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Who qualifies for OPM disability retirement?

If you suffer an injury or illness that leaves you unable to do your job, you may worry about your future. Fortunately, as a federal employee, you may be eligible for disability retirement benefits. But to access those benefits, you need to apply with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

The OPM oversees disability retirement for both the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) and the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). Recently, applicants have seen an increasing number of denials. This means your best bet is to make sure you apply the right way the first time around.

Avoiding common mistakes

In an interview with the Government Executive, an OPM spokesman cited the two most common things people do wrong:

  • They don’t fully complete their application
  • They don’t provide enough medical documentation

These mistakes are hardly surprising. Retirement disability applications run across multiple forms. You’ll want strong supporting documentation from your doctors, so you might want to talk to them when you first think about applying. You’ll also need to make sure your application clearly shows you meet all the eligibility requirements:

  • You served in a federal position for at least 18 months
  • You can no longer satisfy the demands of your job
  • Your employer was unable to accommodate your condition or offer another role you can perform
  • Your disability or illness will last for more than one year

Notably, your disability need not be physical, nor must it be work-related. But you need to show that you became disabled while you were already employed.

The importance of doing things right

Throughout your application process, you want to make sure you take all the right steps in order. While it’s possible to appeal a denial, your appeal will add more time to an already lengthy process. Making sure you get things right will minimize any delays. And if you do have to appeal a denial, your life will be easier at every step if you can show you did things right at the step before it.

Accordingly, it’s often valuable to work with an attorney well-versed in federal employment law long before you might worry about defending your application in front of the Merit Systems Protection Board.

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