FERS Disability Retirement

What is FERS Disability Retirement?


FERS Disability Retirement is a benefit granted to all Federal and Postal Employees who meet the criteria of “Disability”.  By “Disability”, however, does not mean that you must be totally incapacitated, whether physically or mentally.  Instead, it means that you can no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of your job.  As such, you do not need to be “totally disabled” in order to be eligible for Federal or Postal disability Retirement under FERS.

All Federal and Postal employees can qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, if certain legal and medical criteria are met.  First, all Federal and Postal employees fall under one of two systems of retirement: FERS (Federal Employees Retirement System) or even CSRS (Civil Service Retirement System — a system which is now almost extinct).  The “change over” took place in 1986, and so most people now fall under the “new” system (FERS).  There are hybrid individuals (called “Civil Service Offset”), but for the general purpose of providing useful information to the general public (Federal and Postal employees who are contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits), the paradigm of discussion will be focused primarily upon those who fall under the FERS program, inasmuch as the majority of Federal and Postal workers are in the FERS program.

Some basics:

Under FERS, a person must have a minimum of eighteen (18) months of Federal Service in order to qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits (for CSRS employees, the minimum is 5 years, which all CSRS employees would obviously meet).  A person who files for, and obtains, Federal Disability Retirement benefits, would essentially get 60% of the average of one’s highest three consecutive years of gross pay for the first year of entitlement, and 40% every year thereafter, until age 62.  At age 62, a Federal Disability Retirement annuitant has his or her annuity recalculated, based upon the number of years of Federal Service, including the years spent as a Federal Disability Retirement annuitant.  While receiving Federal Disability Retirement benefits, a person may go out into the private sector and earn income from another job – on top of the annuity being received. What is the amount that a person can earn in addition to the Federal Disability Retirement annuity?  Up to (but not exceeding) 80% of what a person’s former Federal or Postal job currently pays.

The Law:

The laws governing Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS can be quite complex.  What is the reason for its complexity? Statutes and regulations which provide for Federal Disability Retirement benefits expand daily, through cases at different levels – at the Merit Systems Protection Board, the Full MSPB Board, the Federal Circuit Court, etc.  Each system which hears cases impacting Federal Disability Retirement issues expands the law.  As such, “the law” governing Federal Disability Retirement benefits can change on a day-to-day basis, whether by further defining, narrowing, or expanding the law impacting all issues and related issues.

Basic Criteria for Eligibility:

In addition to having the minimum years of Federal Service (18 months for FERS employees; 5 years for CSRS employees), the following criteria must be met:  1.A person must be an active Federal or Postal employee or, if separated from Federal Service, such separation must be less than one (1) year in order to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  2. The Federal or Postal employee must have a medical condition during the period of being in Federal Service.  3. The medical condition does not, unlike under the laws governing Worker’s Compensation (FECA/OWCP/DOL), have to occur as a result of an injury “on the job”. Indeed, it does not have to be caused by, or related in any way, to the job or occupation, but may be a disease or injury wholly unrelated to the job. Thus, by way of example, one could sustain an injury while on a skiing trip in the Swiss Alps. The point here is simple: to qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the medical condition or injury does not have to be job-related in any way.  4. The medical condition must prevent one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire