under your health benefit plan and you intend for that coverage to continue after you retire, you would have to provide a survivor annuity for him. Because you are a CSRS employee, you may elect any amount from $1 a year up to 55 percent of your annuity. That way, if you were to die before him, he’d be able to keep that health benefits coverage. If he wasn’t entitled to a survivor annuity, his coverage would stop. While he’s free to elect Tricare for Life when he reaches age 65 and allow you to drop him from your coverage, you cannot rescind the survivor annuity you elected for him. If he later changed his mind and dropped his Tricare enrollment, you could always add him to your coverage during the next open season.

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Leave without pay

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Q: I was employed for almost 10 years in the VAMC. I was hired in 1981. I am in the CSRS retirement program. I sustained a job-related injury and was on leave without pay status for one year and subsequently terminated. My injury left me out of work for four years for which I was being compensated. I returned to a civilian job part time and eventually surpassed my salary that I was making in the federal position. My cash benefits were terminated, but I have continued to receive medical compensation coverage for my job-related injury. Since my job-related injury case is still open, am I receiving credit for years of service?

A: You would only get credit for that time if you returned to federal service. Go to http://opm.gov/retire/pubs/handbook/C102.pdf and scroll down to Part 102A3.1-1B.

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