Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Law enforcement and COLA

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Q. I’m retiring Dec. 31 as a law enforcement officer under FERS. Would I be eligible for the retirees’ cost-of-living adjustment in 2013?

A. No, you wouldn’t. However, you would be eligible for 11/12ths of the 2013 COLA, which would show up in your January 2014 annuity payment.

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Health insurance following 6c disability retirement

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Q. I am a federal law enforcement officer with four years of service in a 6c covered position. I was injured in the line of duty and my agency is unable to accommodate me in another position, so I am being medically retired. What are the health insurance options for me and my family after my disability retirement?

A. Assuming that you are enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits program, as a FERS disability retiree you will be able to continue that coverage. Note: When you apply for FERS disability retirement, you must simultaneously apply for Social Security disability benefits. If you don’t, OPM won’t process your case.

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Law enforcement retirement and benefits

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Q. I will have 20 years of 6c covered law enforcement officer service at age 48. Can I retire then? Maybe if I don’t draw benefits until I’ve hit the MRA of 50? If this is possible, how will it affect my health benefits?

A. No, you can’t retire at 48. To retire on an immediate annuity and continue your health benefits coverage in retirement, you will have to work to age 50, in either a covered or noncovered position.

Alternatively, you could resign from the government and apply for an annuity at your minimum retirement age, which would be 56. However, you wouldn’t be able to re-enroll in the Federal Employees Health Benefits plan.

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Special retirement supplement and law enforcement positions

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Q. I have about 23 years of 6c covered law enforcement officer service and turn 50 this year. I’m trying to decide if I want to jump to a private-sector job, and part of my decision will be based on what I am expecting as my FERS pension plus the special retirement supplement we are supposed to get given our mandatory retirement age. I have heard that a recent change in federal law, possibly as part of the Affordable Care Act, eliminated (or will eliminate) this supplement, even though when I started 23 years ago, that was not the law.

I have a few questions:

1. Are you aware of any recent legal change that would deny federal LEOs from collecting this supplement?

2. Is the retirement supplement (assuming it is still around) means tested against the roughly $14,000 annual earnings cap, even as an LEO? If it is, any new job would exceed the cap, and I would not even bother to count the supplement in my pension calculation.

3. Does the supplement (if still available) go away when I become eligible for normal Social Security benefits?

A. 1. No. 2. Yes. 3. Yes.

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FERS disability and tests

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Q. I am a FERS law enforcement officer with about 15 years’ service. I have a pain condition that does not show up on medical tests but for which I have been receiving treatments from doctors for about seven years. The FERS disability application says the system requires medical tests to prove the condition. If I have only a doctor’s diagnosis without positive tests, would my FERS disability application be considered?

A. Yes, but it might not be approved.

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Law enforcement retirement

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Q. I am a CSRS employee, 53 years old, and have 29 years of coverage under 6c law enforcement pay. I have been fortunate enough to be selected for a non-6c SES position. Can you tell me how this will affect my ability to retire?

A. Because you are at least 50 years old and have at least 20 years of law enforcement-covered service, you may retire at any time. Taking a non-LEO position won’t affect that right.

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Covered vs. noncovered LEO

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Q. I am a covered law enforcement officer (6c), and I am thinking about taking a promotion to a noncovered position that has a promotion potential to GS-14. I have six years in the 6c covered position and four years in a noncovered position in another agency, plus I bought back my military time (four years). If I were to jump ship, work the noncovered position for a few years, with the intention of coming back to a covered position, would I still be able to retire with special coverage as long as I have 20 years total in a covered position?

A. Yes.

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Cost-of-living allowances and FERS special category retirees

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Q. I just received a FERS retirement benefit statement. One of the comments made on the statement is: “A FERS annuity shows a loss in purchasing power because it is not fully protected against inflation after retirement (unless you retired from a special category such as law enforcement or firefighter).” As a law enforcement officer under the special retirement provisions, what is the cost of living allowance? I will be 57 at the time of retirement. I did find something that indicates I will get the cost-of-living adjustment starting right away while regular FERS retirees must wait until they are 62, but I did not see if the normal cost-of-living adjustments under FERS apply to me. Is it full like CSRS or the same, but earlier, for FERS special?

A. While most FERS retirees must wait until age 62 to receive cost-of-living adjustments, special category employees, such as law enforcement officers and firefighters, can receive COLAs at any age. The latter can also begin receiving the special retirement supplement when they retire, while other FERS retirees must wait until they reach their minimum retirement age, which ranges between 55 and 57, depending on the year of birth.

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Early retirement

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Q. I am a 6c federal employee with a retirement 6c date of Sept. 28, 1996, and because of my 11 years of military service and buyback, I have a retirement service computation date of Aug. 26, 1985. I am four years away from 20 years of 6c time. However, I might have an opportunity to pursue a career in which I could make substantially more with the ability of working until age 65 if I desire.

I should also point out that after my 11 years of military service, I continued with the reserves and will obtain a military pension at age 60, as well as Tricare benefits.

What would I lose by leaving early? I know the Social Security supplement will not be available, but I would be working longer anyway because I have a young child. Would it be considered just a normal federal retirement (FERS)? I am not worried about medical due to my military service?

A. If you left before completing 20 years of covered service, your deferred annuity at age 60 would be calculated using the standard formula, not the more generous one for law enforcement officers.

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Military service, law enforcement employment and retirement

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Q. I am going through the hiring process for a couple of federal law enforcement agencies. I am 41; however, I am a veteran’s preference eligible candidate and therefore eligible for an age waiver. As such, the agencies have advised me that hiring of eligible such candidates older than 37 has occurred and is occurring; however, no one can tell me how that affects the mandatory retirement of 57. I have 18 years of military service. roughly half active duty and half reserve time (I am a drilling reservist looking to retire out of the reserves at 20 years).

What are the retirement considerations for those hired into covered law enforcement positions after age 37? Does/can an adequate number of years of military buyback factor into meeting the mandatory retirement at 57?

A. If you are hired after the normal entry age, you will be mandatorily retired at the end of the month in which you complete 20 years of covered service. Your annuity for that 20 years of covered service will be computed using the enhanced formula for law enforcement officers. Your active-duty military service isn’t creditable toward meeting the 20-year requirement. Instead, if you have made a deposit to get credit for that time, that portion of your annuity will be computed using the standard annuity formula.

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Bureau of Prisons employment and MRA

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Q. I am employed as a physician with the Federal Bureau of Prisons and am thus considered a law enforcement officer. I plan to retire at age 57 with 16.9 years of service. Will I qualify for a full pension, and will my PCAP be added to calculation of my pension?

A. You will be retiring under the MRA+10 provision (minimum retirement age with at least 10 years of service). Therefore, your annuity will be calculated using the standard formula — not the one for LEOs — and it will be reduced by 5 percent for every year you are younger than 62. You can reduce or eliminate that age penalty by retiring and postponing the receipt of your annuity. PCAPs are included in the computation if certain criteria are met. See 5 U.S.C. 5948, 5 CFR Part 595. Also see www.opm.gov/oca/html/pca.asp.

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Law enforcement retirement

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Q. I am just shy of 55 years of age and have 27 years of government service as an 1811 with the Department of Justice. I am considering taking an 1801 position with another agency. How does that affect, if at all, my FERS retirement?

A. Once you have completed 20 years of covered service, you can take any other job and work for as long as you feel like it. It won’t affect your entitlement to the more generous law-enforcement officer retirement benefit. Any years beyond 20 will simply be calculated using the standard formula. Note: Once you have those 20 LEO years under your belt and are at least age 50, you can retire at any time.

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Military buyback and law enforcement credit

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Q. I served 23 years in the Army and retired in 1999. Sixteen years of that was spent as a special agent with Army Criminal Investigation Command, and the remaining was as a military police officer. I was hired into my current organization as a GS 1811 (law enforcement) in 2002, and, as a result of an age waiver, received primary 6(e) coverage, which allows me to do a full 20 years of 1811 service. Is there any way to get any of my past military time credited as “1811 time,” which would qualify under the 6(e) retirement system so I could retire with 6(e) retirement and not have to do the full 20?

A. No, there isn’t. The only time such military service can be credited for special category retirement purposes is if a covered employee is called to active duty and then returns to a covered position.

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6c covered position and mandatory retirement

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Q. I am working under a non-6c-covered law enforcement position and will turn 37 at the end of this year. I am working on finishing my degree and would like to move into an 1811 position, but the timing will not permit my movement directly into that series. If I move into a 6c position before my 37th birthday, will I be eligible to transfer into an 1811 position (FBI)? I have been looking for an answer for a few days and haven’t had much luck. HR folks at FBI were not sure but did say my SF-50 would have to contain a specific notation on it that would make me eligible for transfer after age 37.

A. In general, an employee must be in a covered position before age 37 to complete 20 years of service before the mandatory retirement age of 57. However, under certain circumstances, an agency can hire someone after age 37. If they do, the employee can continue to work until he completes 20 years and then be separated. The ability to do that varies by not only agency but, sometimes, activity. Only the agency you want to join can tell you whether you’d be able to do that. Even then, they may have to check with a higher level or even OPM.

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Mandatory retirement

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Q. I worked 20 years and two months in a covered firefighter position. I then worked two years in a non-covered position.  I have returned to a secondary covered position.  Do I face mandatory retirement?  Or does my break in service allow me to work past 57?  Where would I find the answer in the federal regulations or is this decided by case history.

A. Yes, you will face mandatory retirement. Go to www.opm.gov/retire/pubs/handbook/C046.pdf and scroll down to Section 46A3.3-2B1, which applies to both CSRS and FERS LEOs and firefighters. Note: That section hasn’t been updated to show that the mandatory retirement age for firefighters is now 57.

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FEHBP enrollment changes

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Q. My wife and I are federal employees under FERS. I will be retiring with 25-plus years of service as a federal law enforcement officer this year. I have been enrolled in self and family coverage under the FEHBP during my entire career, and my wife has been covered under my benefit plan during this period. My wife has been employed with the government for a little more than a year in a non-LEO position and plans to remain in her job at least until she reaches MRA, which will give her right at 10 years of service. I do not intend to take a survivor annuity when I retire because we made other arrangements long ago with life insurance and personal IRAs.

Based on this scenario, I have a few questions about our options during the next FEHBP open season:

1. Since I will be retired when the next FEHBP open season occurs, will my long-term eligibility for FEHBP be harmed if I drop my self and family coverage plan during open season and my wife enrolls in a self and family plan to cover us both?

2. If my wife passes away before I do and after she retires, would I be able to re-enroll in the FEHBP even though I dropped my enrollment after retiring for coverage under my wife’s plan?

3. If my wife retires at the MRA and defers her annuity, would she still be eligible to be enrolled in the FEHBP between her retirement date and when she begins drawing her annuity? If not, would I be eligible to pick up self and family coverage for both of us during this time?

4. Overall, would it be better (or easier) for me to remain enrolled in the FEHBP after I retire and continue to carry my wife on my policy? What would be the advantages and disadvantages of doing this?

5. Finally, although we are confident that I do need to take a survivor annuity because of the arrangements we have made, would we be forgoing anything important by not taking it? I know the main issue for many people is the ability of the spouse to maintain health insurance in retirement, but since my wife is a federal employee, does it really matter?

A. While I could answer each of your questions in turn, I won’t. That’s because there’s nothing to be gained by you and your wife engaging in enrollment hopping. The only sensible thing for you to is to be continuously enrolled in the self and family option of your plan. That way all contingencies are covered.

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FERS and military reserve retirement benefits

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Q. I’m under a federal employee retirement system with a mandatory retirement age of 57 as a law enforcement officer. Additionally, I already bought back approximately four years of active military service. I’m also eligible for a military reserve retirement when I turn 60 after completing 20 years of military reserve service. Would I be eligible to draw retirement benefits under FERS and the military reserve even though I have already bought back my active-duty time?

A. Yes.

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Delaying offset of law enforcement annuity

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Q. I will be required to retire in May under FERS law enforcement at age 57. If I accept a non-law enforcement government job before then, can I just transfer to that agency, thereby delaying or holding off my law enforcement annuity? I want to avoid the offset of the annuity.

A. Yes, if you have at least 20 years of covered service when you are hired into a non-covered position, you can preserve your right to a law enforcement retirement benefit. Since you won’t be receiving an annuity, you can continue working and receive the full salary of your new position. When you retire, 20 years of your service will be computed under the more generous law enforcement formula and the rest under the standard formula.

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Law enforcement and special retirement supplement

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Q. If I retire at age 51 with 27 years as a federal law enforcement officer and the FERS special retirement supplement is reduced by 5 percent per year that I am under age 62, does that then mean the FERS SRS will increase by 5 percent each year until I reach the age of 62 when Social Security actually kicks in?

A. You’ll be happy to know that there won’t be any reduction in the special retirement supplement when you retire. Nor will there be any reduction in your annuity. As a special category employee, you are exempt from the requirement that your annuity be reduced by 5 percent for every year you are under age 62. Further, you will receive the SRS when you retire, instead of having to wait until you reach your minimum retirement age. Finally, between the time you retire and you reach your MRA, you will be able to earn as much as you want without affecting the amount of your SRS. After that, you’ll be subject to the Social Security earnings limit, just like every other FERS retiree.

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Suspending FEHB

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Q. I am eligible to retire this year from federal law enforcement (age 51 with 20 years as an officer). I am serving on active-duty military orders, which will continue for the next three years. If I retire from my law enforcement position, can I suspend (NOT cancel) my health care coverage option (and premiums) while I am on active duty and covered by Tricare?

I would not be eligible for Tricare between ages 55 and 60 and therefore would not want to lose access to this important coverage when my military tour ends.

A. Yes, you can suspend your FEHB coverage under new regulations published by OPM. Read about it at www.opm.gov/insure/health/eligibility/tricare.asp.

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