Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Marriage and health insurance changes

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Q. I’m getting married, and my husband is already 65. Can I still put him under my health insurance, or does he have to stay with Medicare?

A. Yes, you can change your coverage from self only to self and family. If you are an employee, you can do that within 60 days after your change in family status under code 1C in the Table of Permissible Changes. If you are a retiree, you can do it from 31 days before through 60 days after the change under code 2B.

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Avoiding WEP

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Q. I am 69 years old. I started my Social Security benefits on my own SS earnings record at my full retirement age (66) and continued working. I am going to retire in October. I thought I could change to auxiliary spouse benefits when I decided to retire to avoid the windfall elimination provision and have been informed that I can’t make this change since I would be technically entitled on my own SSN. I was a Federal Erroneous Retirement Coverage Corrections Act case as far as my CSRS retirement was figured. According to my estimate, I will be offset the full amount of my Social Security benefit rate at age 66.

A. Your CSRS annuity will only be offset by the amount of Social Security benefit you earned while a CSRS Offset employee. If you earned other Social Security credits outside of your CSRS Offset employment, the amount of that portion of your Social Security benefit won’t be affected.

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Buyback and military retirement

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Q. I am a reservist eligible for an active-duty retirement (21 years active duty and four years reserve duty). I have not retired yet. If I obtain a federal civilian position prior to retiring from the Reserve, will I be eligible to buy back my 20+ years of active duty? Or does the fact that I am eligible for an active-duty retirement (i.e. will receive retired pay immediately after retiring from the Reserve) make me ineligible to buy back my military time?

A. Yes, you could make a deposit to get credit for your active-duty service. However, to get credit for it in your annuity computation when you retired from your civilian job, you’d have to waive your military retired pay.

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Unused sick leave

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Q. I retired at age 62 from the Postal Service on Feb. 29, 2008, just months before enactment of the changes made to federal unused sick leave. I worked 19.5 years for the Postal Service and had 3.75 years of military service. Will I be eligible for the 1,498 hours of unused sick leave accumulated during my postal career toward my retirement pay?

A. No.

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CSRS Offset

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Q. I retired from the Veterans Affairs Department two years ago after 35 years of service. My service was interrupted for several years and, when I came back, it was under the CSRS Offset plan. I will turn 62 in October, but I do not want to start drawing my Social Security at that time. Will my retirement check be cut (the offset amount) even if I do not choose to start drawing my Social Security?

A. The law is clear. When you become eligible for a Social Security benefit at age 62, your CSRS annuity will be reduced by the amount of Social Security benefit you earned while covered by CSRS Offset. The reduction occurs regardless of whether or not you apply for that benefit.

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Social Security and CSRS annuity

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Q. I am 62, and I plan to retire at the end of the year with 39 years of civilian government service. All this time, I have worked under CSRS. I have also worked part-time jobs totaling about 13 years. Given the number of year I’ve been in the government, I should receive about 77 percent of my high-3; will my CSRS retirement payment be reduced because I am eligible to receive Social Security? How does that work when you are eligible to receive benefits from both retirement plans?

A. Being eligible for a Social Security benefit won’t affect your CSRS annuity. However, because you will be receiving an annuity from CSRS, a retirement system where you didn’t pay Social Security taxes, you will be subject to the windfall elimination provision.

However, because you have fewer than 30 years of substantial earnings under Social Security, the WEP will reduce — but not eliminate — that benefit.

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Federal service, service computation date and VERA

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Q. I am a civilian employee and have been continuously employed by the Department of Justice and then the Environmental Protection Agency since September 1994. I also had one year of federal service from 1986 to 1987, as a judicial law clerk for the Ninth Circuit.

My pay stub says my service computation date is September 1993; however, my HR office says it is September 1994 and that the earlier year doesn’t count.

First, which SCD is accurate? Or what further facts would you need to determine that? Second, when would I be eligible for a VERA, if my agency obtains authorization for one?

A. Your HR office is mistaken. Employment as a clerk in the U.S. courts is creditable service. Go to www.opm.gov/retire/pubs/handbook/C020.pdf, scroll to Page 81 and look under U.S. courts. However, if retirement deductions weren’t taken from your pay when you worked there, you would have to make a deposit to get credit for the time in your annuity computation.

To accept a VERA, an employee would have to meet one of the following age and service requirements: age 50 with 20 years or any age with 25.

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Maxing out retirement benefits

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Q. After how many years of federal service (all as a Department of Defense employee with military buyback) under FERS do you max out (percentage wise) for retirement?

A. While there is an 80 percent limit on an earned annuity under CSRS, there isn’t one for FERS. That’s because even using the higher .011 multiplier, you’d have to have 73 years of creditable service to reach it.

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Special retirement supplement and FERS

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Q. I am a 55-year-old postal worker with 33 years of service, including six years of paid-back military time (27 years without). If I take an early out or VERA under FERS with an MRA of 56, will I receive the special supplement when I turn 56? Is the requirement lowered for the special supplement to 20 years instead of 30 years of FERS time? I realize my special supplement will be based on 27 years.

A. No, the minimum retirement age threshold for the special retirement supplement has remained the same since the passage of the act establishing FERS. It ranges between 55 and 57 depending on your year of birth. So, if you are offered early retirement and take it, you’ll be eligible to receive the SRS when you reach your MRA. Since you were born in 1957, that is 56.

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Federal health benefits and re-enrolling family members

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Q. I’m a CSRS retiree under Blue Cross Family Plan 105. My wife is still working. She has just taken a new private-sector job with full health benefits. If I drop her from my FEHBP and go to self status, can I re-enroll her later under my Blue Cross coverage when she quits or retires?

A. Yes, under Qualifying Life Event 2G if she loses her coverage under a nonfederal health plan.

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Survivor benefit calculations

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Q. My husband is a CSRS employee who will retire in two years. I am a FERS employee who will retire in three years. My question is this: I have always paid into Social Security, and the projected survivor benefit is $2,298. If my husband is a CSRS retiree, would he see any of that survivor benefit if I were to die before he did? If so, how would I calculate that to get a feel for what he could expect?

A. If you were to die before your husband, any Social Security survivor benefit to which he’d be entitled would be affected by the government pension offset provision of law. The GPO would reduce that survivor benefit by $2 for every $3 he received in his CSRS annuity. You’ll find a GPO calculator at www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/gpo-calc.htm.

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Military service and FERS versus CSRS

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Q. I entered on Ready Reserve status June 23, 1972, where I remained until Aug. 6, 1972, when I was provided discharge papers. I performed active Air Force service from Aug. 7, 1972, until Sept. 1, 1998 (more than 26 years). I started civil service Feb. 25, 2000. I was promptly placed in FERS. Should I not have been placed in CSRS — as I had more than five years of potential creditable service before Jan. 1, 1987? I have paid the military deposit required to get credit for my military service at the time of retirement from civil service. However, I am now being told that because I retired as a senior master sergeant (E-8), it is of no real benefit to me, as I will only be entitled to FERS retirement, not CSRS Offset retirement.

What’s the real story on this? By the way, according to the AF Form 941 I have in hand (Delayed Enlistment Program Statement of Understanding), paragraph (a), I am required by law to serve on active training and service in the Armed Forces and in the Reserve component for six years unless sooner discharged in accordance with regulations and standards prescribed by the Secretary of Defense. Then, there is paragraph (c): “My time served in the Reserve will be creditable for pay purposes, when I enlist in the Regular Air Force, or enter on extended active duty.”

These two paragraphs seem to imply something other than what I am being told. I hope you can provide clarity to me, as I am thinking about retiring very soon. So, was I placed in the correct retirement plan or not?

A: You are in the correct retirement plan. To have been placed in CSRS, you would have had to have been a full-time CSRS employee for five years.

Active duty service doesn’t count toward the five-year requirement, even if you make a deposit to get credit for it.

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Military service and FERS contributions

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Q. I am a federal employee with the Department of Defense Fire & Emergency Services, and I am also a member of the Air National Guard. Over the years, I have had several military deployments (Title 10 Active Duty) in which my time for pay has been coded KG (Military Furlough-Active Duty), and I have not paid/contributed into FERS.

Although I have been a federal firefighter since 2005, I do have quite a bit of time that I did not pay into FERS, and I would like to know if I can retroactively pay/contribute into FERS so the time I was deployed will count as creditable service for retirement. I have more than two years of active-duty time for which I did not contribute into FERS, and I understand I will have to work an additional two years to make up that time.

A. If your periods of active-duty service interrupted your covered employment as a firefighter, you would get credit for them only if you made a deposit to the retirement system, including accrued interest.

Otherwise, as you noted, you’d have to continue working in a covered position until you met the 20 years of service requirement.

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Annual leave and return to federal service

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Q. I worked for the federal government for 14 years (1980 to 1994). When I left federal service, I took a buyout.

I would like to return to federal service. If I get a job, will I start out at 13 days of annual leave, or will I earn an amount equal to the amount I accrued after 14 years of service?

A. You will get credit for your earlier service in determining your leave accrual category.

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Pension for federal employee’s spouse

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Q. My husband is drawing his pension from the federal government. At what age can I start drawing my portion of his pension?

A. You aren’t entitled to anything while he is alive. If he elected a survivor benefit for you, then you’d be entitled to that if he died before you.

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Disability, leave and retirement

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Q. Because I have serious health issues and am getting my paperwork together for FERS disability, my command disapproved my Family and Medical Leave Act request for this year because I have missed so much work. I had no choice but to request the MRA+10 retirement and retire within 30 days, as my letter of reprimand stated I must be at work “full time” and I am facing several surgeries, and this would be impossible. I retired June 1, with 25 years of service. I know I have up to one year to file my disability paperwork, but due to the circumstances of my being “forced” to retire or be released from federal service, am I eligible to file for unemployment?

A. As a rule, anyone who retires is ineligible for unemployment benefits. If you are separated from the government without retiring, you may be. You’d have to check with your state’s employment office to find out if you would qualify.

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Leave without pay

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Q. Would you please explain the differences between using leave without pay and leave without pay-uniformed services and how it impacts someone at retirement? Am I automatically placed on LWOP-US when activated for Reserve training (title 32), or can I request LWOP and not have to make a deposit? I have been making deposits for a lot of LWOP-US over my career and would hate to find out I didn’t have to make those payments for stints less than six months.

A. No, you don’t have a choice. When called to active duty, you are automatically placed on LWOP-US unless you elect to use annual leave for some or all of that time.

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FERS supplement requirements

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Q. To obtain the 30 years needed to qualify for the FERS Supplement, can I use only actual time employed under FERS, or can I also use time employed under CSRS that was bought back by doing a redeposit, and can I also use military time that was bought back? I am under FERS code 8 retirement system and will retire shortly under FERS with the minimum of 30 years required, but I want to make sure I can use any and all federal employment to make sure I qualify for the FERS Supplement before I retire. I have reached my MRA. I will be doing the MRA 30-year immediate retirement.

A. Yes. The special retirement supplement is paid to anyone who retires under the following circumstances: at their MRA with 30 years of service, at age 60 with 20 years of service or on early voluntary or involuntary retirement when they reach their MRA. Note: The SRS will be based solely on their actual service under FERS. CSRS service or other service for which a deposit is made can’t be included when calculating the SRS.

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Retirement benefits and marriage

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Q. I am a retired civil servant receiving an annuity. I also receive survivor benefits from my late husband, also a civil servant. I am 72 and may marry a gentleman who is retired Navy and civil servant. Would either of us lose our benefits? He is the same age as I.

A. No.

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Military and federal service and disability retirement

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Q. I know a postmaster struggling with everyday work due to needing double knee replacing and double hip surgeries. He was told he has osteoarthritis. Now he is in constant pain. It is stopping him from walking and moving around. He needs a cane to walk. Would he qualify for disability retirement? Also, he doesn’t want to feel threatened because he is where physically, he can’t work. He is only 44 and is a 50 percent disabled combat veteran. Would he qualify?

A. To find out if he would qualify, he’ll have to apply for disability retirement. His servicing personnel office can provide him with the necessary form and help him through the process.

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