Under the Federal Employment Retirement System, federal employees who are unable to work due to a medical condition may be eligible for disability benefits.

However, if you are seeking FERS benefits, you may be wondering, “What is the FERS disability retirement processing time?” After answering that, you may be wondering, “Why is it taking so long? Is there a way to expedite the procedure?”

While there are numerous intricacies and traps to be aware of while seeking FERS benefits, this article will help answer some of the most often-asked questions about the FERS disability retirement processing time.

Processing Time for FERS Disability Retirement

Applications can sometimes be processed by the Office of Personnel Management in as little as three months after they are received. Sometimes it could take longer than a year. However, OPM decisions often take between six and nine months to make.

What’s worse, if an employee does not hear back in a timely manner and is either fired or placed on leave without pay but does not have a significant amount of savings, losing their capacity to work could put them in major financial trouble and/or generate concerns about health insurance and the expenses of treatments required for their medical condition.

As previously mentioned, a number of factors might affect how quickly your application is processed. The main contributing factor is that OPM, which is in charge of processing these applications, usually reviews them in order of receipt. It may take some time for your application to be processed, much less forwarded to a specialist for examination and determination, given that OPM is in charge of all federal employees.

Even though you can’t get to the front of the line, following OPM protocol when submitting all of your paperwork the first time can help assure that you won’t need to stand in line again.

Another important factor that may have an impact on how quickly you obtain a decision is your job status with the organization. When you submit your application, if you have been out of federal employment for more than 30 days, it may be reviewed more swiftly.

This is due to the fact that you are sending your application directly to OPM in Boyers, Pennsylvania, where it is processed and assigned a civil service annuity number. Following the issuance of a CSA number, the application is forwarded to an OPM specialist for review.

Compare this to the application process for a person who is currently employed or who will be removed from their position within 30 days. In such cases, an application must pass through numerous offices at the individual’s agency before it even gets to OPM. Your application is first processed by the local facility you work for. The local facility may be responsible for completing certain required forms as part of the application before the package moves on.

Furthermore, many agencies will then forward your application to their HR facility for processing and completion of the additional required information—for example, certification of time in service, leave taken and balances, accommodation efforts, and all relevant position descriptions. Following this, your application will be sent by your agency to OPM in Boyers for a CSA number and a determination.

Is There Any Recourse if I Don’t Receive a Timely Decision?

Based on some more recent case law, you have 18 months from the date of the retirement decision to file an appeal with the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, alleging a constructive denial by OPM. Anything before that will probably be tossed by the judge without prejudice because OPM hasn’t made a final determination. They will make you re-file once you have a final decision.

There is typically an additional administrative appeal to OPM called a “Request for Reconsideration,” or RFR, that must be made before you can appeal a refusal judgment to the MSPB. To file an RFR with OPM’s Reconsideration Branch, you have 30 days from the date of the initial refusal. You can attempt to overturn the denial by submitting additional medical information and addressing the grounds for OPM’s rejection. The review could take another 6 to 9 months.

After receiving this RFR decision, you will have 30 days from the date of the decision to file an MSPB appeal.

After you file your appeal, the MSPB will assign a docket number and a judge, and OPM will designate a representative from their Washington, D.C., headquarters. As opposed to the medical specialist who ruled on your case, this appointee is typically a paralegal or a legal administrative professional.

A list of witnesses who can support your claims should also be prepared at this point, along with all of your supporting evidence. It will be more challenging to have your evidence accepted into your case the later you provide it within the MSPB procedure.

The OPM’s appointed representative will be in charge of supporting the OPM’s decision in front of the court at this hearing. This is also your chance to counter the OPM’s reconsideration decision with arguments and supporting data. After the hearing, the judge will issue a decision, which might take months.

The decision will take effect after 35 days if it is authorized, and the OPM will then have 20 more days to send you a letter approving your Federal Disability Retirement. Once your case has been settled, you will be granted any qualifying back pay that you are entitled to.

Streamlining the Process

A disability retirement application can take a while, but there are ways to speed up the procedure. The application packet is lengthy and requests a variety of forms, letters, and other documents from your agency, your doctor, and/or your office.

It will be more likely for OPM to approve an application that has been correctly filled out, is well-organized, and contains all the necessary information that OPM will be looking for. This will also hasten the review process.

Amanda Smith is an associate in Tully Rinckey PLLC’s Buffalo office, where she focuses her practice on federal and state employment and labor law.

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