Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) is designed to help federal employees maintain a satisfactory quality of life after retirement. One of the elements of this system is Federal Disability Retirement which covers employees who have to leave work due to a disability.
If your mental health condition keeps you from fulfilling your employment duties, you could be eligible for FERS disability retirement benefits. However, similar to other FERS claims, achieving approval could be complicated.
Understanding how FERS disability retirement for mental health work is key to getting the money you deserve.
Can Mental Health Conditions Qualify for Federal Disability Retirement?
Yes. You may be eligible for Federal Disability Retirement if your mental health condition prevents you from being able to perform at least one (1) critical job function and your current agency is unable to provide reasonable accommodations.
To maximize your chances of approval, you may want to work with a FERS disability retirement lawyer.
At the Law Office of Justin Schnitzer, we understand how confusing and nerve-racking fighting for the FERS payments can be, especially when you are struggling with a disability. Our legal team has already helped hundreds of federal employees claim their retirement benefits. Fill out a short contact form or call our office at (202) 964-4878 for a free consultation to start the process today.
Who Is Eligible for FERS Disability Retirement?
While FERS was created to help federal employees, not all of these employees are eligible for its benefits. You can file a claim for disability retirement only if you meet these requirements:
Federal Employment Length
To be eligible for federal disability retirement, an employee must complete a minimum of 18 months of creditable federal civilian service. This means that if you have not yet reached this service requirement, you may not be able to apply.
To qualify for federal disability retirement, an employee must provide sufficient medical evidence to establish that they have a disabling condition.
This includes such mental health conditions as:
- Anxiety disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Bipolar disorder
- And others.
The proof of having a disabling mental health condition includes documentation from medical professionals, including psychiatrists and psychologists.
To be eligible for FERS disability retirement due to a mental health condition, you would need to prove that your disability is expected to last at least one year.
Inability to Perform Duties
You would have to demonstrate that the mental health condition prevents you from performing the essential duties of your current position. This means that the condition must significantly impair your ability to carry out job responsibilities effectively, even with reasonable accommodations.
Lack of Suitable Reassignment Options
Federal employees seeking disability retirement must also show that there are no suitable reassignment options available within their agency. This means that the agency has made reasonable efforts to accommodate your mental health condition but has been unable to identify an alternative position that you can perform with your limitations.
It is important to remember that strict timelines exist for filing a federal disability retirement application. You need to apply for disability retirement within one year of your separation from federal service or one year of being informed by the agency of your removal or proposed removal due to your mental health condition.
Waiving the 12-month limit is possible only if you or your attorney can prove that you were mentally incapacitated on the date of separation or within 12 months of this date.
Application for Social Security Disability Benefits
You can only be eligible for FERS disability retirement if you also apply for social security disability benefits. However, the approval for these benefits isn’t necessary.
During the first year of payouts, 100% of social security payments will be deducted from your federal disability retirement payments. From the second year on, 60% will be deducted.
How to Prove Your Mental Health Disability for FERS Disability Retirement
Proving that you have a disabling mental health condition is key to getting your application for disability retirement approved. To do this, you would have to collect the necessary evidence.
At first, you have to consult with qualified healthcare professionals who specialize in mental health conditions. Psychiatrists, psychologists, or licensed therapists can conduct comprehensive evaluations and provide an accurate diagnosis.
Comprehensive Medical Records
To support your claim, you have to gather all relevant medical records. This includes documenting all diagnoses, treatments, prescriptions, therapy sessions, hospitalizations, and any other medical interventions related to your mental health condition.
Functional Capacity Evaluation
A Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE) can provide objective evidence of how your mental health condition affects your ability to perform psychological and cognitive job-related tasks.
This evaluation assesses your functional limitations, such as concentration, memory, decision-making, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills.
Work History and Performance Evaluations
Providing a detailed work history, including performance evaluations, can strengthen your case. Performance evaluations that highlight any decline in job performance, disciplinary actions, or negative feedback due to your mental health condition can support your application.
Statements from Co-workers and Supervisors
Written statements from co-workers, supervisors, and family members who have observed the impact of your mental health condition on your work can be valuable supporting evidence.
These statements should outline specific instances where your mental health condition has affected your ability to function in the workplace.
Obtaining expert opinion from a qualified mental health professional can help support your application. This expert can provide a detailed analysis of your medical records, evaluations, and functional limitations and conclude how your mental health condition affects your ability to perform your job duties.
The key to proving mental health issues for FERS Disability Retirement is to gather compelling evidence that clearly illustrates the impact of your condition on your ability to work. A FERS disability attorney can help you collect all evidence that’s relevant to your claim.
Mental Health Conditions That Qualify for Federal Disability
The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) determines the eligibility for FERS disability retirement on an individual basis. Several mental health conditions that commonly qualify include:
- Anxiety Disorders – anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias can significantly impact a person’s ability to perform their job duties.
- Depression– depression is a mood disorder characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, changes in sleep patterns, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and thoughts of self-harm or suicide. These symptoms can severely impact an individual’s ability to function in the workplace.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – the symptoms of PTSD can significantly impair an employee’s ability to concentrate, handle stress, and interact with others in the workplace.
- Bipolar Disorder – since bipolar disorder involves extreme shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels, it can significantly disrupt performance at work.
- Schizophrenia – this severe mental disorder can cause disorganized thinking, reduced motivation, and social withdrawal. The impact of this condition on a person’s ability to work can vary, but it often results in significant impairments in job performance.
If your condition isn’t on this list, it doesn’t mean you won’t qualify for FERS disability retirement. During the initial consultation, a FERS disability attorney can evaluate your eligibility and help you make a decision about proceeding with the claim.
What If My Application Is Denied?
If your application for FERS disability retirement related to your mental health condition was denied, you can appeal. However, you only have 30 days after the date the denial letter was written (not delivered!) to do it.
To appeal your case, you can:
- Request a new decision from the OPM with the evidence that you have already submitted
- Submit new evidence that supports your mental disability
It can take around four to six months for the OPM to review your appeal and make a new decision. If your application is denied again, the next step is to appeal to the U.S. Merit System Protection Board (MSPB).
While you can continue appealing your case, each new denial hurts your chances of getting the money you deserve within a reasonable amount of time. To maximize your chances of approval, you may want to hire a FERS disability retirement attorney before you file your first claim.
How a FERS Disability Retirement Lawyer Can Help
The journey to claiming federal disability benefits can be time-consuming, frustrating, and emotionally disruptive. With all the nuances that go into getting approved for federal disability retirement payouts, it’s easy to make an unfortunate mistake.
A qualified FERS disability retirement lawyer can improve your chances of getting approval by:
- Gathering all the necessary documentation and filing the application timely
- Helping you collect all the necessary evidence and securing expert testimonies
- Working with your employer to fill out the necessary sections of the SF–3107 form
- Providing moral support throughout the process
- Negotiating with OPM at any stage of your claim
- Filing an appeal if necessary
At the Law Office of Justin Schnitzer, we are dedicated to helping disabled federal employees receive the money they deserve. To schedule a free consultation, please call (202) 964-4878 or fill out a short contact form on the website.