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FERS Disability
fers vs social security disability

Whether it came on suddenly or built up over time, having a disability brings many changes, especially if it means you can no longer make a living.

Current and former federal employees may qualify for disability benefits through the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) and Social Security.

As a result, this leaves many disabled federal employees wondering which disability coverage to apply for. Depending on how severe your disability is and your work history, you may qualify for one, the other, both, or neither. 

Navigating the federal bureaucracy to determine what to apply for is challenging for even the savviest federal employees.

The Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing PLLC is here to help if you have questions about federal employees and social security benefits.

We focus exclusively on federal employment issues and can guide you through applying for the benefits you need. 

What Is Federal Disability Retirement?

Federal employees covered by FERS may qualify for federal disability retirement. You apply for federal disability benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM). 

To qualify, you must have worked at least 18 months in a covered federal job, have become disabled, and apply while still employed by a federal agency or within one year of separation. 

To be disabled for FERS purposes, you must be unable to:

  • Continue performing in your current position due to your disability,
  • Be accommodated, or
  • Be reassigned to a comparable position.

Applying for federal disability retirement requires the assistance of several other people. In particular, you will need your supervisor, the agency, and a doctor to assist you.

If you are not employed with the agency, particularly if you have been separated for more than one month, you may need to submit your application directly to OPM.

You should include contact information for the individuals who need to corroborate the information.

What Is Social Security Disability?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) operates two programs allowing disabled individuals to collect regular monthly payments.

These programs include Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability. SSI and SSDI have some differences, but both rely on the same definition of disability. 

Qualifying for SSI or SSDI requires you to prove you meet the SSA’s definition of disability. If you are blind, you typically qualify. Otherwise, you are disabled if: 

  • You cannot perform substantial gainful activity (SGA),
  • Because of a mental or physical condition,
  • That will cause your death, and 
  • Has lasted or will last for 12 months or longer.

Activities must involve significant physical or mental tasks to be substantial. Gainful activities may include work:

  • Actually or generally completed for pay or profit,
  • Intended to earn a profit, or
  • Performed part-time.

In addition, to qualify for SSI disability, you must have limited income and resources. For SSDI, you must have worked enough years in a covered job. You can qualify for both SSI and SSDI at the same time. 

Can You Get FERS Disability and Social Security?

If you are a current or former federal employee with a disability, you may qualify for both OPM FERS disability retirement and Social Security disability.

You are required to apply for Social Security disability when you apply for FERS disability. Because the SSA uses a stricter definition, you may qualify for FERS disability without qualifying for SSI or SSDI.

Your benefits may be offset if you qualify for more than one program. Generally, the government offsets part of the disability benefits you receive based on the years you worked in employment not covered by FERS. The exact offset depends on many factors and can change yearly.

Comparing OPM Federal Disability and Social Security Disability

If you are a current or former federal employee who is disabled, you may qualify for OPM federal disability, Social Security disability, or both.

Under Social Security, your disability must impact your ability to work. Additionally, the programs are run by different federal agencies.  

Whether you qualify for either program, both, or neither depends on the unique circumstances surrounding your work history and disability.

The Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing can help you understand the unique relationship between federal employees and social security benefits. We can identify which program or programs work best for you and guide you through the application process.

Contact us today to discuss the situation with our experienced, knowledgeable staff and attorneys. 

Author Photo

Aaron Wersing, Attorney at Law

Aaron Wersing is the founder of the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing. Mr. Wersing graduated from the Georgia State University College of Law with a Doctorate in Jurisprudence and was the recipient of the CALI Excellence for the Future Award. Mr. Wersing previously attended the University of Georgia, where he received a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Accounting. Mr. Wersing is an active member of his local community. Mr. Wersing acts as a volunteer attorney with Houston Volunteer Lawyers, the pro bono legal aid organization of the Houston Bar Association. He is also a member of professional legal organizations such as the National Employment Lawyers Association and the American Inns of Court. To reach Aaron for a consultation, please call him at (833) 833-3529.

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