Expert's View

Reg Jones

I hope that what I’m writing about in this series on disability retirement will only be of academic interest to you. Still, in a workforce as large as the federal government, it’s inevitable that some will become disabled.

If you are already in that position and considering applying for disability retirement, what I have to tell you will be crucial. If you are still hale and hearty, you may want to save this series of articles in case your situation changes for the worse.


In short, 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 a difference whether the problem 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. That’s different from the rules that govern workers compensation, where the condition must have arisen on the job while you were performing your official duties.

The term “useful and efficient service” means that 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 help you get back on track before demoting or firing you. However, if your inability to meet these standards is the result of illness or injury, you may be eligible for 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 for which you may be qualified at your grade or pay level.

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

Read more about how to calculate a federal disability annuity at