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. If you are a CSRS employee, you’ll have to fill out a Standard Form 3112, Documentation to Support Disability Retirement. You can either get a copy of that form from your personnel office or download it at www.opm.gov/forms.
If you are a FERS employee, you’ll have to complete a Standard Form 3107, Application for Immediate Retirement, available from your personnel office or at that site. You’ll also need a Standard Form 3105A, Applicant’s Statement of Disability, available only from your personnel office. In addition, because FERS employees are covered by both FERS and Social Security, you’ll have to apply for a Social Security disability benefit at the same time you file for one under FERS. To do that, you’ll need to go to www.ssa.gov/applyfordisability and follow the instructions on that site.
To support your case for disability retirement, you’ll have to provide sufficient medical evidence. You can get that information at your own expense from your own doctor or doctors. Your agency’s medical professionals will then review that evidence. If they agree with what you have submitted, they’ll add their concurrence to your application. It will then be forwarded to OPM. If your agency doesn’t agree, you can still apply for disability retirement; however, your application won’t have your agency’s support.
OPM will review all the material provided to them. That includes the medical evidence and your agency’s testimony that you are unable to provide useful and efficient service. If the latter is incomplete or absent, OPM will have to go back to the agency for clarification. Note: If any medical evidence has been collected by you after you resign but while waiting for a disability retirement determination, it too must be considered by OPM before a final decision is made.
If OPM approves your disability retirement application and your disabling condition isn’t considered to be permanent, you will be required to undergo periodic medical reevaluations to find out whether you are still suffering from the condition that led to your disability retirement. That requirement will continue until you are age 60. On the other hand, if your disabling condition is judged to be permanent, no further follow up may be required.
Note: As part of the disability retirement application process, you will have the opportunity to elect a survivor annuity. The rules are the same for CSRS and FERS; however, the amounts that can be elected under each retirement system are different.