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Federal Retirement
what-is-the-fers-disability-processing-time

If you’re a federal employee and can’t work due to a medical condition, your employer has you covered. The federal government’s Federal Employment Retirement System (FERS) offers disability retirement benefits to employees in your situation. 

But if you are claiming FERS benefits, you may wonder, What is the FERS disability retirement processing time? After getting the answer to the first question, you may then wonder, why does it take so long? Additionally, is there a way to speed up the process? If you are looking for answers to these questions, read on. 

Our FERS disability attorneys will explain what you need to know.

What Is the FERS Disability Retirement Processing Time?

The turnaround time for a FERS disability retirement application varies from case to case. Sometimes the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) can do it in as little as three months. Other times it can take longer than a year. The average time, however, is six to nine months. Many factors affect the processing time. 

Not getting a decision within a reasonable amount of time can be more than just frustrating. If you don’t have significant savings or have dependents, losing your ability to work can put you in dire financial straits. While you can’t move to the front of the line, you can help ensure you don’t have to go to the back of the line again by properly submitting all of your paperwork in line with the OPM protocol.

For a more in-depth discussion of the FERS disability retirement timeline and any related issues, don’t hesitate to contact the Law Office of Aaron Wersing PLLC for help.

Our firm focuses on federal employment law, so we know the ins and outs of FERS disability retirement. With our experience, we can help to ensure your application and related documents are properly filed and filled out. Our job is to help you, and we take that charge seriously.

Why Does It Take So Long?

Several things make this application process take a long time. These factors can also make the timeline difficult to predict in a given case. Perhaps the most important contributing factor is that the OPM, which makes these decisions, does so on a first-come-first-served basis.

When you submit your application, it is impossible to know how many applications are in front of you. The number can vary widely. Also, the OPM is a sizable bureaucratic network.

They are responsible for all federal employees (2.1 million in 2020). As such, the gears of the federal government can take a while to turn. This is unavoidable, but there are ways that may help expedite an application.

What Else Might Make a Decision Take Longer?

A very important factor in how long your decision will take depends on your status with the agency. If you have already been separated from federal service for more than 30 days when you submit your application, your application is processed quicker.

This is because your application goes straight to OPM in Boyers, PA, where it gets processed and issued a civil service annuity (CSA) number. After getting a civil service annuity number, the application goes to OPM headquarters in Washington D.C., where a decision is made.

Contrast this with the process that an application from someone who is still on agency roles as an employee, or within 30 days of separation. In such instances, an application will need to go through several offices before arriving at a decision.

First, your application goes to the specific agency you work for to process. Then, many agencies will send your application to their centralized HR facility for further processing. After this point, your application will be sent to Boyers, PA for a CSA number. 

How Does OPM Determine FERS Disability Retirement Eligibility?

The following seven factors help guide the OPM in their decision-making process regarding your application. These requirements are cumulative. In other words, they all must be met.

  1. You have a diagnosed medical condition;
  2. There is a deficiency in the service your job requires, which can be a deficiency in attendance, conduct, or in the performance of at least one critical element of your position.
  3. There is a causal relationship between your medical condition and the service deficiency;
  4. The medical condition is expected to last a year or more;
  5. The condition was not pre-existing or, if it was, it did not become disabling until after you began serving in your position;
  6. Your disability cannot be accommodated; and
  7. You cannot be reassigned to another position.

If the federal agency you work for can provide reasonable accommodations that will allow you to work with your present condition, they should do so. Similarly, if your federal agency cannot accommodate you in your position, it should reassign you to a different qualifying job vacancy at the agency, if such a position is available.

This type of reassignment is known as the “accommodation of last resort”. If you can be accommodated or reassigned, you will not be eligible for FERS disability retirement benefits.

Keep in mind that accommodation must actually accommodate your medical needs as long as it will not place an undue burden on your agency, and a reassignment must actually be to a position that you are able to perform with your medical condition and symptoms. 

What Can I Do If I Don’t Get a Decision?

If a decision takes too long, you may have a right to appeal. Failure to respond is essentially a constructive denial that you can appeal. An administrative law judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) will hear your case and determine eligibility.

Follow the steps outlined below to help with the appeal process. The amount of time that is “too long” is not set in stone, so a lawyer can be very helpful in this instance.

If your application is taking too long, the best thing you can do is be diligent in your follow-up. Once you submit your application, you should inquire as to your application status monthly. Document your inquiry: save emails; save any other correspondence; document phone calls; and record the name of anyone you are in contact with. If you don’t hear back from any OPM representatives, document that.

Only after submitting multiple status update requests should you notify OPM that you are treating their silence as a denial. After you notify them, wait at least a month for a response before filing an official appeal. You may hear back in the intervening time that your application is nearly processed or just needs a small fix for a decision to be made.

Can I Speed Up the Process?

Despite the length of time that a disability retirement application can take, there are ways to streamline the process. The application packet is complex, requiring many forms, letters, and other documents.

Properly completing a well-organized application can help make OPM’s review of your application quicker and easier, and is more likely to lead to approval. In addition, we generally include a letter from our firm providing a legal analysis of your eligibility for FERS disability retirement which we have found to be very helpful as well.

Contact Us Today!

Our firm handles all aspects of the disability retirement process, including advising, completing, and submitting applications for FERS/CSRS disability retirement. We also handle reconsideration appeals and appeals to the MSPB if your application has been denied or disallowed.

If you have any trouble with or questions about this process, contact us at the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC, today! If you want to make sure the process goes smoothly from start to finish, give us a call at (833) 833-3529.

Nothing can help ensure this process goes quickly and efficiently like an attorney who has experience dealing with such matters. A consultation is always free, so you have nothing to lose. We are here to help!

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.