Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Employment and military retired pay

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Q. I retired as a CWO-3 (USMC) after serving 21 years. I am receiving retirement pay and received a 20 percent disability rating from the Veterans Affairs Department and get payments from VA. If I take a position with a federal agency, will I lose any of my military retirement?

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Salary appeal

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Q. My daughter worked for 4½ years as a GS-4 and duties were added (5-6 level) that were not at the GS-4 level. She repeatedly asked for and was denied a desk audit. Four positions (GS-5) were posted, and she did not get any (they went to veterans, and that was fine with her), but when told she didn’t get one of the positions, she was also told she would be transferred because one of the GS-5 positions was the one she was doing at the time. She feels strongly that since she had done the job for several years (and is still doing the job if he calls in), she should get back pay. I also understand that after doing the job for 90 days, she should have been compensated for it, and after she had been doing it for more than a year, the job as a GS-5 did not even have to be posted.

What do you advise? The union, HR and her supervisor all declined to ask for a desk audit.

A. Have her go to www.opm.gov/classapp/fact/fact.htm. That’s where she’ll find the Classification Appeals: Employee Fact Sheet, which will explain how to file an appeal.

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Reserve buyback

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Q. I have 22 years in the Army Reserve, six of it on active status. If I take a federal job and buy back my six years of active time, can I still draw my Reserve retirement when I turn 60?

A. Yes.

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Military service and federal retirement

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Q. I retired in 1988 after 11 years of active service in the Air Force.

Am I eligible for benefits; and for some form of retirement pay when I reach 62? I was thinking of getting a federal job to complete the active service to 20 years.

A. Because this is a site for federal civilian employees and retirees, I don’t know if you are entitled to any military benefits. You’ll have to take that up with your former branch of service.

If you did come to work for the government, you wouldn’t get credit for your active-duty service unless you made a deposit to the civilian retirement system. If you did, those years would added to your actual civilian service and you could retire with any of the following age and service combinations: 62 with five, 60 with 20, at your minimum retirement age with 30 or at your MRA with between 10 and 29. In the last case, your annuity would be reduced by 5 percent for every year you were under age 62.

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Military buyback

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Q. I retired with 21-plus years of military service and am now a federal employee.

I retired about 13 years ago and have been collecting military retirement.

I have been a federal employee for about 11 years. Can I still buy back my military service? If so, would it be worth it, and how does that work?

A. Yes, you can make a deposit to get credit for your active-duty service.

To do that, you’ll need to complete a copy of Form RI-20-97, Estimated Earnings During Military Service, and mail it to the military finance center for your branch of service with a copy of your DD 214, Report of Transfer or Discharge. When you get that information, take it to your payroll office with a copy of your DD 214 and a Standard Form 3108.

Your payroll office will figure out how much you owe and arrange for you to make the deposit if you decide to do that.

If you make a deposit, you’ll get credit for your active-duty service in determining your total years of civilian service and have it used in the computation of your annuity. However, there’s a potential downside to making a deposit that you’ll have to consider. At retirement, you’ll have to waive your military retired pay. If you don’t, credit for that active-duty service will be eliminated and the amount you deposited returned to you, with accrued interest.

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Military service and federal service and retirement

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Q. I served on active duty (Army, O-4) for 12 years and had four years in the Guard enlisted time during college. Do my 16 years qualify me for any benefits under FERS once I reach 65? Does it make sense for me to try to get a job in the federal government to work for five more years and reach the magic 20?

A: First, if you got a civilian job, you would have to work for 5 years to be vested in the retirement system. Second, to get credit for active-duty service, you’d have to make a deposit to the civilian retirement system. Third, the age and service requirements to retire are: age 62 with five years of service, 60 with 20, at your minimum retirement age (MRA) with 30 or at your MRA with 10 to 29 years. It’s up to you to decide if it makes sense to go to apply for a job in the federal government.

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Federal and military employment and retirement

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Q. Hello, I have seen many questions about getting credit for military service when retiring under FERS, but I wonder if it works the other way, too. If a person was in the military, separated from service and worked for the federal government under FERS, and then went back into the military, is his FERS time creditable to his military retirement?

A. No.

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Military service and federal employment and retirement

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Q. I was born on Aug. 2, 1967, and was in the military for nine years and three months (Feb. 25, 1992, to June 13, 2001). I worked at the VA hospital for 11 months (October 2003 to September 2004) and while there received my 10 years of service pin.

I am looking to obtain GS employment again (soon) and wanted to know if I could retire and receive a retirement check once I complete 10 more years of service, giving me 20 years of service. If I am unable to receive my retirement check after 20 years of service, at age 55, when would I be eligible to? Given the scenario above, what is the best retirement option for me once I am back in the GS system (FERS or CSRS), and do I have to pay money back to receive a retirement check?

A. No, you couldn’t retire with 20 years of service. The earliest you could retire would be when you reached your minimum retirement age, which is 56 years and six months. Further, you would get credit for your active-duty service only if you made a deposit to the retirement system.

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Federal retirement contributions from 40 years ago

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Q. I worked for the Social Security Administration from 1969 to 1971. I am now 63 and looking to retire at 66. In reviewing my Social Security statement, I see that nothing went into Social Security during those two years. I understand from the SSA that Social Security was not being withheld at that time but employees who worked at SSA received civil service pension benefits. Nothing was paid to me when I left SSA.

How do I find out if I have any earned benefits during that period?

A. You didn’t work for the federal government long enough to be eligible for a retirement benefit. However, if you left your retirement contributions in the retirement fund when you resigned, you would be entitled to a refund. Go to www.opm.gov, click on Find Form(s) and download a copy of Standard Form 2802, Application for Refund of Retirement Benefits. Fill it out and send it to OPM. If you are entitled to a refund, the office will send it to you.

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Military buyback and retirement timing

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Q. I am 50 and have 8.5 years of active military service (covered on DD-214) and 179 days of consecutive active-duty time as a reservist (no DD-214). I have approximately 3.5 years of competitive, permanent career federal civil service time but am no longer a civil service employee (resignation, no negative reasons). I do not count the 179 days of active reserve duty in my retirement calculations.

I have not done the military buyback yet for my 8.5 years’ credited military service. If I land another permanent, career full-time federal civil service job and buy back my 8.5 years, would I then have 11.5 years’ combined federal retirement and thus  have only 8.5 years to go before qualifying for federal retirement/pension (although I would continue to work)?

A. If you land a permanent, career full-time federal job and make a deposit for your years of active-duty service, you’d be able to retire on an immediate annuity at age 60 with at least 20 years of service.

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Grade increase

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Q. I am a GS 6 step 3. I was recently notified that I had received a within-grade increase (Grade 7); however, nobody has been able to tell me what step I am at, and the information hasn’t updated in my service record screen yet. Can you tell me what step I should be at?

A. If you were at step 3, a reasonable assumption is that you are now at step 4.

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New job and benefits, service transfer

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Q. I’m an electronic technician with the Postal Service and applied for a electronic technician position with the FAA. If I were offered the job, would my time carry over? If my current pay is between the pay scales, is it matched to what I currently make? Since I’m already a federal employee, I wouldn’t need to go through probation again, right? Where can I find out the pay scales and how much annual and sick leave are accrued? Should I know or consider any other information?

A. Your years of service, leave accrual rate and TSP investments would transfer to the new job. If you are enrolled in the FEHB or FEGLI programs, they would transfer too. What you would be paid depends on the grade of the position you are hired to fill. You’ll have to check with agency you are considering joining. The pay schedules for each grade and area are at www.opm.gov/oca/12tables/index.asp.

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Creditable service

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Q. Can I include county time with my federal time toward total years served in my retirement? If so, how?

A. No.

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Windfall elimination provision

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Q. I worked for the federal government from 1966 to 1969 and from 1981 to 1985. I did not pay Social Security. I returned to work in 1988 and worked until 2010 and did pay Social Security. I was told by a girl at a Social Security office that I am not under the windfall elimination provision because I didn’t make enough money, yet another office tells me that because I worked for six years without paying SS, I am under the WEP. I am very confused.

Should my Social Security benefits be calculated under the WEP? If they are, do they include my earning for the six years I didn’t pay SS?

A. The windfall elimination provision applies to the Social Security benefit of anyone who receives an annuity — in whole or part — from a retirement system where he didn’t pay Social Security taxes. The WEP will reduce — but not eliminate — your Social Security benefit if you have fewer than 30 years of substantial earnings under Social Security.

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Combining federal and state periods of service

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Q. I have 17 years of prior service in the United States Postal Service under CSRS, and I’m employed by the state of New York. I would like to know if there is a way to combine my federal and state times.

A. There isn’t. FYI: If you didn’t take a refund of your retirement contributions when you left the Postal Service, you could apply for a deferred CSRS annuity at age 62.

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Previous federal service, military buyback and federal pension

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Q. I have four years and 10 months of federal service and six years of active military duty. I am no longer in federal service. Can I buy my military time and qualify for a federal pension?

A. No.

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AWOL and resignation

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Q. I resigned at the beginning of a pay period from my position with the Department of Defense due to a hostile work environment. When I received my leave and earnings statement, I noticed I was coded as being AWOL for the balance of hours remaining in the pay period, after I had actually resigned. When I inquired about this, I was told that if leave is not requested, then it is coded as AWOL. I replied by essentially asking, how could I have been AWOL if I had already resigned? I did not receive a reply. Is it possible to be coded as AWOL after resignation? Thank you.

A. According to OPM, “Absence without leave, often called AWOL, is a nonpay status for any absence from duty which has not been authorized or approved by the proper leave approving official. It is important to note that AWOL is not a disciplinary action in and of itself. Although it can be the basis for a disciplinary action should the agency find it warranted.” Since each agency is responsible for administering its own leave program, I see no basis for questioning your agency’s decision.

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Getting two VSIPs

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Q. I retired from the Department of Justice in 2007. I received a $25,000 VSIP. I returned to work before the five-year waiting period and repaid the entire $25,000. I am employed by a different agency and am now thinking about going out after only two years. Am I eligible for a new VSIP?

A. Absolutely not. By law, payment of a VSIP is a one-time, non-repeatable event.

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Military service and federal service pension

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Q. I’m a FERS employee. I’d like assistance in computing how much federal service I have so I can determine how much more I need to qualify for a federal service pension.

I have about nine years in the U.S. Army, as well as about five years in the U.S. Naval Reserve. My understanding is that both periods of service count toward federal service for pension purposes — but I need the totals so I can use that for a basis for moving forward.

Which agency should I contact, and how should I make sure all of the federal service pension requirements can be met?

A. Your understanding is wrong. Only active-duty service is creditable for retirement purposes, and then only if you make a deposit to get that credit. To find out exactly how much active-duty service you have and how much you’d have to pay to get credit for it, complete 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 Form 214, Report of Transfer or Discharge. When you get an answer, take it to your payroll office, along with a copy of your DD 214 and a Standard Form 3108. They’ll figure out what you owe, after which you can decide what to do. Note: The RI and Standard Form are at www.opm.gov; click on Find Form(s).

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Questions on insurance and nonfederal service transfer

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Q. If I have 25 years of service and I am 52 and I have health insurance for 15 years, can I take my health insurance with me if I retire this year? Can you go from a federal job to a state job and have your service time go on? Or can you go from a state job to a federal job and have your service time go on?

A. Unless your agency offers you an opportunity to retire early, you can’t retire. You don’t meet the age and service requirements to do that. Your federal service wouldn’t be creditable if you take a nonfederal job, nor would any nonfederal time be creditable if you returned to federal service.

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