Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Term appointment and tenured career employee

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Q. I was hired by the Department of Defense on a term appointment NTE on Feb. 18, 2011, which was extended beyond that date to my conversion to career conditional June 5, 2011. Does my term appointment count toward my three years to be considered a tenured career employee?

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Forced retirement?

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Q. I am 62 years old with more than 10 years of service. I am on a Schedule A excepted service term appointment that is soon to expire. I came to this appointment from a competitive service, permanent position at the request of my agency, but the funds for the program are now, unexpectedly, about to run out.

I am told that I am not eligible for severance pay because I am eligible for an immediate FERS annuity (age 62 and five years of service), but I do not wish to voluntarily retire. Can my department make me retire without offering me another job first? If so, what’s that called and why? If I refuse to voluntarily retire, to preserve any right to complain, will I lose any FERS medical survivors benefits?

A. No, your agency can’t make you retire. However, they can separate you when they no longer have the money to support your position. Further, as a term employee, there is no requirement that you be offered another job. Because you are eligible to retire, you aren’t entitled to severance pay.

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Postponed retirement and FEHB

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Q. I am a Veterans Affairs Department term employee with 28 years of service, 57 years old. My term appointment has only been extended to Jan. 31, 2013, with a “continuation of ongoing research funds.” If research funds are not available to pay me past this date, I understand that I can retire under the MRA +10 provision and postpone receipt of my annuity until I am 60 to avoid the age reduction penalty. And, at that time, can re-enroll for Federal Employees Health Benefits since I will have been enrolled for the previous five years. If I choose not to retire but rather am terminated due to lack of funds, will I still be able to re-enroll in FEHB? I have been told that choosing the retirement option will affect eligibility for unemployment benefits, but I certainly don’t want to lose health coverage in retirement.

A. If you have been covered by the FEHB program for five consecutive years, retire and postpone the receipt of your annuity, you’ll be able to re-enroll in it when your annuity begins. If you are terminated and later apply for a deferred annuity, you wouldn’t be able to re-enroll in the FEHB program.

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Retire at 62 vs. disability on term appointment

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Q. I am a FERS employee on a term appointment who turns 62 this month. My Parkinson’s disease is getting worse, and I may not be able to complete my term appointment, which ends in April. Must I retire before my terms ends? Must I apply for Social Security retirement? Or may I apply for disability until age 65?

A. If you apply for FERS disability retirement, you must also apply for Social Security disability benefits at the same time. If you don’t, the Office of Personnel Management won’t process your application. However, you need to understand that, at age 62, anyone who has been approved for disability retirement will have his annuity recomputed as though he’d retired on a regular annuity. Because you would probably be 62 by the time OPM received your application, you might want to take the shorter route and simply apply for regular retirement. That wouldn’t restrict you from applying for a Social Security disability benefit. To be approved for that benefit, you must be incapable of any gainful employment. The time to apply for it is when you are close to your last day on the payroll. Social Security won’t process your claim if you are still in a pay status.

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Getting an answer

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Q: I was reinstated on a term appointment in 2003, and in 2005 the position was terminated. I took a permanent position with Bureau of Land Management. While in my term position, I was told to sign up for the Federal Employees Retirement System or my time would not count toward my tenure in this term position. I was told that when my term appointment ended and I accepted a permanent position, my tenure would continue and I could, at this time 2005-2008, opt to be reinstated as CSRS/FERS instead of FERS. I had requested to my BLM human resources person to do this but the paperwork was never completed and this person has retired. My leave/earnings paystub shows me as CSRS/FERS so I assumed I was; but now I am told no SF-50 action was ever done to make this change and my SF-50 shows FERS/FICA. I am requesting to my current HR office in BLM to fix this as it was a personnel/HR error.
Can this be corrected? and it so, what do I do about my FERS retirement
contributions? I was contributing around 11 percent from my pay with matching contributions. This is really a mess and apparently no one in BLM can tell me how to fix this or give me retirement annuity amounts. My file has been sent to three different BLM HR people and still no one answers my questions.

A: If you can’t get an answer from the HR folks in BLM, ask them to bump the matter up to the HR office at the departmental level. If the department has any problem resolving the matter, the staff there can go directly to the Office of Personnel Management for a definitive answer,

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