Being unable to work for a prolonged period of time due to illness or injury can quickly develop into a financial crisis once your sick leave and other benefits run out. Unable to work, you can burn through your savings as you struggle to pay bills and take care of your family. Sadly, this situation is all too common for workers across the country, federal employees included. Fortunately, you can file a claim for disability benefits that can save you from financial disaster. Federal employees may qualify for disability retirement benefits under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), but the process can be challenging. If you are a federal employee and unable to work, a Washington DC FERS disability lawyer can help you understand your options and help you get the benefits you qualify for.
FERS Eligibility Requirements In Washington DC
Applying for benefits through FERS can be a challenging process. The first step is determining whether you are eligible for federal disability retirement benefits under the program’s requirements. In order to receive your benefits, if you are not a military reserve technician, you will need to meet the following qualifications:
- You must be a civilian federal employee.
- You must have been employed by the federal government for at least 18 months of creditable civilian service prior to your disability.
- You must be disabled due to illness or injury that:
- results in a deficiency in performance, conduct, attendance, or
- that makes it so you can no longer provide “useful and efficient service” in your current role, or
- is incompatible with retention in your position.
- Your disability is expected to last at least 12 months from the date the disability application is filed.
- Your employer must certify that they cannot accommodate your disability by providing you with an alternative position in the same agency, at the same pay grade and level, and with the same commuting distance. You must not have reasonably declined an open position.
- You must apply for your benefits before leaving your position or within one year of separation.
- If you are under the age of 62, you must also apply for SSDI benefits.
Many of these requirements are relatively straightforward, while others, such as the anticipated length of your disability, can be quite complex. It’s easy to become quickly overwhelmed. It is particularly difficult to get the FERS Disability Physician’s Narrative due to how overwhelmed most doctors are. A Washington DC FERS disability lawyer can contact your doctor in the most expeditious way in order to complete your federal disability retirement application.
Applying for FERS Disability Benefits
In order to receive your benefits, you will need to submit an application to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Numerous forms will need to be completed, and documentation will need to be submitted. Failure to submit the proper documentation or submitting an incomplete application or inaccurate application could result in your claim being denied.
The most important element will be your medical records concerning your disability in terms of documentation. They will need to explain in detail how your illness or injury has led to your disability and how it specifically limits your ability to do your job. Your medical records will also need to clearly document that your disability will either last for more than 12 months or is permanent. Your documentation must include objective findings such as test results and medical opinions and subjective evidence such as reports detailing your pain and how it affects your daily life. The FERS disability lawyers at the Law Office of Emmett B. Irwin can contact your doctors to get the correct medical information so that your claim is approved.
The forms that must be completed can feel onerous. Depending on your particular case, there may be several forms to be submitted. At a minimum, you will need to submit an Application for Immediate Retirement and Documentation in Support of Disability Retirement, available through the OPM. If you are under the age of 62, you will also need to apply for SSDI and complete the paperwork for those benefits (even though you may not receive SSDI benefits, you still have to apply).
Many applicants who start the process find it hopelessly confusing and overwhelming. One of the most valuable services a Washington, DC, federal disability retirement lawyer provides is assisting you with the application process. They can help you gather the documentation you need and ensure it clearly demonstrates your disability. In addition, they have the knowledge and experience necessary to complete all of the required paperwork so that your claim is processed and approved as quickly as possible.
How Your Medical Records Impact Your Claim
In most cases, the success of your application hinges on your medical records. Even though your doctor may provide very thorough records, many doctors are unfamiliar with the FERS disability process. As a result, your records may contain all pertinent information, but your doctor did not draw out the necessary conclusion and highlight them for review. As mentioned above, your medical records need to demonstrate:
- How your illness or injury caused your disability;
- The extent of your disability and how it impacts your ability to do your job;
- That your disability will last at least 12 months.
- Possibly many others, depending on the unique characteristics of your case.
A FERS disability lawyer will know what the OPM will look for when reviewing your application. New conditions like Postural Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) can even be confusing to most doctors! Law offices of Emmett B. Irwin lawyers have experience working with this condition and almost every other condition due to our decades of experience. They commonly work with doctors in specialty clinics at the best hospitals in the world and know how to communicate with them in order to prove your case. However, the doctors themselves have no time to complete your paperwork. To anticipate this, the lawyers at the Law Office of Emmett B. Irwin make completing the Physician’s Narrative as fast and painless as possible for your doctor. They also ensure that your medical records are complete and accurate in order to support your need for disability benefits.
Calculating Your FERS Benefits
Determining how much your benefits should be under FERS is a complex calculation. Generally speaking, FERS will pay between 40 and 80% of your salary for the rest of your life. However, the specific amount you will receive will depend on several factors, including your age and years of service.
The amount of FERS benefits you receive will be calculated based on your “high-3” average salary. The OPM will look to your highest three years of salary, typically the last three years before your disability. For those who have not worked for the federal government for three or more years, the OPM may consider all of your years of employment. Your high-3 average will then be used to calculate what percentage of your salary should be awarded in benefits.
For example, for those under 62, the first 12 months of benefits will be paid at 60% of your high-3 average, less any SSDI benefits they have received. After the first 12 months, FERS benefits will be paid at 40% of your high-3 average, less 60% of any SSDI benefits.
Various other factors, depending on your age and other details, make the calculation complex. But as difficult as this calculation can be, it is critical to estimate the amount you are entitled to at the outset. The OPM often approves benefits but calculates the wrong amount. You need to be able to identify the miscalculation so that you can take further action to avoid losing your rights. A knowledgeable Washington DC FERS disability lawyer can calculate the amount you are entitled to so that you know what to expect and, more importantly, can take action if you are awarded the wrong amount.
You Have Rights if Your Application is Denied in Washington DC
Applications for FERS disability benefits are sometimes denied. If you filed your application on your own and it was denied, you need to take immediate action to protect your rights. Under the law, your appeal rights are as follows if your application is denied:
- You have the right to file for reconsideration within 30 days of the date of the denial. As part of this process, you can choose an additional 30 days to provide additional, updated information for review by the OPM.
- If your reconsideration is denied, you then have the right to appeal your application to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) to be heard by an administrative law judge. Your appeal must be filed within 30 days of the date of the denial of your reconsideration.
- If the administrative law judge denies your application, you can then appeal to the MSPB Board. A three-member panel will review your application and the judge’s decision. You must file your appeal within 30 days of the judge’s decision.
It is important to note that you should not rely upon your right of appeal. In other words, the best strategy is to submit an accurate and complete application at the outset.
While working with an attorney makes it more likely that your application will be approved, there are no guarantees. Nevertheless, a Washington DC FERS disability lawyer who has experience in handling appeals can help you take whatever steps are necessary to get the benefits you deserve.
A Washington DC FERS Disability Lawyer Answering Your Questions
When you start the FERS disability application process, it’s common to feel like there are more questions than answers. This is natural, the benefits themselves are complex, and they are administered through a complicated government process. A Washington DC FERS disability lawyer who has extensive experience in handling FERS disability claims can answer your questions and guide you through the process step-by-step.
Does the injury or illness that caused my disability need to be work-related?
You do not need to have been injured on the job or suffered a work-related illness to qualify for FERS disability benefits. Disability benefits are often confused with workers comp benefits, which do require that your injury or illness be work-related.
Do FERS disability benefits cover pre-existing conditions?
Assuming you were able to work despite your condition, FERS disability benefits should cover any pre-existing medical condition that has now caused you to be disabled. For example, let’s assume that you had a heart condition prior to starting your job with the federal government. Your condition was controlled with medication, and you were able to perform your job without issue. After several years, however, your condition worsened, leaving you unable to perform your job. In this situation, you would likely qualify for FERS disability benefits. That said, cases involving pre-existing conditions can be complicated, so you may want to consider discussing your case with a Washington DC FERS disability lawyer before filing.
I was reassigned to another position with fewer hours and lower pay. Can I still file for FERS disability benefits even though I’m still working?
You can still file for FERS disability so long as you are no longer able to provide “useful and efficient service” at your prior job. A “light duty” assignment does not necessarily disqualify you from receiving FERS disability benefits.
Can I get a part-time job to supplement my income while I’m receiving FERS disability benefits?
You can pursue a job in the private sector in order to supplement the benefits you are receiving.
Can I receive both SSDI and FERS disability benefits?
You can receive both SSDI and FERS disability benefits, but note that your FERS disability benefits will be offset by the amount of SSDI benefits you receive.
Who pays the legal fees when pursuing a FERS disability claim?
Unlike SSI and SSDI claims, where attorney’s fees are deducted from the benefits award, the applicant usually pays the legal fees associated with a federal disability retirement claim in advance. As a result, it is vital that you discuss the lawyer’s fee structure before hiring them to help with your claim. Some lawyers bill for their services, some bill per task, and some bill to handle your claim on a flat-fee basis. Do not be afraid to ask about how the legal fees will be billed at your initial consultation with a Washington DC FERS disability lawyer.
Emmett B. Irwin works on a flat fee basis so that you can have peace of mind that you won’t be billed tens of thousands of dollars by an attorney that is just wasting time. You always know our price ahead of time, and there are never any surprises. That’s our guarantee, and if we lose your case, you get your money back!
Need Help Navigating the Federal Disability Retirement System? Contact a Washington DC FERS Disability Lawyer Emmett B. Irwin Today
We understand the challenges and stresses you face when you can’t work. We strive to handle the heavy lifting so you can focus on the things that are most important. From helping gather your documentation to arguing your case on appeal and everything in between, we work with you every step of the way until they get the benefits you deserve. To schedule a free consultation, contact us to discuss your case.
Our Bethesda Office Location
Our Bethesda office is located in the heart of downtown Bethesda, at 4405 East-West Highway, Suite 201 – less than a five-minute walk from the Bethesda metro station and nine stops from downtown Washington D.C. We are near the National Institutes of Health, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the Naval Medical Research Center, The Department of Energy, and various other federal agencies in Montgomery County and the District of Columbia. As a result, we are uniquely positioned to assist veterans, federal employees, and private citizens in the greater Washington, D.C., area who cannot work due to disability. If you are in the D.C. area, a federal disability retirement attorney from the Law Offices of Emmett B. Irwin can help you get the benefits you need.