What Conditions Qualify for Federal Disability Retirement?

Attorney Justin Schnitzer

Written by: Attorney Justin Schnitzer


Experts In This Article

Federal disability retirement is a special dispensation for federal workers who become unable to work during their tenure. It is a form of early retirement based on disability that will eventually be replaced by a typical federal employee retirement at the age of 62. Federal disability retirement is available for federal employees who develop a disability during the course of their federal employment, whether or not the disability was caused by workplace conditions. 

However, obtaining approval to enter federal disability retirement is a long and arduous process requiring a great deal of proof and defense of your situation. A federal employment lawyer can help you navigate qualification and acceptance for the disability retirement you deserve.

What Health Conditions Can Qualify for Federal Disability Retirement?

Various physical and mental health issues may be eligible for Federal Disability Retirement. Below is a list of frequently observed medical cases that have met the criteria for Federal Disability Retirement through our experience.

Physical Conditions

  • Musculoskeletal issues including arthritis, injuries to the back, or conditions caused by repetitive movements
  • Chronic heart conditions such as hypertension or heart failure
  • Neurological disorders including multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease
  • Breathing disorders such as COPD or fibrosis of the lungs

Mental Conditions

  • Severe Depressive Disorder
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder
  • Cognitive impairments including dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or brain injury consequences
  • Psychiatric Disorders such as Schizophrenia or obsessive-compulsive disorder

Can a Federal Employment Lawyer Help Me Qualify for Federal Disability Retirement?

In order to receive Federal Disability Retirement benefits, you will need to make a strong case regarding your condition and its impact on your ability to fulfill your duties as a federal employee. There are hoops to jump through and even pitfalls to avoid before your disability retirement can be approved. In order to adeptly navigate the path to receiving federal disability retirement , you will need to fully understand and proactively pursue the process. This can be particularly difficult if you are currently suffering from a disability that is, by definition, impairing your ability to work.

FERS disability attorney can help by identifying each qualification and helping you navigate the most time-consuming elements of the application process. Your lawyer will acquire the paperwork you need, help you collect the medical documentation to prove your disability, and pursue the application on your behalf to help you secure your federal disability retirement benefits so that you don’t have to worry while also managing your disability.

The federal employment lawyers at The Law Office of Justin Schnitzer are dedicated to providing personalized, high-quality legal representation to federal employees across the country. Contact us today or call 202-964-4878 to schedule your free consultation and learn more about how we can help you achieve your legal goals.

What are the Requirements to Qualify for Federal Disability Retirement?

In order to qualify for FDR, you must meet certain minimum eligibility standards, which must be proved through extensive documentation.

  • 18 months or more of federal service
  • The disability developed or worsened during your employment
  • The disability is diagnosed to last 12 months or more
  • The disability has impaired your ability to do your job
  • Disability accommodation has been offered, but is not adequate
  • You have not accepted reduced or altered work
  • You have completed the SF 3107 Application for Immediate Retirement and SF 3112, Documentation In Support of Disability Retirement. 

Only after all of these requirements are met will you be considered for approval of federal disability retirement. Let’s take a deeper dive into what is required to reach each individual qualification.

1. Minimum 18 Months of Federal Service Required

First, you must have been an official federal employee for 18 months or more. This is defined as Federal Civilian Service as creditable under FERS. The exact definition is important, as contractors, temporary staff, and other peripheral team members may not be eligible. If you have recently become a full-fledged federal employee, you may need to wait until you have accrued 18+ months of time in Federal Civilian Service as defined by FERS.

If you have been a federal employee for several years, you have likely already achieved this first qualification.

2. Disability Developed or Worsened During Federal Employment

Your disability does not need to have been caused by workplace conditions. However, it does need to have become worse over the span of time in which you have been a federal employee. Pre-existing conditions, including old injuries, mental health conditions, or medical conditions may have worsened due to stress, the schedule, the commute, the work environment, or any number of other factors.

This detail is important for two reasons. First, you must establish that you were initially able to completely fulfill your role as a federal employee when hired, and for some time after acquiring the job. Second, you must now establish that you are disabled and unable to keep working. This creates the necessity for a timeline of deterioration.

You will need cumulative medical records and possibly degrading work performance reports to make your point.

3. Disability Has Impaired Your Ability to Fulfill Your Role

Once the disability is established, you will need to clarify how the disability is impairing your ability to fulfill your role. This will require defining the duties of your role and then outlining how the disability is getting in the way.

For many, this is one of the most difficult requirements. Either because the disability is a subtle yet constant distraction or because the pain and inability is difficult to talk about. Your lawyer and physician can both help you to find the right words and medical reports to prove that your ability has diminished as a result of the disability. Again, work performance reports over time may also be helpful.

4. Disability Will Last 12+ Months

Next, your doctor will need to provide a treatment projection in which your disabled state will last more than 12 months. A shorter period may be approved for medical recovery methods rather than a disability retirement.

Confer with your doctor on how long your disability may last and if it might impair your abilities to fulfill your role as a federal employee. A long-term treatment plan can be useful documentation, proving that you are both focused on care but have a long, if not endless, road ahead.

5. Disability Accommodation Options Have Been Exhausted

A federal workplace is required to offer accommodation to employees who are experiencing a temporary or long-term disability. There are situations where the right accommodation can allow you to keep working at full or near-full capacity. However, these efforts will need to have failed in order to receive federal disability retirement.

You will need to work with your direct supervisor to explore possible reasonable accommodations, record your discussions or attempts, and ultimately deem these efforts to be ineffectual in solving your problem,

6. Non-engagement of Alternate Assignments

One of the pitfalls of pursuing FDR is the risk of an alternate or reduced assignment. If your agency reassigns you to another position (this is referred to as an accommodation of last resort), you may lose your chance at disability retirement. If you do receive disability retirement later, it may also be at reduced pay based on the new alternate role. You should consult an attorney before engaging in discussions regarding reassignment or before declining an offered reassignment as this too can adversely impact your application. 

7. Completion of Necessary Documentation Supporting Inability to Work

Lastly, you will need to complete all the necessary forms within one year of the disability incident. Navigating the complex paperwork of a federal disability retirement application can be one of the most challenging parts of the process. Even after you have acquired all the medical and operational proof that is required.

You will need to properly complete the SF 3107 Application for Immediate Retirement and the SF 3112 Documentation In Support of Disability Retirement. Your federal employment lawyer will help you to carefully walk through each document and correctly prepare it in a way that can be submitted to the OPM (Office of Personnel Management) and approved.

How Much Can I Receive for FDR, Once Approved?

Your financial compensation for FDR is based on your ‘high 3″ average salary, or the highest three years of salary you have received during your time as a federal employee. Once this average is taken, you will receive 60% of your high-3 average during the first year of federal disability retirement, and 40% of your high-3 average for every year following until you are 62, when a typical FERS retirement benefit will replace the FDR benefit.

Any money you might get from Social Security disability will offset your benefit by subtracting 100% of Social Security in the first year and 60% of Social Security pay in the following years.

Seeking Federal Disability Retirement, You Are Not Alone

If you are experiencing a disability that has impaired your ability to do your job as a federal employee, you have a right to Federal Disability Retirement benefits. However, that very disability has likely made it difficult to jump through the necessary bureaucratic hoops you need to get your FDR approved. Fortunately, you are not alone. Contact us for your initial consultation with a lawyer who can help.

The federal employment lawyers at The Law Office of Justin Schnitzer serve federal employees nationwide. We are dedicated to ensuring that each federal employee has full access to their rights, including approval of federal disability retirement for those who meet the qualifications. Contact us today or call 202-964-4878 to schedule your free consultation and discover how we can help protect your future.

Attorney Justin Schnitzer

Meet the Author:
Attorney Justin Schnitzer

Justin Schnitzer is the managing partner of The Law Office of Justin Schnitzer, and represents individual federal employees and unions in various aspects of federal employment law. His practice is primarily dedicated to federal EEOC and MSPB matters, responses to proposed disciplinary actions and investigations into potential misconduct.