Reg Jones Expert's View

Last week we looked at how the workers’ compensation program administered by OWCP can be an alternative to disability retirement. This time let’s dig into the options you have if you qualify for both benefits.

The government’s disability retirement program provides an annuity that partially replaces the salary you lost because you are unable to perform on the job because of a disabling condition. It is payable whether or not the disease or injury was incurred on the job. On the other hand, to receive workers’ comp benefits, your disease or injury must have been sustained on-the-job and in the performance of your official duties.

Even if you believe you are eligible for workers’ compensation, you should also apply for disability retirement benefits at the same time. That way you can protect your rights and those of your survivors. Note: If you are covered by FERS and apply for disability retirement, you also have to file for a Social Security disability benefit, otherwise OPM won’t review your application.

If you are approved for both workers’ comp and disability retirement, you’ll have to decide which one you want to receive. Because the benefits available under workers’ compensation are generally greater, most employees choose it. They keep their entitlement to disability retirement in reserve in case their workers’ comp benefits end.

Because two agencies will be involved in deciding your case, one will come to a decision before the other. So, for example, if OPM approves your application first, it will start making annuity payments to you. If OWCP later awards you benefits and you elect to accept them instead, you’ll need to pay OPM back for the annuity payments you’ve already received. However, as a rule, OWCP will simply withhold that amount from your workers’ comp payments, which will be retroactive to the date when you left the employment rolls.

While you are on workers’ comp, your disability annuity payments will be suspended. However, if that compensation ends for any reason and you haven’t recovered from your disability or been restored to earning capacity, OPM will reinstate your annuity.

The time you spend on workers’ comp won’t be counted in computing a new disability annuity or a regular annuity based on age and service. Instead, the annuity will be computed based on your service and high-3 on the date you separated from the service. However, it will be increased by any cost-of-living-adjustments (COLAs) that were given to retirees during that time.

Note: If you die as a result of the job-related disease or injury, your surviving spouse and/or children may be eligible for both death benefits from OWCP and survivor benefits under CSRS or FERS. Once again, the law prohibits the concurrent payment of workers’ comp benefits and a survivor annuity. The survivor will have to decide which of the two benefits to receive.

Read more about Workers Compensation Benefits for Federal Employees at ask.FEDweek.com