When you need to get the most out of your benefits: part two

The second in a series about dealing with serious situations.

Last week, we started a three part series on federal employees facing serious retirement-related issues. Here’s part two. 

I medically retired from my federal law enforcement officer position in June 2010 and turned 62 in October 2022. At that point my pension was supposed to be recalculated. I personally computed approximately what the recalculation should be. I contacted the Office of Personnel Management about the recalculation and they said they would work on it. In December 2022 my pension was increased by $89. My calculations showed I should get a lot more than that. OPM’s Retirement Operations Center in Boyers, Pennsylvania, told me to talk to the agency’s post-retirement office in D.C. I did so and they said my file was in Boyers. I found out that my file had been in post-retirement since Dec. 19, 2022. After much back and forth the post-retirement office told me on May 16, 2023 that the file was with post-retirement. More back and forth and finally in my next pension check I will see the recalculation, which is very close to what I computed. Now I am questioning my back pay amount. Is it normal that it takes this long?

It’s important to note that although there was a delay in recalculating this retiree’s retirement benefit, he will be made whole.

Under the Federal Employees Retirement System, the amount of a disability retirement benefit is computed at the time of retirement. Then another computation is supposed to be done a year later, and a final computation at age 62 (assuming the employee was under 62 and not eligible for a voluntary retirement when they retired). 

In this retiree’s case, the initial complication was that his disability retirement was recomputed at age 62 using the general formula rather than the more generous law enforcement formula that he was entitled to receive. 

This underscores the importance of requesting a benefits estimate before you retire and asking questions if something doesn’t seem right. OPM offers information about the calculation of regular and disability retirement, as well as special provisions for law enforcement officers, firefighters and certain other types of jobs. But the devil is in the details.

It’s also important to save records, such as SF-50 Notification of Personnel Action forms, that provide official documentation of beginning and ending dates of your federal employment. You should also keep records of any changes in your work schedule or retirement coverage. It’s much easier to make the case that your benefit was erroneously calculated when you have the evidence to back it up.

Although it might not have made the process move any faster, I would have recommended that this retiree put in writing a formal request for reconsideration when he received an amount of benefits that he perceived as less than he was owed. According to OPM, generally, anyone whose retirement benefit rights or interests are affected by an initial OPM decision can request a formal review of it. Anyone whose rights or interests are affected by a final decision can file an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board. That review will be conducted according to MSPB procedures.

Either way, the response to this retiree’s question about whether the delays he experienced in getting reconsideration of his benefits recalculation are normal is: not necessarily, but don’t be surprised if it happens. Just be prepared.