Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

FECA and Social Security

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Q. I retired Jan. 1, 1985, under CSRS with 25 years of federal service.

I also qualified for total and permanent disability under FECA benefits based on injury June 23, 1983. I had no employment under FERS.

I elected FECA benefits. Before my employment with the government, I also qualified for regular Social Security retirement benefits for work in the private sector with fewer than 15 years of substantial earnings. Can I receive full FECA benefits and Social Security retirement benefits at the same time? If so, would there be any reduction in the Social Security retirement amount?

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Workers’ comp

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Q. I am part of CSRS. I was hired into federal service in 1979. In 1982, I was injured on the job and on workers’ compensation for seven years. A few recent retirees have told me they were notified by the Office of Personnel Management of outstanding indebtedness going back over 25 years due to nonpayment of retirement money. When I retire, will I be required to pay OPM for those seven years of retirement money I did not pay into the system while I was on workers’ comp? Or is my retirement annuity based on what I paid into the system?

A. According to OPM, “An employee who is in a leave-without-pay (LWOP) status while in receipt of FECA benefits will receive full credit for the LWOP period in the computation of annuity and for high-3 average salary purposes. LWOP while in receipt of FECA benefits is not subject to the limitation of 6 months credit in each calendar year, as is other LWOP.” See www.opm.gov/retire/pubs/handbook/C0102.pdf.

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Four retirement options

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Q. I am a 58-year-old letter carrier covered under the Federal Employees Retirement System with 27½ years of service. I recently became incapacitated due to an occupational disease/illness. I am considering submitting a CA-2 form for worker’s comp under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act, applying for FERS disability and Social Security disability, or applying for early retirement. Can I apply for all four options at the same time and choose the best option later?

What is not clear to me is the FERS disability option. Since I have reached my minimum retirement age and qualify for immediate retirement excluding the Social Security supplement, am I stuck with the 1 percent of high-3 annuity only, or can I receive the option for 60 percent of my current salary? The annuity option seems to be a huge disadvantage to the tune of $18,000 yearly until age 62 (estimated on a $53,000 base salary).

A. You are free to apply for any or all of the benefits you mentioned. In fact, you have to apply for a Social Security disability benefit if you apply for FERS disability retirement. Regardless of your eligibility for discontinued service retirement, you can apply for FERS disability retirement. If approved, during the first year you would receive 60 percent of your high-3 minus 100 percent of any Social Security disability benefit to which you were entitled. After that, you’d receive 40 percent of your high-3 minus 60 percent of any Social Security disability benefit. At age 62, your disability annuity would be converted to a regular annuity.

If you are also found eligible for both FERS disability retirement and employees compensation, you’d have to choose between the two. Your decision most likely would be based on which of the two provides the better benefit financially.

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Counting injury leave toward retirement

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Q: If I received compensation for two years because of an injury at the U.S. Postal Service, does this delay my retirement for two years?

A: If you were in leave-without-pay status while in receipt of workers’ compensation benefits, you’ll receive full credit for that period of time in determining your length of service and your high-3. LWOP while receiving Federal Employees Compensation Act, or FECA, benefits isn’t subject to the six-month limitation in a calendar year, as is other LWOP.

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