While no one likes to think about the prospect of becoming disabled, it is important to understand disability coverage under the civil service retirement programs as well as under the Social Security program–especially of interest to those under the FERS system but also of interest to many under CSRS.
The civil service and Social Security disability programs are integrated to an extent. This means that those who become disabled may not get full benefits under more than one system and that they must be very careful to protect their rights under each. In fact, employees under FERS and CSRS-Offset (a form of CSRS that includes Social Security, unlike standard CSRS) must apply to Social Security when they apply for federal retirement disability in order to assure that the benefits are coordinated.
Briefly, employees who become disabled during the course of their federal career may be entitled to a disability annuity. Under CSRS/CSRS-Offset, they must have completed at least five years of federal civilian service; under FERS, only 18 months. Also, while employed in a position covered by either CSRS/CSRS-Offset or FERS, they must have become disabled for “useful and efficient service” in both their current position and any other vacant position at the same grade or pay level for which qualified.
“Useful and efficient service” means: either acceptable performance of the critical or essential elements of the position or the ability to perform at that level; and ability to maintain satisfactory conduct and attendance.
Looked at the other way, service that is not “useful or efficient” is a level of performance or attendance which, if it were to continue, would warrant denial of a within-grade increase, demotion or other remedial action.
Under Social Security, the rules are stricter and more complicated. So the fact that you qualify for benefits from OPM does not mean that you will be eligible for Social Security.
To qualify for disability benefits from Social Security, you must have either a physical or mental impairment that is expected to keep you from doing any substantial work for at least a year or be suffering from a condition that is expected to result in your death.
If you become disabled, you should file for disability benefits as soon as possible. You can do this by calling or visiting any Social Security office and providing the information they request.