Expert's View

You may be eligible for disability retirement if you are so disabled by disease or injury that you aren’t able to provide useful and efficient service in your current grade or pay level. It doesn’t make any difference whether the disease is physical or mental. And if your disability is the result of an accident, it doesn’t matter if it occurred on or off the job. This is different from the rules that govern workers compensation, where the injury must have occurred on the job while you were performing your official duties.


So what do the words "useful and efficient service" mean? Simply stated, you must either perform the critical and essential elements of the position in an acceptable manner or have the ability to perform at that level and your conduct and attendance must be satisfactory. If you can’t meet those standards of performance, conduct and attendance, your agency would have to take remedial action. However, if your failure to meet these standards is the result of illness or injury, the alternative to demotion or firing may be disability retirement.

To qualify for disability retirement, you must meet certain criteria. First, you must have the right amount of creditable service. For CSRS that’s five years; for FERS, 18 months.

Second, your medical condition must have caused the service deficiency, the disability must be expected to last for at least one year, and your agency must certify that it can’t accommodate your condition in your current position or in another position at your grade or pay level for which you may be qualified.

Finally, you must apply for disability retirement either before you leave government or within one year of that date. However, if you are unable to apply yourself, your guardian or other interested person can apply on your behalf.

Next week I’ll tell you how to apply for disability retirement.