The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) recently released some good news. April saw the average processing time for retirement applications drop by two days. Unfortunately, that still means the office was taking a week longer, on average, to process applications than it was in April 2021.
Similarly, the OPM touted a 4% drop in its application backlog. That drop brought the backlog down to an average of 34,500 outstanding applications. However, that number still sits 30% higher than the 26,500 backlogged claims the OPM was averaging one year earlier.
As the average processing time hovers at 87 days through the end of April, these numbers highlight the importance of doing everything you can to make sure you avoid any unnecessary delays.
6 disability retirement application problems noted by the OPM
The first step to getting your disability retirement approved is to make sure you qualify. But even if you qualify, you can face some upsetting delays. Some of these are foreseeable, and you can take steps to avoid them. Some, however, stem from the actions federal agencies take or fail to take.
In February 2020, the OPM released a Benefits Administration Letter that addressed six different problems the agency found itself facing on a regular basis. These include:
- Agencies send their employees’ official personal folders to the National Personnel Records Center before the employees file their disability retirement applications with the OPM
- Agencies send last day of pay (LDOP) information that doesn’t match other records the OPM receives
- Agencies fail to properly educate applicants, who submit the wrong commencement date for their disability retirement annuity
- The OPM receives records that do not include the applicant’s Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) plan code
- Payroll offices and shared services fail to provide Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) enrollment codes
- Applications lack all the required documents to address the issues of accommodation and reassignment
All these problems slow the process. You don’t want the OPM to spend its time contacting other departments and tracking down documents. You want the OPM to review your application and judge it on its merits.
5 things you can do to keep things moving forward
If the OPM can stall because of things other agencies do—or fail to do—what can you do about it? As it happens, there are several steps you can take:
- Make sure you get all the required evidence to support your eligibility
- Make sure that evidence is submitted properly
- Contact your agency and double-check that all the information you have is correct and matches their records
- Double-check that you’ve included all referenced enclosures
- Contact the OPM on a regular basis to check on the status of your claim
All these steps can help keep things from stalling. They may also help you avoid a denial. While it’s possible to appeal a denial, appeals add even more time to the process.
As FedSmith reports, the recent drop for processing times ended an upward trend that likely owed to both the pandemic and a growing number of retirement applications. While we’d like to think the OPM will continue to improve its processing times, there’s no guarantee that will happen. The backlog had been trending upward for years, and it hit a record high as recently as March.
What you can do is focus on the things you can control. Be careful. Get those right. Tend to the details. Then keep track of your application. If your health condition is serious, you might contact the OPM to escalate your case. But start by eliminating any mistakes that could lead to unnecessary delays.