Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Buying back military time

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Q: I am thinking about buying back my 20 years of active-duty time to make a deposit. I am a 100-percent combat-disabled vet. I read in the FERS handbook under Creditable Military Service that under certain conditions someone receiving retired military pay may receive that pay and full civilian annuity, but only if a deposit is made to the civilian retirement system for that period of active-duty service. To be eligible, the employee who is receiving retired military pay must have been awarded it (a) on account of service-connected disability incurred in combat with an enemy of the United States or (b) on account of a service-connected disability caused by an instrumentality of war and incurred in the line of duty during a period of war. Does this apply to me?

A: Only your branch of service can confirm that your disability fits the definition you cited. Once you have that proof, take it to your personnel office, which can make it a part of your official personnel record. Then if you decide to make a deposit, you can do that.

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Record correction

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Q: My SF-50 shows “no” for veterans preference for a Reduction in Force. My 30-percent disability is from a diving accident that was hazardous duty. How do I get my SF-50 corrected?

A: To establish your entitlement to veterans preference, you’ll need to provide your personnel office with proof of your service-connected disability.

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Preference for veterans

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Q: I am a 10-point, Purple Heart disabled veteran and have worked for the U.S. Postal Service for more than 35 years. I am assigned to a management position that likely will be affected by a Reduction in Force. As I have experienced in the past, positions are either eliminated or reposted as a new position (or  vacancy) after a reorganization. Do 10-point veterans have any preferential rights upon reorganization?

A: Yes, if the reorganization results in a reduction-in-force to accomplish the needed changes. However, if no reductions in grade or pay are involved, only the shifting of organizational boxes and/or people, it wouldn’t.

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Veteran’s preference for RIF

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Q: With the possibility that the U.S. Postal Service may eventually be faced with a reduction in force, I would like information concerning Veteran Preference Status. I have been a postal employee for 32 years. Although I served in the Air Force for seven years, I received no veteran’s preference points upon hiring, as my service was not within the years prescribed for this preference. However, since that time, my military spouse has been rated as 100 percent disabled and was retired from active duty on a disability pension. I understand that I can receive the 10-point veteran preference status through “derived” preference due to his disability. What do I need to submit to the postal service to have this information in my records, since I understand that it may make a difference during a RIF?

A: According to OPM, “Ten points are added to the numerical score of spouses, widows, widowers, or mothers of veterans.  This type of preference is usually referred to a “Derived preference” because it is based on service of a veteran who is not able to use the preference.  To receive 10-point preference (XP) the applicant must submit a SF-15 form and provide the required supporting documentation stipulated on the SF-15.” You can get a copy of the form from your personnel office or download a copy at www.opm.gov, click on Find Form(s).

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The basics of military buyback

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Q: I served in the Marine Corps for more than 13 years, entering Dec. 27, 1979, and leaving active service in November 1987. I re-entered the Corps on Dec. 7, 1989, and was involuntarily but honorably discharged in the middle of 1995 as part of force reduction after the first Gulf War. I did not retire, but I did receive a separation allowance, all of which I have paid back. I paid back the money by not receiving any disability pay for about 12 years (20 percent disabled for service-connected foot and back injuries).

In the spring of 2001, I became a permanent-hire working for the Navy Department at the rate of NT-802-4 (GS-12). I’m currently maxed out in that grade. What steps do I have to take to get credit for my military time applied to my civil service time? What are the exact advantages? And what rate of repayment do I have to make?

A: You can get credit for your years of active-duty service by making a deposit to the civilian retirement fund. The deposit equals 3 percent of your basic military pay, excluding differentials and allowances. To find out how much you would owe, fill out form RI-20-97, Estimated Earnings During Military Service, and mail it to the finance office for your branch of service along with a copy of your DD 214, Report of Transfer or Discharge. When you get an answer, take that document, a copy of your DD 214 and Standard Form 3108 to your local payroll office. They’ll figure out how much you owe, including any accumulated interest. If you decide to make a deposit, you can do so either by periodic deposits or deductions from your paycheck.

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Army Reserve benefits and military buyback

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Q: I have 31 years in the Army, six years of which is active duty, and I’m still on reserve status. I’ve been working at a Veterans Affairs Department hospital for more than 20 years and plan to stay there until I have 30 years of service. I’m presently buying back the six years of active-duty time, and it is going to cost $12,000. First of all, is it worth it for me to buy back this time? I have heard when you retire from the federal government, you will only get either your federal retirement with your active-duty buyback time added, or you will get your military retirement, but not both. I am wondering if it is in my best interest to buy back this active-duty time, and if I do, will I get both my Army Reserve retirement and my federal retirement, or just one of those two? If I only get one, how to I figure out which one to take?

A: It will be easier for you to make a decision after I clear up a misunderstanding: Making a deposit to get credit for your years of active-duty service in you civilian annuity won’t have any affect on your Army Reserve retired pay. You’ll be able to receive both benefits without a reduction in either of them.

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Reservist retirement and federal employment

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Q: Will I have to retire from my federal job with Customs and Border Patrol with a medical retirement from the National Guard? I was called up for military duty. I bought back eight years of military service and have seven years with CBP for a total of 15 years.

A: As a rule, medical retirement from the National Guard would have no bearing on your employment by the Customs and Border Patrol. It would only affect that employment if your medical condition were such that it made you unable to provide useful and efficient service there.

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Military-civilian-VA benefit breakdown

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Q: I retired from the Army in 2007 and receive both military retirement pay and Veterans Affairs Department disability pay. I immediately went to work for the federal government under the Federal Employees Retirement System. When I retire from government employment, will I be paid all of the following: military retirement pay, VA disability pay, FERS retirement pay and Social Security benefits?

A: Yes, you would be able to receive all four benefits. Just remember that your FERS retirement annuity would be based solely on your years of civilian service unless you chose to make a deposit for your years of active-duty service and waived your military retired pay.

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Veterans and federal employment

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Q: I just recently became employed as a GS. In reviewing my Notification of Personnel Action form (SF-50), I had a number of questions which I asked of our human resources personnel: The form indicated I have no veterans’ preference and no creditable years of military service, though I have almost 25 years of service. The response I received was that I would have to surrender my pay and purchase the years of military service if I want to have it credited for civilian service. I have no intention of doing this. I was referred to the Office of Personnel Management VetGuide, which did not answer my questions. Can you tell me what is correct?

A: Unless your branch of service confirms that your military retired pay was awarded on account of a service-connected disability either incurred in combat with an enemy of the U.S. or caused by an instrumentality of war and incurred in the line of duty during a period of war, your HR personnel are correct. Even if they do confirm that, you’d need to make a deposit to the civilian retirement system to get any credit for that period of active-duty service.

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Military buyback 101

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Q: Can an active-duty service member roll his retirement into government service and add those years together with existing military service years? This was possible 20 years ago or so, but I was wondering whether it still is an option. I’m a 27-year veteran about to retire, and I’d rather go straight into government service and forego my retirement check from the military, if that is possible.

A: Nothing has changed. You can make a deposit to the civilian retirement system for any years of active-duty service and, if you are eligible for military retired pay, waive that pay when you retire. If you do that, you will get credit for all your years of active duty in determining your years of civilian service and in your civilian annuity computation. Note: To be eligible to retire from your civilian job, you’d need to have five years of actual employment under the civilian retirement system.

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Post-military state employment

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Q: I retired from the Navy after serving 20 years. I now work for the state of Georgia. Will my service in state government be the same as working for the federal government? Can I receive a pension from the state after 10 years (which will be 30 years of total service, in 2018)?

A: No, it won’t be the same as working for the federal government. The two forms of employment aren’t interchangeable. You’ll have to check with your state to find out if any of your military service would be creditable and what the requirements are to retire from state employment with a pension.

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Benefits for involuntary separation?

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Q: I am an air traffic controller (ATC) with the Defense Department. I’m 53 years old and have met eligibility for the optional retirement. I have been deemed permanently medically disqualified to perform ATC duties due to prescribed medication for a stress-related disorder. A lot of what I’m reading tells me I am facing involuntary separation, which qualifies me for discontinued service retirement if my local human resources agency cannot find a alternate position due to my limited qualifications and my grade (I’m a GS-12 with less than a bachelor’s degree and I’m only experienced in ATC, live-fire range operations and airfield base operations). In your interpretation of the rules, would my situation entitle me to any type of special benefits?

A: I’m not aware of any special benefits that would be available to an employee who is eligible for voluntary retirement but elects instead to be separated involuntarily. If there are any, your agency’s personnel office would be the best place to find out about them.

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Military service and reduction-in-force

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Q: Is a reserve-component retired military person considered a nonveteran the same as an active-duty retired military person in a reduction-in-force?

A: To find out how your service in the armed forces would be credited during a reduction-in-force, read the Office of Personnel Management’s VetGuide, located online here.

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Active-duty service and federal employment

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Q: I am considering a civil service position and need help sorting out how my prior active-duty service may affect pay and retirement. I have 17 years of active-duty time; I took a lump-sum payout when I left. Is my time creditable toward seniority, pay and retirement if I take a civil service position?

A: If you are hired into a civilian job in the federal government, you would need to make a deposit for your period of active-duty service to get credit for that time. While it would count in establishing your years of service, your annual leave accrual rate and, eventually, in your annuity calculation, it would only have an effect on your pay if the knowledge, skills and abilities you gained while in the service resulted in your being qualified for a higher-level position.

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Title 38 and military service

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Q: I am a 58-year-old physician with 16 years of military service from 1978 to 1994. I am taking a job with the Veterans Affairs Department. In the benefits booklet I received, there is a note as follows: “Physicians and dentists covered under Title 38 provisions must complete 15 years of creditable service in order to use Physicians/Dentists Special Pay as basic pay in determining the high-3 average salary used in the computation of a [Federal Employees Retirement System] annuity. If I buy into FERS for my 16 years of military service, does this count toward “creditable service,” or is creditable service only the service performed working for the VA directly?

A: Making a deposit for your period of military service will not count toward the requirement to complete 15 years of covered service as a Title 38 physician.

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Military time and employment status

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Q: I understand that a military deposit has an effect on a person’s service computation date, Thrift Savings Plan funds and leave issues, but does it have any bearing on a new hire’s employment status? To clarify, will it change a person from “career conditional” to “career” if they have more than three years of military service?

A: Making a deposit for active-duty service in the armed forces has no effect on a new hire’s employment status. As a rule, he must complete a probationary period and have three years of substantially continuous service to receive a career appointment.

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Benefits intact

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Q: I work for the Air Force. One of our retired military members was told that if he waived his retired military pay to combine the military and the civilian service, he would lose his Tricare benefit. What exactly are people waiving when they waive retired military pay?

A: He was misinformed. Waiving his military retired pay and making a deposit to the civilian retirement fund would allow him to get credit for his active-duty service in determining his eligibility to retire from his civilian job and in his annuity computation. It will have no affect on any military benefits to which he would otherwise be entitled.

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War service and leave credit

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Q: I retired from the military, and have worked in civil service since June 2008. Am I entitled to receive credit for leave based on my time served from either the Persian Gulf War or based on any one of many service medals that I have been authorized to wear?

A: For non-disability retired members of the armed forces, leave accrual credit is only given for actual service during a war declared by Congress or while participating in a campaign or expedition for which a campaign ribbon is authorized. Your branch of service can tell you which periods of service would qualify. You can then take that information to your personnel office.

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