In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS (CSRS is exempted), one must at some point — at the time of approval or anytime prior to — file for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. This is because, under the laws governing FERS Disability Retirement and Social Security, there is an offset of 100% between the two benefits in the first year, then a 60% offset between the two benefits every year thereafter.
Most Federal and Postal employees who are filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS will not qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, precisely because Social Security has a higher standard of proof in order to qualify for such benefits. However, one must nevertheless satisfy the requirement of filing for SSDI.
For Social Security, one must essentially prove that one is “totally disabled” from performing any and all types of employment, whereas under FERS Disability Retirement eligibility criteria, one must merely show by a preponderance of the evidence that one is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s particular kind of job.
Despite the difference in eligibility criteria, there are times when a Federal or Postal employee applicant will be deemed to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, but not for FERS Disability Retirement. While this may seem odd, this occurs because of the independent nature of each agency. The Office of Personnel Management makes its determination independent of the Social Security Administration. There is case-law, however, which requires the Office of Personnel Management to take into consideration a Social Security Disability approval, and thus an SSDI approval can have some persuasive impact upon a FERS Disability Retirement application.
Further, often an SSDI denial letter will specifically state a finding that while they have determined that the Federal or Postal employee fails to qualify for SSDI benefits, they acknowledge that he or she is unable to perform the particular kind of job in which they are currently employed. Such statements can be used for further persuasive argumentation, but should be used with discretion and care.
As with most agency statements, an argument for its use can “cut both ways”, and one must have the discretionary wisdom to use them as a shield or sword wisely.
Robert R. McGill, Esquire