Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Disability

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Q. The requirements for Social Security disability are much higher than for FERS disability retirement, so what happens to FERS if you are approved by OPM but denied by the Social Security Administration? Can you still receive your FERS disability retirement? Must you continue to reapply with SSA regularly? I have 15 years in FERS and am only 42.

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Leave of absence, retirement and high-3

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Q. I’m going to be doing charity work for several months in 2014. I’m considering requesting a leave of absence for it (I understand such leaves are at the discretion of management). If I’m not granted the LOA and I resign, how will a few months (seven to eight total) affect my retirement? I plan to rejoin federal service after the charity event. I’ve consulted my local HR department and OPM, but I’ve received conflicting information.

If I’m granted the LOA, is my high-3 affected by such an absence? Then, assuming I’m not granted the LOA and I resign, can I rejoin federal service with the high-3 intact? Lastly, do I lose my high-3 if I withdraw funds from TSP just before the LOA or resignation? That is the big one for me — some people tell me if I touch my TSP, I lose my high-3.

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Withdrawn post office retirement funds

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Q. I started in the post office in 1976. I left the post office for a university job in 1984. I returned to the post office three months later because of low expectations of the employees at the university by the university. I withdrew my retirement because I believed I would not be back.

If the amount is not paid back, what percent of my post office retirement will be affected? OPM can tell me what I owe, but no one has an answer for this question until I retire!

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CSRS disability and military redeposit

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Q. I’m a 55-year-old CSRS employee filing for disability retirement from the USPS. I have eight years military but have redeposited only half of what is required.

Will I be able to continue making deposits while OPM reviews my case? And if not, will I get my initial deposit back in a lump sum?

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High-3 and pay differentials

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Q. I am a federal worker at a VA hospital. I am a General Schedule employee under CSRS. I switched to night shift and work lots of weekends to boost my last three years of earnings. I read in OPM under CSRS/retirement/High-3 Average Salary, “Your basic pay is the basic salary you earn for your position. It includes increases to your salary for which retirement deductions are withheld, such as shift rates. It does not include payments for overtime, bonuses, etc.”

I still am not sure if night shift will work out to a bigger retirement annuity. I make plenty more in my night differential pay for night tour. What I noticed is retirement deductions in my Pay Statements remained the same as before when I worked the day shift. This is puzzling.

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FERS, disability and Social Security

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Q. I am trying to understand the FERS disability retirement. My wife has 34 years of federal service but has not reached her MRA. I understand the high-3 and 60 percent the first year and then the 40 percent rule after 12 months and how it affects Social Security. If she applies now for FERS disability retirement and is approved, can she then go to Social Security and apply for her full disability entitlement? Also, if she receives her Social Security 100 percent disability entitlement within 12 months, how will her FERS retirement formulate? Will she still get 40 percent of her high-3 pay and 100 percent from Social Security?

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HR mistake and leave adjustment

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Q. I retired from the Army with more than 22 years of active duty. I submitted my paperwork to FBI HR to get credit for my military time on my first day of employment in October 2010. I inquired numerous times about the status of the documents but never received a satisfactory answer. Then, after more than a year of asking, I found out the HR person submitted the paperwork to an incorrect address (now November 2011). The paperwork was resubmitted by another HR person because I told them all that they submitted it incorrectly. I finally received six hours of annual leave per pay period, which began this year. How can I get credit (six hours a pay period) from the beginning of my employment with the FBI? FBI HR told me it was from the time of the documents submitted getting certified. What are your thoughts on this situation?

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Part- and full-time work and high-3

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Q. How is my annuity reduced after working full time for seven years, part time for 10 years and then full time for an additional 13 years? Is it still the high-3, or is there a reduction because of less money contributed for those 10 part-time years?

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Service credit for part-time work

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Q. My previous and current employers added seven years to my service computation date for my work at USDA from April 1, 1981, through March 31, 1988.

The credit is documented in SF-50-B forms from these agencies dated Oct. 15, 1994, and Feb. 19, 1995. My current employer’s Employee Self Service website also incorporates this seven-year credit in calculating my estimated monthly annuity. My current employer’s HR unit, however, will give me only one year and two months’ credit under FERS for my work at USDA because the work was part time.

Since more than five years of my service at USDA took place before FERS started, am I entitled to an annuity calculated under CSRS rather than FERS rules?

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Obtaining deferred annuity

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Q. I resigned from the Postal Service in August 2005. My start date was Jan. 15, 1975. My pension was placed in a deferred annuity. I understand this annuity is maintained in Pennsylvania.

Could I obtain the address of this place, and will I be able to draw my pension at 60 or 62?

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Survivor benefits five years after new marriage

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Q. I am a CSRS retiree. I retired in 2007 and remarried in 2008. I have no obligations to any former spouse, etc. I never thought about getting my new wife survivor benefits. Can I still acquire survivor benefits for my wife after all this time? I get nowhere with OPM; either they do not know or they go get me an answer and say they’ll get back to me and I never hear from them again.

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Military buyback benefits

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Q. What are the benefits of buying military service time toward civil service? I have 14 years of military service and two years of civil service and am trying to figure out if it is beneficial to buy military time or not. What is the best way to figure this out?

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Workers’ compensation rules

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Q. I have been an 1811 status (federal agent) federal employee for 16 years. I have been on leave without pay and receiving workers’ compensation for the past year due to an on-the-job injury.

I have received little if any guidance from my agency’s HR, as the representatives admit they have little or no experience with workers’ comp.

What should I do to maintain the best possible benefits for me and my family if this becomes a long-term/permanent situation and I am not able to return to work? And if I can return to work, how would the time on workers’ comp affect my retirement benefits etc.?

What survivor benefits will my spouse have if I die while on workers’ comp?

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FERS and Social Security disability overpayments

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Q. I receive a FERS annuity. If I receive Social Security disability, I understand I lose 60 percent of that pay until I’m 62. Will FERS go back however many months and make me pay back the difference for those months of retroactive pay from Social Security? In other words, if I collect six months of retroactive pay from Social Security do I owe FERS 60 percent of my annuity that I received for those six months?

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Recharacterizing leave after retirement

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Q. After 35 years with the federal government, I retired Feb. 29, 2012.

During my last full pay period, I used 16 hours of sick leave. I discovered after a call from OPM recently that a correction to my final sick leave balance was made by my former employing agency, modestly increasing my sick leave balance. OPM informed me today that after the correction, my sick leave balance was six hours short of the number of hours needed to bring my total creditable working hours up by one more full month.

After hearing this, I realize that had I used six hours LESS sick leave (instead of 16 hours) in my last full pay period in pay status, and used just 10 hours of sick leave plus six hours of annual leave for the time I took off during that last full pay period, I would have had enough creditable work hours to complete another full month toward the calculation of my annuity.

My question to you now is whether or not leave I used in my last full pay period can be recharacterized almost a year since retiring because that would initiate another updated correction to my sick leave balance, which would be forwarded to OPM via the National Finance Center, and subsequently permit a recalculation of my final annuity amount.

I was paid a lump sum for unused annual leave a few weeks after retiring but would gladly reimburse the agency for six of those hours if possible if a correction to my time and attendance report for the last full pay period could be done, allowing for a recharacterization of leave I used during my last full pay period, which would increase my annuity, even if only a little.

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CSRS offset and retirement timing

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Q. I am a FERCCA case. I was inadvertently placed in FERS when hired by my agency after eight years in the legislative branch.

I have elected CSRS offset coverage. I have 28 years, eight months of creditable service and am eligible to retire now.

My annual salary and high-3 are not likely to change in the next few years. Are CSRS offset annuities helped by length of service? Would it benefit me to work two or three more years?

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Pre-6C coverage, disability and retirement

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Q. In 2008, CBP was legally given 6C law enforcement. I retired in 2007 with 19 years of law enforcement experience working for Customs and Border Protection. I was basically forced to retire since the agency informed me that I could no longer perform the essential elements of the job, supervisory CBP officer. They provided me with the job description of a CBP officer — the job description used today providing 6C coverage to all new recruits. I am wondering if I am entitled to 6C retirement coverage since I met and perform the 6C law enforcement duties before my separation. If not, then why does OPM continue to send me to periodic examinations? Is CBP going to hire me if I am no longer found disabled even though I can no longer meet the age requirement? I am almost 50.

Furthermore, if I recuperate from my initial injury, am I entitled to my job? Even if it is 6C now and I retired before it was granted?

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Forms and federal agency certification

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Q. I recently retired from the Veterans Affairs Department and applied for Medicare Part B coverage. My FEHBP is still in effect. The Social Security office sent forms that appear to need agency certification. Who does this? The employing agency or OPM? I’m not getting answers. OPM’s number is constantly busy, and my former human resources office isn’t returning calls. I’m trying to get the coverage and avoid any financial disaster.

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Workers’ compensation and leave

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Q. I was injured in September 2010 and was out of work until I retired on disability in March 2011. I exhausted my annual and sick leave, since my initial workers’ compensation claim was denied.

After numerous appeals, my workers’ compensation claim was approved in October 2011. I began receiving interim retirement payments in September 2011 but have yet to receive payment from OPM for annual and sick leave I would have accumulated during that period. I have contacted DFAS and OPM, along with filing two congressionals regarding this issue, but no resolution.

Shouldn’t I be paid for the time I would have been on workers’ compensation? Shouldn’t OPM pay the lump sum after receiving notification that my workers’ compensation claim was approved? I have contacted OPM, and it seems to lack adequate professionals to decipher this mess.

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Mandatory retirement and further federal employment

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Q. I am a federal firefighter under FERS. I have 25 years in position and will reach mandatory retirement age in 4.5 years. I want to stay with the federal program where I work. Is it legal for me to retire from the fire service and move to another government position here at the base where I am employed? If so, where is this in print, or under what regulation? I know in years past this was not allowed unless you came back as a contract employee.

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