Any federal employee who has suffered a serious injury or illness has gone through the disability retirement process. The administrative steps involved with obtaining benefits constitutes a notoriously difficult process.
The first question anyone asks in this situation is: Do I qualify for benefits? It is important to understand whether you qualify for disability retirement benefits before you make substantial efforts to obtain your benefits.
The four factors for qualifying
Assuming you under a FERS plan rather than a CDRS plan (which is extremely likely) when you apply for benefits, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will look at four factors to determine eligibility.
- Time of service: If you just started working for a qualifying federal employer before you were rendered disabled, you will not qualify for disability retirement benefits. In fact, you must have at least 18 months of service before your disability retirement benefits eligibility begins.
- Type of disability: For eligibility, you must have a disability or illness that is expected to last for at least a year. According to the OPM’s website, “An individual with a disability: has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the person’s major life activities; has a record of such an impairment; or is regarded as having such impairment.” The definition is pretty simple, actually.
- Impairment resulting from the disability: To be eligible for disability retirement benefits, your disability must render you unable to perform the functions essential to your current job. There is the possibility that you could perform your job if your employer provides reasonable accommodations. However, assuming these accommodations would not suffice, your disability must render you unable to perform your job for you to remain eligible for benefits.
- No other job availability: In addition to not being able to do your own job satisfactorily, you need to have no other job available from your employer.
It is important to note that the process is not as simple as this four-part list might suggest. These are the main four things the OPM will look at when considering your disability retirement benefits claim, but each of these factors comes with significant nuance and subtlety. And the process of proving these four factors and actually obtaining your benefits can be extremely daunting and complex.
However, this is a good first place to look when considering applying for benefits: Do I have a qualifying disability? Consider these four items and, if you think you might qualify, talk with an experienced federal employment lawyer.