Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Disability retirement

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Q. I am 51 (I turn 52 in April) and have been a law enforcement officer for 23 years, plus four years of military time that I bought back. Because of torn retinas, I have lost all depth perception permanently and have been placed on light duty pending further medical review. I will likely be ruled unable to perform in a law enforcement position and unfit for duty. I wasn’t planning on retiring, but now it might be forced on me with a FERS disability retirement. If that is the case, what is better — to just retire voluntary, before they rule on me, or wait and go out on a disability retirement? I’m also confused on the SS supplement, unless you lose that because you’ll get SS benefits too.

A. Retiring voluntarily is a certain thing. Applying for disability retirement isn’t. There’s more paperwork involved, a longer wait for a determination and uncertainty about whether your application will be approved.

Assuming that either way would result in your retirement, you can check the math to find out which one makes better financial sense. As a regular retiree, you’d receive 34 percent of your high-3, plus the special retirement supplement once you reached your minimum retirement age. As a disability retiree, during the first 12 months you’d receive 60 percent of your high-3 minus 100 percent of any Social Security disability benefit you were entitled to. From that point forward, you’d receive 40 percent of your high-3 minus 60 percent of any Social Security disability benefit.

You wouldn’t be entitled to the special retirement supplement, even if you weren’t approved for a Social Security disability benefit.

Note: The standards for a Social Security disability benefit are much higher than those for FERS disability retirement. In the latter case, you only have to be sufficiently disabled that you can’t perform useful and efficient service in your own job or one of similar grade and/or pay. In the former, you have to be completely disabled for all gainful employment.

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  1. MAZ Says:
    November 14th, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    Don’t forget the DR has one aspect that is outstanding and most people don’t figure it in … if you retire now and take the reductions … your lifetime income will be reduced for life … if you apply for and get DR (their are great lawyers out there for this) you get 60% the first year … 40% of your high three all other years until you reach age 62. At age 62 your DR is turned into a normal retirement status and your high three is reassessed to be what you would have been at the same grade and step with all increases in pay … also your years of duty is computed as if your time on DR was active duty … if you get DR on your birthday … that is adding 10 more years to your retirement calculation plus no reductions and a highter high three (or five if Congress hates you more than last year) … do the lifetime income numbers too. I think you will see how DR is best … talk to a lawyer to see what they think of your case … search for Federal Employee Disability Lawyer Washington DC … they will service you without having to do a face to face meeting.
    But what do I know … go read on it too.

  2. Susan See Says:
    November 15th, 2012 at 2:48 am

    I am retired on disability retirement for end-stage osteoarthritis. My job required constant travel which was becoming impossible. In any case, I got a copy of the package you have to submit and I filled in all the information myself. I answered each question completely and attached the doctor’s letter, etc. I was approved in less than 3 months. They told me it was the most complete application they had ever seen. Why waste time with them having to send out for information that is missing? Things may have changed as this was several years ago.