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Federal Disability
social security disability vs federal disability

The difference between social security disability insurance (SSDI) and a disability under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) isn’t straightforward.

People confuse FERS disability retirement and SSDI all the time.

If you think that you or a loved one may qualify for one or both of these programs, you need to understand the nuances of each.

Understanding the difference is especially crucial if you are a current federal employee. 

This article will review the key characteristics of both FERS disability retirement and social security disability.

Contact a capable federal employment attorney today if you have any other questions. 

What Are the Differences Between FERS Disability Retirement and Social Security Disability?

FERS disability retirement and Social Security disability are very different. Let’s take a look at the significant differences.

Difference #1: More Americans Qualify for Social Security Disability 

As you might imagine and as the name suggests, FERS disability retirement applies only to federal employees covered by the FERS system.

Federal employees covered by the older Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) and private sector employees cannot receive FERS disability retirement, although CSRS employees can receive CSRS disability retirement which is similar to FERS.

On the other hand, virtually any adult American with a disability can apply for social security disability benefits.

Difference #2: FERS Disability Retirement Focuses on Occupational Injuries

Another major difference between the two systems is how they analyze a person’s disability.

Congress passed the Social Security Act to provide a general “safety net” for any American worker who became disabled.

Thus, SSDI is a “total” disability benefit, which means it assesses an individual’s disability in light of their ability to do any kind of work. 

Let’s use an example to clear things up. Say John Smith is a plumber injured at work, resulting in a serious disability.

Because of this disability, he can no longer perform the physical aspects of his job as a plumber.

However, he could do another kind of work—computer and administrative tasks, for example.

In this scenario, John would probably not qualify for SSDI because he can still perform some kind of work.

It doesn’t matter whether that work is similar to his original job.

By contrast, FERS disability retirement is an “occupational” disability benefit. 

In other words, it focuses on how an individual’s disability affects their ability to do their specific occupation. This focus makes it significantly easier to qualify for in comparison to SSDI.

To be eligible for FERS retirement, a federal employee just needs to show that they cannot perform the duties of their position of record due to a disability.

Although their agency can try to assign them to a different job, any potential reassignment has to have the same grade/pay level, be in the same commuting area, and involve the employee’s qualifications.

Let’s pretend that our friend John Smith was a plumber for the federal government when he became disabled.

To obtain a FERS disability retirement, he needs to show only that he can’t perform his duties as a plumber and that his agency can’t place him in a similar position.

Even if his physical disability allows him to perform administrative tasks, his agency cannot force him into a new position that doesn’t relate to his qualifications. 

Difference #3: You Can Receive FERS Disability Retirement Benefits While Working in the Private Sector

Because FERS retirement is an “occupational” disability benefit, a federal employee can theoretically work a private sector position while receiving FERS retirement benefits.

Yet because an employee has to be “totally” disabled (i.e., they cannot perform any kind of work) to qualify for SSDI, they cannot work and receive that benefit. 

Can I Receive Both FERS Retirement Benefits and Social Security Disability Benefits?

Yes. However, these benefits will not “stack” on top of each other.

Instead, your FERS disability benefits will be reduced by some amount of the amount of Social Security benefits you receive.

Depending on how your FERS disability benefits were calculated by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), your monthly disability payment could be reduced by 60% or 100% of your SSDI benefits. 

Get in Touch With a Federal Employment Lawyer Today

We’re a compassionate and caring team of attorneys who strive to empower government employees and protect their interests.

We know public servants are dedicated to serving their country and promoting the general welfare.

Therefore, we believe our clients should be able to exercise their rights fully, whatever their situation.

As soon as you call us, we’ll work to make sure you get the treatment and compensation you deserve.

Reach out to us online or call us at (866) 612-5956.

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 free consultation, please call him at (833) 833-3529.

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