Reader Question: What happens if I become disabled while working as a federal employee?

Q: I’m currently employed by a federal agency, but I’ve had a few troublesome health problems in the last year. I’m worried I will become disabled before I reach retirement age. What will happen to me and my finances? Do I need a Power of Attorney?

A: If you become mentally or physically unable to handle your own money, a family member or someone helping you should contact OPM as soon as possible. When your family member or friends contact OPM, they will receive full instructions on what to do to take care of your retirement benefit for you. They will be asked for identifying information such as your claim number, name, and Social Security Number, as well as the name and address of the person responsible for your care.

Powers of Attorney

The Office of Personnel Management does not recognize Powers of Attorney filings. You need to work with OPM to make arrangements as early as possible if you face a disability so that a PoA is not needed to continue proving your benefits to you.

If you are an individual who is responsible for the care or custody of a person who is either mentally or physically unable to handle his or her own money, you should contact OPM as soon as possible. OPM will give you full instructions on what to do to take care of the benefits. You should provide the claim number, name, and Social Security Number of the disabled person as well as the name and address of the responsible person.

Periodic Medical Exams

When OPM approves your application for disability retirement, it may determine that based on your medical condition you will periodically have to provide OPM with current medical information in order to continue receiving benefits.

You pay for the periodic medical exams needed to keep your disability benefit. If you do not fulfill the request for evidence of continuing disability, your benefit payments could be suspended until your continuing eligibility is established.

Receiving Disability Benefits from Both OPM and OWCP

Generally, you must decide which disability benefit  the OPM benefit or the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Workers Compensation Programs (OWCP) benefit  is most advantageous for you, and elect to receive that one. If you decide you want to receive OWCP benefits, payments from OPM will be suspended. But if your OWCP benefits stop, you can ask OPM to pay your disability benefit. You can receive an OWCP Scheduled Award and the OPM benefits at the same time.

Contact OPM to tell them if you are awarded workers compensation benefits and see if you need to make an election between benefits.


  • Posted September 10, 2014 Karri 6:58 pm

    I am employed by the State of CA and have been receiving survivor benefits after my husband deceased in 2004. He was civilian working for the Office of Small Business within the Department\t of Defense. During his tenure, I was and still am enrolled under my husband’s federal health insurance provider, Blue Cross Blue Shield. I am anticipating to retire from CA State employment within 1-2 years. Am I covered under my husband’s medical plan for life? Or is it required that I reinstate with the CA State’s medical plan? What resources are there to help one decide which medical plan is best for a survivor–federal or state?

    Thank you for your assistance.

    Karri Yee

  • Posted October 7, 2014 Tonya Sephus 2:53 pm

    If you become disable can you apply for 480hrs sick leave that is given once a year for family care, to use once your sick and annual leave is exhausted until your disability comes in?

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