Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Early retirement

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Q. I work for the Defense Department, where there is talk about another set of early-out offers due to budget/sequestration cuts.  They say the problem is funding these buyouts.  I remember back in the late 1980s they offered “years” instead of money. Is there any chance they might offer three years to either your age or length of service to encourage people hanging in there trying to max out their retirement benefit to leave early even without the $25,000 buyout.

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Personnel records

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Q. I worked as an on-call substitute clerk carrier at the Kenilworth substation at 6270 Kenilworth Ave., Riverdale, MD 20737 from June 1965 to April 1967. How can I document for my retirement?

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Furloughs vs. buyouts

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Q. Can someone explain why furloughing workers would be the first step to save money? I would think  buyouts would be first. There are thousands of CSRS employees just waiting for a buyout; why aren’t they being offered?

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Two pensions?

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Q. I retired from the Marine Corps after 21 years of service in 2002 and I’m receiving retirement pay. I began working with the State Department and will be eligible to retire at age 59 with 20 years of service. Will I be able to retire from the State Department and receive a pension and still receive my pension from the Marine Corps?

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Residency and creditable service

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Q. I’m a federal employee in a Veterans Affairs Department hospital. Before actual employment, I spent three years doing medical residency in VA. Will those three years in training count toward my creditable service for retirement?

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Switching back to CSRS

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Q. I switched to FERS from CSRS. Do you know of anyone who has been permitted to return to CSRS from FERS? At first, CSRS folks were not allowed the Thrift Savings Plan option, and later they were. I think I would have opted to stay with CSRS had I known that. Is there any way to go back?

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Creditable service

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Q. I am 43 years old with 20 years of federal service: nine years as Border Patrol agent and 11 as an 1811 (Postal Inspector). Will my Border Patrol time count as out at any age with 25 years?

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Health benefits after spouse’s death

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Q. Can a widow of a retired federal worker pick up health benefits after his death? He did not have health benefits at the time of his death.

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Hazard pay and annuity computation

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Q. I have been told by different people that environmental [hazard] pay is figured into your retirement. Can you explain this for me?

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Nurses and VERA

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Q. Are nurses allowed Voluntary Early Retirement Authority? I have 22 years and am 57 years old.

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Survivor annuity

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Q. My father who lives in Puerto Rico, is retired from the Postal Service, and is 64 years old. He told me that if he passes, I’m listed to get his pension which would be $1,200 a month, what he gets now. He is not married, and I’m curious if it’s that simple. Am I eligible? Will I get that much? For how long? I am 34.

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Earnings limit

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Q. I’m getting close to my FERS retirement, and I have a second job that I love. If I refuse my special retirement supplement from the Office of Personnel Management, will I still be financially penalized from my FERS retirement for making too much money from my second job? If so, how can I still continue to work without being penalized?

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Military buyback and annuity

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Q. My husband had 16 years of military service (no retirement received). He is now 65 and may soon be employed in civil service. At age 70, he would have about 21 years of federal employment and military combined. Is he then eligible for retirement at age 70?

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Deferred annuity

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Q. I am a Postal Service employee under FERS, I am over 55 years old and have about 26½ years of service. If I left USPS to work somewhere else in the private sector, would I be able to collect my annuity payments from USPS every month, or would I have to wait until I retire completely to start collecting?

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‘Quitting’ FEHB and re-enrolling

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Q. Can a retired employee quit his Federal Employees Health Benefits in retirement for, say, Tricare for Life and Medicare if retired military, and later opt to switch back to FEHB?

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Disability compensation and annuity

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Q. I’m a 100 percent disabled veteran, effective April 2008, with war-incurred injuries.

In 2010, I applied for disability retirement while working for the Postal Service with 14 years of service and did not buy back my military time.

The Office of Personnel Management calculated my high-3 on my postal salary alone. Should they not have calculated my Veterans Affairs Department compensation income from 2008, since it was a war-incurred injury that led me to retire? Is there a statue that protects vets who have war-incurred injuries? And does OPM allow special compensation for this matter?

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Unused sick leave

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Q. I plan to retire after 20 years of service at age 64 in 2015. I understand that I will be paid for unused annual leave. Will I be paid for unused sick leave?

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Step increases during disability

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Q. I am a veteran of the armed forces and a civilian federal firefighter of Hawaii and have about 13 years government time under FERS.

While on duty in 2010, we were in route in the fire engine and an oncoming vehicle lost control and collided with the fire engine, causing substantial injuries to myself and the crew. The majority of the kinetic energy was absorbed by me because the point of impact was where I was seated.

I sustained injuries to my lumbar area in my lower back and injuries to my left limb, for which I’ve undergone a major back surgery, countless doctors’ visits and therapies, etc. I am still recovering from the injuries and presently on modified light duty at four hours a day, five days a week. I was on total disability for about 2 years and noticed that my retirement investment into my Thrift Savings Plan was at a freeze or standstill, where an injured employee could not invest into their TSP while on leave without pay. I also noticed that while on total disability, an injured employee goes into LWOP status, which human resources said affects your within-grade increases to where you are not entitled to move up in step increases.

Is there a new law that helps with retirement benefits for workers hurt on the job? After intensive research, I stumbled across an article by Stephen Barr dated Oct. 10, 2003, informing that President Bush signed legislation that will help make up any shortfall in retirement benefits for federal employees who are disabled or injured while on the job. It mentions the new law will change the way a federal employee’s benefits are calculated during a disability by increasing the pension benefit provided under FERS to cover any shortfall.

Is there also any new law or standard act that helps with entitlements for step increases for workers hurt on the job? Ever since I was injured on the job in 2010, and because of the injuries I sustained I was on total disability in LWOP status not by choice, the opportunity to move up in step increase passed me over twice. As co-workers who were hired the same day as me moved up in step increase, I was denied. Can you advise?

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Pay increases

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Q. Can you tell me how Executive Level IV pay, which limits the maximum pay of GS scale employees, is calculated? What is the formula? In searching, I can find the pay rate but not the rules. In other words, will GS-15 Step 9s and Step 10s who have hit that ceiling ever see that ceiling rise?

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Temporary promotions

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Q. How is it determined who is best qualified for a temporary promotion when there is more than one candidate? Does seniority at the next lower grade come into play at all? Should there be an interview process when several candidates are interested? Who decides who is the best qualified when there is more than one applicant since there is no application process?

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