Expert's View

Although it’s a fairly rare occurrence some federal employees do suffer injuries or face illnesses that severely limit their life expectancy. The disability retirement paper chase that can ensue between the ailing employees, their agency and OPM can end in a shambles, something OPM is trying to remedy with a new regulation.

In general, employees who become disabled for “useful and efficient service” during the course of their federal career may be entitled to a disability annuity. First, under CSRS/CSRS Offset, they must have completed at least five years of federal civilian service; under FERS, only 18 months.


A claim for disability retirement must include documentation that clearly and specifically establishes numerous criteria such as a medical condition that caused the service deficiency, as well as the absence of another comparable position within the employing agency and commuting area the employee is qualified for reassignment.

More about Disability Retirement and Annuities at

This process can be daunting, but even more so if the employee has a life threatening illness that shortens the timetable. Accordingly, OPM issued new regulations March 21, 2018, to expedite the review of disability retirement applications from employees with a limited life expectancy.

OPM is requesting agency retirement counselors to provide information directly to the disability branch at the time the retirement application is submitted so that they can review the medical documentation before the retirement case is received at OPM. With this advance information, they will be able to track and document their decision when the disability application arrives in the disability branch.

For individuals with a life expectancy of one year or less, OPM requests that a copy of disability application, supporting documentation, and medical evidence be faxed or emailed at the same time the disability application is being submitted through regular agency channels.

The name and phone number of the agency contact should be included in the event additional information is required. OPM also requests on the front of the fax and on front of the original submission, place a cover sheet identifying the case in all caps as: “EXPEDITED PROCESSING.”