By Reg Jones
June 10th, 2011 | Disability retirement
Q: I have been on disability retirement and collecting Supplemental Security Income disability since 2001 at age 44, GS13/7 approximately 105,000 currently. I have 14 years LEO coverage at 1.7 percent per year, under the special formula and four years prior to my LEO position in a non-covered position at 1 percent. If nothing changes, at age 62, I will have 14 years of LEO coverage, four years of non-covered employment and 17 years of disability retirement. Specifically, what percentage will I get computing my retirement annuity at age 62 — 1.7 percent for 14 years and 1 percent for 21 years?
A: Assuming that you are still disabled when you reach age 62, your disability annuity will be converted to a regular annuity. It will be artificially created by adding your time on the disability roll up to age 62 to your years of actual service. The total will be multiplied by 0.01 and the product of that calculation by your hi-3 on the day you went on disability retirement, increased by any FERS cost-of-living adjustments that have been applied to retiree annuities in the interval.
June 10th, 2011 | Disability retirement
Q: I retired in 2007 on FERS disability after returning from Iraq where I spent about a year on special assignment for my federal agency. At the time, I had approximately 27 years of civil service (21 years, three months of federal civil service and six years of active duty military bought back). When I reach my minimum retirement age (56) next year can I switch to a regular retirement? That way I can work a little and not have an earnings limit of 80 percent.
A: No, you can’t switch. However, when you reach age 62, your disability annuity would automatically be converted to a regular retirement and the 80 percent earnings limit would no longer apply.
May 31st, 2011 | Disability retirement
Q: Based on a medical condition, I am a disabled employee trying a new treatment but if it is not successful, my doctor recommends disability retirement (SSA and CSRS offset). If I do leave in a couple of months, I am planning on using my accrued annual and sick leave from approximately July 29 to approximately September 30. Note: My 36 months of continuous service is from 9/14/2008 (a Sunday) to 9/14/2011 (a Wednesday). I am a reinstated employee who separated in 1987. I understand that there are terminal leave provisions for the last pay period prior to retirement. Do you know if this applies in this situation? Also, does being on sick leave and using annual leave as a substitute for sick leave affect my 36 months of continuous service? Do I need to be in work status on 9/14/2011 or 9/15/2011?
A: While your doctor might recommend that you go on disability retirement, only OPM and the Social Security Administration can make that determination. Further, if you are covered by CSRS (or CSRS Offset), you would have to have five years of creditable service to be eligible. If you are covered by FERS, only 18 months is required. The eligibility rules for Social Security disability benefits depend on the time you were covered by Social Security before the onset of the disability and your age.
Assuming that your agency approved your use of sick leave and/or annual leave, it wouldn’t adversely affect your length of service. In fact, it would increase your time on the rolls.
According to OPM, “Terminal leave is generally prohibited except with specific authority.” I’m not aware of any authority for the use of terminal leave that would apply in this situation.
May 24th, 2011 | Disability retirement
Q: If I am approved for FERS disability at my MMR age of 56 (not Social Security disability), am I allowed to work to supplement my disability amount? Is there a cap on earnings?
A: Yes, you can work to supplement your disability annuity. However, you need to keep two things in mind, First, if that work establishes that you have sufficiently recovered from the disability, your annuity would be terminated. Second, if you earn more than 80 percent of the current basic pay for the grade and step you occupied when you went on disability retirement, your annuity would be suspended.
May 19th, 2011 | Disability retirement
Q: I was a U.S. Postal Service employee who retired under CSRS disability at age 47 in 2007 because of stress. I had 25 years of service upon retirement. Will my disability pension be recomputed when I turn age 62 or 65? (I have read where you mention FERS employees pension is.) If so, what is the formula?
A: No. While FERS disability annuities are recomputed at age 62, CSRS annuities aren’t.
May 13th, 2011 | Disability retirement
Q: I have been on disability retirement and collecting SSID since 2001. I suffered a spinal cord injury that wasn’t job-related. I have 14 years Leo coverage at 1.7% per year and four years not in a covered position 1.1? What percentage do I get calculating my retirement annuity while I am under disability retirement, 1.1 or 1.7 for the 20 years, to age 57? And what is the rate up to age 62? If somehow I was able to return to work, a miracle as a Leo, would I receive any credit while I was on disability retirement for the 10 years? Returning to work now, if possible, would be financially advantageous now, but would my final retirement annuity be larger going back to work or staying disabled?
A: If you are still on disability retirement when you reached age 62, you would be converted to regular retirement and the amount of your annuity based your total years of service, both actual and while on disability retirement, and your high-3 on the day you left the service, increased by any cost-of-living adjustments that have occurred while you were on disability retirement. The percentage multiplier would be 0.01 percent. What would happen if you were to return to work depends on the nature of the appointment, your salary, whether you are determined to be recovered from your disability, etc. For a better understanding of what would happen under different scenarios, go to www.opm.gov/retire/pubs/handbook/C060.pdf.
May 12th, 2011 | Disability retirement
Q: I have been told that an injured firefighter with the federal service can retire using firefighter guidelines since there was prior service. I am working on the same basis as a civil service employee. I was hurt fighting a fire on base in the late 1980s. I had seven years as a fireman before I had to be placed in a different job because my injury would no longer let me be a firefighter. I paid into retirement as a fireman for about seven years and could have retired in about two more years. My injury is beginning to make it tough to go to work everyday. Please let me know if there is any help available in this area.
A: I’m not aware of any provision in law or regulations that would allow you to do that. If you already had met the age and service requirements to retire as a firefighter and then moved to a non-covered position, you would have been able to retire at anytime you chose.
May 11th, 2011 | Disability retirement
Q: I am a former FERS employee who was placed on disability retirement by the U.S. Postal Service because of PTSD. I was 58 at the time with 14 years as a full-time employee. I was told that, after reaching age 65, my pay would change, and I would receive more. Does anyone know how this works?
A: At age 62 – not 65 – your annuity will be recomputed using the standard FERS formula: 0.01 x your high-3 on the day you went on disability retirement x your total years of FERS service. The product will be increased by any cost-of-living adjustments that have occurred since you retired on disability.
Q: My husband injured his back in 2007. We have been struggling with his claim. We finally got a letter stating he was approved. The letter says we have to choose the Office of Workers’ Compensation Program or the Office of Personnel Management program. He is FERS and is 59 years old. He is getting retirement until his disability was approved and also is getting Social Security disability. They want us to sign the form indicating which one we choose, but when we call the office, they say they cannot help answer any questions until we sign the form. How do we know which to choose? For example, say he was getting $1,500 from retirement, which includes $600 supplemental, Social Security (because of mandatory retirement for fire fighters at age 57), and $2,000 from Social Security disability. They are giving us a figure of $3,500 from OWCP. My question is, does he loose his Social Security disability?
A: If he accepts OWCP benefits, his Social Security disability benefit will be reduced by the amount of his OWCP benefit.
January 13th, 2011 | Disability retirement
Q: I am a 53-year-old military technician who has a Service Computation Date of 28 years civil service under FERS. I just lost my military position due to a medical condition. I applied for a FERS medical disability due to loss of my position for medical reasons and was denied because I qualify for Discontinued Service Retirement. Since I haven’t reached my MRA of 56, should I still be retired under a medical disability? If I don’t qualify for a medical and retire under a DSR, will I receive the Social Security supplement, or will I have to wait until my MRA for the supplement?
A: Because you already qualify for a Discontinued Service Retirement, that is your only option. If you take it, you will be eligible for the Special Retirement Supplement when you reach your minimum retirement age.
January 7th, 2011 | Disability retirement
Q: I am under FERS, and I am considering applying for disability due to bypass heart surgery. I am also retired from the active Air Force (20 years and collecting a pension). I’ve studied chapters 61 and 62 “Computation of Disability Retirement,” and under the General Rule it indicates active-duty military retirees are not eligible for the guaranteed minimum disability annuity compensation. Based on an answer you provided to a person in similar circumstances, this apparently does not apply to FERS. If that is true, then I have a question about computation for me if I stay to age 60 and have 20 years federal civilian service. Since I will be eligible for an annuity at age 60 with 20 years, and I apply after that date for disability retirement, will my retirement be re-computed at age 62 at the 1.1 percent per year rate?
A: You are correct about the guaranteed minimum annuity provision. It doesn’t apply to FERS employees. On the other hand, if you retire on disability, your annuity will not be re-computed using the higher multiplier when you reach age 62. Only those who have at least 20 years of service and retire on an immediate annuity at age 62 or later are eligible for that.
Q: I receive federal disability retirement from the U.S. Postal Service after 27 1/2 years of service. My disability was approved for anxiety and severe depression. During my postal career, I was a city letter carrier. I have an opportunity to take a job as a medical courier. Do you think this job will jeopardize my continuing to receive disability? The two jobs are a bit similar in nature, however the stress level of the new job would be far less. I do not want to jeopardize my disability in any way. There is no way I could ever return to the stress of the Postal Service with my mental conditions.
A: If you are under age 60 and accept a nonfederal position, your disability annuity would only be discontinued if your income from wages or self-employment was 80 percent or more of the current rate of base pay for the position you held when you went on disability retirement. If you accept a federal job, your salary will be reduced by by the amount of your disability annuity and will also be subject to the 80 percent limitation.
Q: I am a Federal Employees Retirement System dual-status federal technician in the Army National Guard. I am looking at a possible involuntary separation because of losing my dual status (nonmedical related) later this year. I am 45 years old with 12 years of federal service. Would I qualify for any type of involuntary separation/disability annuity payment?
A: You would be eligible for disability retirement if you are separated due to a disability that disqualifies you from membership in a reserve component of the armed forces or from holding the military grade required for such employment; you aren’t appointed to another position in the federal government; and you haven’t declined a reasonable offer of another position in your agency.
Q: I am 62 years old, and my Federal Employees Retirement System disability retirement benefit has been recalculated to a regular annuity. I am still on Social Security disability. Will Social Security offset the amount that I will be getting in my annuity?
A: No, it won’t.
Q: I was hired after 1983 to a nonmilitary position. I left federal employment with a 40 percent Federal Employees Retirement System disability annuity. I was recently approved for Social Security disability. It is my understanding that per Federal Law 5 U.S.C. 8452(a)(2) that my monthly FERS disability check will be reduced by 60 percent of my Social Security disability benefit. That doesn’t seem fair. Isn’t there a bill pending in Congress that repeals this? Do you know which bill I should refer to when I contact my Congressman?
A: That’s the law and, to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever introduced legislation to change it.
Q: I am a federal employee who will soon be going in for open-heart surgery. I am 58 years old and will be 59 in March. I have until I’m 60 to reach 20 years of service for early retirement. I am also a retired E-6. What would happen if the doctor after the operation says I can no longer work? Would I be given 100 percent disability of my base pay?
A: As an employee under the Federal Employees Retirement System, if you were approved by the Office of Personnel Management for disability retirement, during the first 12 months you would receive 60 percent of your high-3 minus 100 percent of any Social Security disability benefit to which you were entitled. (You have to file for a Social Security disability benefit at the same time you file for FERS benefits.) After the first 12 months, you’d receive 40 percent of your high-3 minus 60 percent of any Social Security disability benefit.
Q: The secretary of Defense authorized agencies to rehire annuitants with full pay and full annuities on March 18, 2004. If I retire under disability (through the Federal Employees Retirement System) and am rehired under this authority, am I still subject to the Office of Personnel Management’s 80 percent rule, whereby I would lose my disability annuity if I earn more than 80 percent of my former salary?
A: Disability annuitants cannot be hired under this authority.
Q: I was an Air Force reservist on orders for six months beginning in 2006. I injured myself while on active duty, and the six-month orders turned into two years before it was all said and done. I was put on the Permanently Disability Retired List (PDRL) with a 30-percent disability (non-combat related). I served 29 years in the Air Force Reserve, with a total of four years, eight months of active duty. I was hired in October 2008 as a federal employee. I am in the process of buying back those those four years and eight months of military time. I attended a Federal Employees Retirement System retirement seminar recently, and on one of the slides it said that the government would allow one to “waiver military retirement pay” for those with a “combat-related injury.” My questions are: Will I be able to continue to buy back my military time with a disability retirement check for a non-combat related injury? Is this counted as military retirement? Can I add my military time to my civilian seniority? Do I need to cancel my payment?
A: What you were told in the retirement seminar only applies to those who have retired from active duty and are receiving military retired pay, not reservists. There isn’t any requirement that you waive your disability pay. On the other hand, to get credit for that period of active-duty service, you will have to complete what you’ve already begun — making a deposit to the civilian retirement fund.
Q: I’m 56 years old, which is my minimum retirement age, with 12 years of credible service. If I applied for disability retirement, would I receive benefits based on my years of service or the “60 percent first year, 40 percent thereafter” rule? If I would only receive the “high-3″ times years of service calculation, what would be the advantage, if any, of disability retirement?
A: Because you aren’t eligible for an immediate unreduced annuity, your benefit would be calculated under disability rules. You’d receive 60 percent of your high-3 minus 100 percent of any Social Security disability benefit to which you are entitled. After 12 months, you’d receive 40 percent of your high-3 minus 60 percent of any Social Security disability benefit. Note: If you file for Federal Employees Retirement Service disability retirement, you must at the same time file for Social Security disability benefits. If you do not, the Office of Personnel Management will not process your application.
Q: When a person on Federal Employees Retirement System disability reaches age 62 and a recomputation is done, are the cost-of-living adjustments added to the “high-3″ salary from the regular pay schedule or from the annuity COLA schedule? My high-3 was $47,116 when I became disabled in February 2004, and I turned 62 in June 2010. I live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. I was under the impression that COLA was determined by the GS schedule and locality pay.
A: When you reach age 62, the time your spent on the disability annuity roll will be added to your actual service. The total time will then be multiplied by 1 percent. The product will then be multiplied by your high-3 at the onset of your disability, increased by all FERS cost-of-living adjustments payable from that time until age 62. Changes that may have occurred in the salary of your previous position after you retired won’t be used in this recomputation.