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Guide to Disability Benefits Under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS)

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The Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) is the primary retirement plan for federal employees. Congress created this plan in 1986 to replace the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), which had existed since 1920. FERS covers all employees who joined the federal service on and after January 1, 1987. One of the most important components of FERS is its disability benefits. 

If you are an injured or disabled federal employee, it’s critical for you to understand the disability benefits that FERS offers. It is also essential for you to understand the amount of compensation that you may potentially obtain.

Is FERS the Same as CSRS?

Many people ask whether FERS offers them the same disability benefits as CSRS. The answer is that the two systems have significant differences. For one, CSRS disability benefits are calculated differently than FERS disability benefits. 

Furthermore, CSRS only has one component—an annuity. FERS consists of three parts:

  • The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP);
  • Social security benefits; and
  • An annuity. 

The tax consequences of each retirement plan are also different.

Which Federal Employees Are Eligible for FERS Disability Benefits?

To be eligible for FERS disability benefits, you must have:

  • Finished at least 18 months of Federal service;
  • Become disabled because of a medical condition that prevents you from performing the essential functions of your position; and 
  • Applied for social security disability benefits. 

On top of all that, your disability must be expected to last at least one year. 

Your federal employer plays a significant role in this process as well. Specifically, your federal employer must demonstrate that it attempted to accommodate your disability within your current position. It must also show that it looked for and failed to find any other jobs you could perform with your disability.

There are two important things that you do not need to demonstrate to be eligible for FERS. First, you do not need to show that your disability prevents you from performing all work. You only need to demonstrate that it makes you unable to perform your position of record with or without reasonable accommodations. 

Second, you do not need to show that your medical disability resulted from your job.

How Can I Calculate the Amount of My Benefits? 

To calculate your FERS disability benefits amount, you first need to determine the highest average basic pay you earned during any consecutive three- year period in your federal career. This figure is called the “high-3” average salary

Most federal employees receive their high-3 average salary during the final three years of their career. However, you can use an earlier period of time if you received a pay cut near the end of your career. 

Once you know your high-3 average salary, you can calculate your disability benefits in one of two different ways based on your age and years of service. 

If you are over 62 and have 20 or more years of service, your disability benefits equal 1.1% of your high-3 average salary multiplied by the number of years you worked.

If you are older than 62 with fewer than 20 years of service, or under 62, you will receive just 1.0% of your high-3 average salary multiplied by the number of years of service.

Two Examples for Calculating FERS Disability Benefits


Let’s look at a couple of examples to show you how this process works.

Example 1: Fred’s high-3 average salary is $100,000. He is 65 years old and has 35 years of federal service.

Therefore, he can use 1.1% of his high-3 average salary. 1.1% of $100,000 is $1,100. $1,100 times 35 equals $38,500. Therefore, Fred will receive $38,500 a year in FERS disability benefits.

Example 2: John’s high-3 average salary is also $100,000. He is 50 years old and has 20 years of service. Because of this, he can only use 1.0% of his high-3 average salary when calculating his disability benefits. 1.0% of $100,000 is $1,000. $1,000 multiplied by 20 equals $20,000.

Therefore, John will get $20,000 a year in FERS disability benefits.

One final note. If you are less than 62 years old, your FERS disability benefits get reduced by the amount of any social security benefits you receive during the first 12 months of your disability retirement. After 12 months, your disability benefits get reduced by 60% of any social security benefits you receive.

How Can I Apply for FERS Disability Benefits?

You must do several things to apply for FERS disability benefits. First, you must complete Standard Form (SF) 3107, titled “Application for Immediate Retirement.” You must also complete SF 3112, titled “Documentation In Support of Disability Retirement.“ Although completing these forms may sound daunting, the good news is that your employing
agency will help you complete them. Your employer can also provide you with advice on what to include in your application package. Finally, your employer will forward your completed application package to OPM, the federal agency responsible for processing disability retirement applications.

If you are less than 62 years old, you also need to show whether you have applied for social security disability benefits after you separate from federal service. You can learn more about applying for FERS disability benefits here.

What Do I Do If the Government Denies My Application for FERS Disability Benefits? 

Your best choice is to contact a qualified federal employment attorney. Federal employment attorneys can evaluate why the government denied your application for disability benefits.  They can also assess whether the government was right in denying your claim. Moreover, a federal employment attorney can protect your rights to disability by appealing your denial of benefits.

This blog is printed with permission.

About the Author: Aaron Wersing is the founder of The Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC. His practice
focuses on assisting federal employees with a wide variety of litigation and transactional matters.


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