Of FERS, CSRS and benefits

A Reader Writes:

I am a Federal Employee Retirement System worker who converted from the Civil Service Retirement System. Under FERS, the only sick leave that I can convert for retirement is 100 hours that I built up before converting. Under CSRS, you can convert all your built-up sick leave when you retire.

Under FERS, why can't you convert all of your sick leave to retirement? I know that nurses and probably others were fighting for this. Is there anything in the works for doing this for all FERS individuals? I did not understand why this benefit was never carried over, except that it saves the government money.

Milt Replies:

You are right, when an employee under CSRS retires, unused sick leave is converted to federal service credit for computing the retiree's annuity. An employee, like you, who converts to FERS from CSRS may also have unused sick leave converted to federal service credit for annuity computation. However, this conversion is limited to the amount of sick leave accrued at the time of the transfer, or the sick leave balance at the time of retirement — whichever is less. Employees with federal service only under FERS are not eligible for the sick leave federal service credit.

One exception, which you mentioned, is a registered nurse. In January 2002, the president signed into law legislation that, among other things, improves retirement benefits for Department of Veterans Affairs nurses (VA Health Care Programs Enhancement Act of 2001, H.R. 3447). A provision in the legislation "allows unused sick leave to be included in the annuity computation for Veterans Health Administration registered nurses."

A bill under consideration in the Senate (Federal Registered Nurse Retirement Adjustment Act of 2001, S. 1080) would permit nurses under the FERS system to credit their sick leave toward retirement. The idea behind both of these bills is to recruit and retain nurses, which are in short supply. But it could be good news for all FERS employees, as it sets a precedent to extend the perk.

A Reader Writes:

I am a 20-year employee of the federal system. I was hired in 1981 with CSRS and changed to FERS in 1995 in error. I want to look at retirement within the next six years because of health issues. Will I lose variable income or benefits because of early retirement? And what percentage of my GS-11 will I be entitled to?

Milt Replies:

If you retire early on a disability, you'll get a lesser benefit, but you'll get it for more years. You'll lose 2 percent for each year of service under 30.

More information can be found in a pamphlet at the Office of Personnel Management site: "Information About Disability Retirement (FERS)."

A Reader Writes:

I had about 12 years under CSRS before inadvertently going under FERS. Will I lose the related pension associated with the 12 years under CSRS? And if I don't lose it, how do I go about ensuring I recoup that amount at the time of my retirement?

Milt Replies:

Your annuity will be figured using the CSRS rules for the 12 years you have under CSRS, and the FERS rules will be applied for the remainder of your service. This will be done automatically by OPM - you don't have to do a thing.

Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at milt.zall@verizon.net.

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