Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Military annuity and CSRS

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Q. My husband (age 56) and I (age 53) are reaching the time when we are considering retirement and want to clarify a few things. I am covered under CSRS with 33 years of service. I have worked other jobs but I do not have enough credits to be eligible for Social Security. He is National Guard and will retire with over 30 years of service. He is also a government technician covered under FERS and will be eligible for Social Security. We are both retiring with survivor benefits. I know my husband’s Social Security would offset my CSRS. Will I be able to draw his National Guard military annuity without it affecting my CSRS retirement? What about FERS? Read the rest of this entry »

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‘Quitting’ FEHB and re-enrolling

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Q. Can a retired employee quit his Federal Employees Health Benefits in retirement for, say, Tricare for Life and Medicare if retired military, and later opt to switch back to FEHB?

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Step increases during disability

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Q. I am a veteran of the armed forces and a civilian federal firefighter of Hawaii and have about 13 years government time under FERS.

While on duty in 2010, we were in route in the fire engine and an oncoming vehicle lost control and collided with the fire engine, causing substantial injuries to myself and the crew. The majority of the kinetic energy was absorbed by me because the point of impact was where I was seated.

I sustained injuries to my lumbar area in my lower back and injuries to my left limb, for which I’ve undergone a major back surgery, countless doctors’ visits and therapies, etc. I am still recovering from the injuries and presently on modified light duty at four hours a day, five days a week. I was on total disability for about 2 years and noticed that my retirement investment into my Thrift Savings Plan was at a freeze or standstill, where an injured employee could not invest into their TSP while on leave without pay. I also noticed that while on total disability, an injured employee goes into LWOP status, which human resources said affects your within-grade increases to where you are not entitled to move up in step increases.

Is there a new law that helps with retirement benefits for workers hurt on the job? After intensive research, I stumbled across an article by Stephen Barr dated Oct. 10, 2003, informing that President Bush signed legislation that will help make up any shortfall in retirement benefits for federal employees who are disabled or injured while on the job. It mentions the new law will change the way a federal employee’s benefits are calculated during a disability by increasing the pension benefit provided under FERS to cover any shortfall.

Is there also any new law or standard act that helps with entitlements for step increases for workers hurt on the job? Ever since I was injured on the job in 2010, and because of the injuries I sustained I was on total disability in LWOP status not by choice, the opportunity to move up in step increase passed me over twice. As co-workers who were hired the same day as me moved up in step increase, I was denied. Can you advise?

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Catch-62

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Q. I was told I am included in the catch 62 provision. I served four years in the Air Force from 1974 to 1978 and began Postal Service employment in 1979 (to present). I’d like to retire this year. I also have 2,282 hours of sick leave, and my service computation begins in 1975.

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Medicare Part B

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Q. I am retired military. I am 65 years old now. Do I have to pay for Medicare Part B even though no expense now?

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RIF and health benefits

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Q. I’m 53 with 27 years and 10 months. I could get six months of military service for Army Reserve full-time training credit. I’m in a term position. If I’m given a reduction in force, what are my options? Can I defer my retirement until my minimum retirement age of 56? If so, would I lose my health and insurance benefits? If I’m RIF’ed and do not defer, does that means I lost health benefits?

A. If you receive a RIF notice, you have two choices. You can either sit tight and see if you are going to be separated, or you can take early retirement. If you are going to be involuntarily separated, you can still retire. Whether your retirement was voluntary or involuntary, the age penalty would be waived. Therefore, there wouldn’t be any point in retiring and postponing the receipt of your annuity to a later date. As for your Federal Employees Health Benefits coverage, as long as you were enrolled in the program before the RIF was announced, you could carry it into retirement.

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No break in service

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Q. I came into federal service in 1995 with the Air Force (civilian). In May 2012, I began a Schedule A excepted service temporary appointment to the Army to serve in Afghanistan. The Air Force put me on leave without pay, and I have return rights and will return to my old position and location when this one-year assignment is done. I want to ensure that there is no break in service or other problem when it comes time to retire. Is there anything that I should do now to ensure that things don’t get messed up at retirement time? I want my time with the Army in Afghanistan to be counted for retirement. Will there be a problem later if, at retirement, one agency shows me on leave without pay for 12 months, while another agency has me on an excepted service appointment for that time? I’m continuing to pay into FERS while with the Army.

A. Just make sure that the Standard Form 50 cut by the Army to bring you onboard makes it into your Official Personnel Folder, along with the SF-50 separating you from that position. Having them placed between the SF-50 putting you on LWOP and the one returning you to your former position, your employment record will be seamless.

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FEHB vs. Tricare

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Q. I am a FERS employee. I will be drawing my reservist retirement June 27 at 60 years old. Can I drop my Federal Employees Health Benefits for Tricare? Can you give me details about this how long will it take, if this has to be done at open season and the grace period on the policy?

A. You can get an FEHB suspension form by calling the Office of Personnel Management’s Retirement Information Office at 1-888-767-6738. They may be able to tell you how long it takes.

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Law enforcement time

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Q. I retired after 21 years in the Air Force as a Security Forces member. I recently started working for the federal government in a nonlaw enforcement position. Can my law enforcement time as a cop in the Air Force be used for the law enforcement retirement system?

A. No.

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Leave without pay vs. LWOP-US

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Q. I am a dual status technician GS employee in the Air National Guard. I’m trying to figure out if a three-month activation on Title 10 active duty for which I go leave without pay from my technician job will require me to make a military deposit to credit that tour after completion? Does such a short tour fall under the LWOP six-month rule and therefore doesn’t require any payment? Our agency has been calculating deposits to cover less than six-month tours in the past, but I’m curious if that’s necessary.

A. Your agency is correct. You won’t be taking LWOP. You’ll be taking LWOP-US, which means that you must make a deposit to get credit for that time.

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Retirement application

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Q. I am an Air Force retiree who has 13 years as a federal employee. I am eligible for MRA+10 on March 24. If I apply to retire, how long does it take to process my application for approval or what is the earliest date I can actually resign? I am considering a private sector job and they want to start in 30-45 days.

A. When you fill out the Standard Form 3107, Application for Immediate Retirement, you’ll put the date you are retiring in Section B2. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to process your application, that’s your last day of employment. I suggest that you inform your management well in advance and give your personnel office time to review the 3107 to make sure that everything is in order. Note: Since you’ll be retiring under the MRA+10 provision, you have the option of accepting an immediate annuity, which will be reduced by 5 percent for every year you are under age 62, or postponing the receipt of your annuity to a later date to reduce or eliminate the age penalty.

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DoD leave and military leave

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Q. I work for the Defense Department and plan on retiring at the end of this year. I’m retired from National Guard and have 240 hours of military leave. When I retire from DoD, will I be paid for the 240 hours of military leave along with my DoD leave?

A. No. You’ll have to check with your branch of service to see if your military leave has any cash value.

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Rehire, job loss and annuity

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Q. I had 24.9 years of government civil service with the Navy. We were BRACed, and I retired. Then I got hired as a contractor for the government for less than a year. Now I work for the Air Force at a decrease in pay and grade. I may lose my job again because of the budget cuts in the government. How will all this affect my annuity, which I’m still receiving, if I lose this job?

A. If you received both your annuity and the unreduced salary of your new position, you wouldn’t receive any credit for that period of employment and your annuity would remain the same when you left. If your salary was reduced by the mount of your annuity and you worked for at least one year (or the part-time equivalent), you’d be entitled to your original annuity plus a supplemental annuity based solely on that new period of employment.

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Postal Service VERA

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Q. I am a 55-year-old Postal Service employee with more than 26 years of creditable service who has been on active duty under Title 10 for the past 10 years.  Late last year, I was offered the Voluntary Early Retirement Authority, which I accepted and submitted the irrevocable application along with all of the required documents.  On Jan. 31, I received a phone from the Postal Service human resources office to inform me that my retirement could not be processed because I am on active duty. I was also told that I had to return to pay status to be eligible for retirement.

1.  Is leave without pay or on military leave a pay status?

2.  Under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, my employer is obligated to rehire me after five years of military service. What would guarantee that I will be rehired after 15 years of military service?

3.  Since the Postal Service is offering the VERA because of reorganization, what precludes them from honoring the offer for retirement?

4.  Do I have any legal recourse to pursue this issue?

A. 1. No.

2. No.

3. You aren’t an employee.

4. No.

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Health insurance change

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Q. I am a 69-year-old female FERS retiree, covered under parts A and B of Medicare and Blue Cross/Blue Shield basic for federal employees. I also have my spouse insured on this plan. My spouse is a military retiree, so we have Tricare for Life, and he also has parts A and B of Medicare.

I would like to change to the less expensive BC/BS health insurance, but I want to keep the doctors we currently have. Is there a possibility I would have greater out-of-pocket expense with the standard BC/BS? I would like to take the difference in premiums and subscribe to a dental plan.

A. To find out if you’ll be able to keep the doctors you now have, you’d need to check with Blue Cross/Blue Shield. While there is a possibility that you would have greater out-of-pocket expenses with the lower-cost option, the only way to find out is to check with your plan and learn how that option handles claims from members who are covered by Medicare parts A and B.

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Retirement application

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Q. I am in the process of completing my CSRS SF2801, Application For Immediate Retirement. Concerning Section B, Federal Service, block 5: “Are you receiving or have you applied for military retired pay?” I am retired from the Air National Guard and receiving monthly retirement pay. Should I answer yes to this because I am receiving retirement pay for reserve service, or does this question only apply to active-duty retirees?

A. It applies only to military retired pay, not reserve retired pay.

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Unused sick leave

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Q. I am retired military with 27 years in. Since that time, I have been a civil servant and am coming up on my 10-year anniversary under FERS. My service computation date is Aug. 10, 2003. I am planning to resign from my civil position Dec. 31, prior to my 62nd birthday. (I was born Dec. 11, 1952.) I plan to ask for a lump-sum check for my unused accrued leave. But it looks like I will not gain anything for having been such a healthy individual and that my many days of sick leave will simply go wasted. Is my sick leave balance used in any form to accrue additional deferred benefits or can I get paid for my unused balance?

A. If you leave your retirement contributions in the fund when you leave, you’ll be eligible for a deferred annuity. However, deferred annuitants receive no credit for their unused sick leave. FYI: If you stayed on until your 62nd birthday, you’d receive full credit for that unused sick leave in the computation of your annuity.

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Suspending FEHB

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Q. I am about ready to retire and currently maintain a FEHB policy. My wife is still working and I can fall under her health plan at no extra cost, and the coverage is better. I have been told that you can “suspend” FEHB in retirement and reinstate it if need be. Is this true?

A. No, it isn’t true. About the only ones who can suspend coverage are those who are covered by the military’s Tricare program. And they can only re-enroll if they lose that coverage or during an open season.

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GS pay

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Q. I was a term employee for one year and my term expired on Dec. 19. I was a GS-6 Step 7. I got an offer for a temporary position Jan. 11, but it comes with a $7,000 reduction in pay, and I was informed that it was management’s choice on whether to honor my previous salary. Can they do this? I am doing the same job that I was doing before, just for a different organization on the installation. My biggest concern is that I am disabled veteran over 30 percent, as well as on the spousal priority placement program, so if I decline this temp position, I knock myself out of the running for a permanent position.

A. There is no requirement that an agency match your previous salary level. You can negotiate with them to see if the amount they originally offered could be increased. Just as they have the option of setting the pay for that temporary appointment, you have the option of accepting or rejecting their offer.

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VERA

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Q. I have been mobilized on active duty with the military. If the Department of Justice allows for early retirement while I am mobilized, can I seek Voluntary Early Retirement Authority once my activation is over? If so, what is the window of time?

A. Only if you have returned to your civilian position, the offer applies to that position, and you retire within the time period that the VERA is being offered.

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