Prepared by Public Affairs 312-751-4777
The Railroad Retirement Act provides disability annuities for
railroaders who become totally or occupationally disabled. Medicare coverage
before age 65 is also available for totally disabled employees and those
suffering from ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) or chronic kidney disease.
The following questions and answers describe these disability benefits, their
requirements, and how to apply for them.
1. How do
railroad retirement provisions for total disability and occupational disability
A total disability annuity is
based on permanent disability for all employment and is payable
at any age to employees with at least 10 years (120 months) of creditable
railroad service and, under certain conditions, to employees with five to nine
years (60-119 months) of creditable railroad service after 1995.
An occupational disability annuity is based on
disability for the employee's regular railroad occupation and is
payable at age 60 if the employee has 10 years (120 months) of railroad service,
or at any age if the employee has at least 20 years (240 months) of service. A
"current connection" with the railroad industry is also required for an
occupational disability annuity. The current connection requirement is normally
met if the employee worked for a railroad in at least 12 of the last 30
consecutive months immediately preceding his or her annuity beginning date.
If an employee does not qualify for a current connection on this basis, but has
12 months of service in an earlier 30-month period, he or she may still meet the
current connection requirement. This alternative generally applies if the
employee did not have any regular employment outside the railroad industry after
the end of the last 30-month period which included 12 months of railroad service
and before the month the annuity begins or the date of death. Full or part-time
work for a nonrailroad employer in the interval between the end of the last
30-month period including 12 months of railroad service and the month an
employee's annuity begins, or the month of death if earlier, can break a current
2. Under what conditions can disabled employees with
five to nine years of service be eligible for railroad retirement disability
Employees with five to nine years (60-119 months) of service
after 1995 may qualify for an annuity based on total and
permanent, but not occupational, disability if they have a disability insured
status under social security law. A disability insured status is established
when an employee has social security or railroad retirement earnings credits in
20 calendar quarters in a period of 40 consecutive quarters ending in or after
the quarter in which the disability began.
Unlike the two-tier
annuities payable to a 10-year employee, disability annuities payable to
five-year employees are initially limited to a tier I social security equivalent
benefit; a tier II benefit is not payable in these cases until the employee
attains age 62. And, the employee's tier II benefit will be reduced for early
retirement in the same manner as the tier II benefit of an employee who retired
on the basis of age rather than disability at age 62 with less than 30 years of
3. How do the standards for total disability and
occupational disability differ?
An employee is
considered to be totally disabled if medical evidence shows a permanent physical
and/or mental impairment preventing the performance of any regular and gainful
work. A condition is considered to be permanent if it has lasted or may be
expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months or result in
An employee is considered to be occupationally disabled if
a physical and/or mental impairment prevents the employee from performing the
duties of his or her regular railroad occupation, even though the employee may
be able to perform other kinds of work. An employee's regular occupation is
generally that particular work he or she has performed for hire in more calendar
months, which may or may not be consecutive, than any other work during the last
five years; or that work which was performed for hire in at least one-half of
all the months, which must be consecutive, in which the employee worked for hire
during the last 15 years.
4. How does the amount of a
railroad retirement disability annuity compare to a social security disability
Disabled railroad workers retiring directly
from the railroad industry at the end of fiscal year 2012 were awarded almost
$2,900 a month on the average, while awards for disabled workers under social
security averaged about $1,190.
5. When is early Medicare
coverage available for the disabled?
Medicare coverage before age 65 may begin after a disabled employee annuitant
has been entitled to monthly benefits based on total disability for at least 24
months and has a disability insured status under social security law. There is
no 24-month waiting period for those who have ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral
Sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The fact that an employee is
initially awarded an occupational disability annuity does not preclude early
Medicare coverage, if the employee's physical and/or mental condition is such
that he or she is totally and permanently disabled.
coverage on the basis of permanent kidney failure requiring dialysis or a kidney
transplant is available not only to employee annuitants, but also to employees
who have not retired but meet certain minimum service requirements, as well as
spouses and dependent children. For those suffering from chronic kidney disease,
coverage may begin with the third month after dialysis treatment begins, or
earlier under certain conditions.
6. Do the railroad
retirement disability annuity requirements include a waiting period similar to
the one required for social security disability benefits?
Yes. A five-month waiting period beginning with the month after the month of the
disability's onset is required before railroad retirement disability annuity
payments can begin. However, an applicant need not wait until this five-month
period is over to file for benefits.
The Railroad Retirement
Board (RRB) accepts disability applications up to 3 months in advance of an
annuity beginning date which allows the agency to complete the processing of
most new claims before a person's actual retirement date. An employee can be in
compensated service while filing a disability application provided that the
compensated service is not active service and terminates within 90 days from the
date of filing. When an employee files a disability application while still in
compensated service, it will be necessary for the employee to provide a specific
ending date of the compensation.
Compensated service includes not only compensation with respect
to active service performed by an employee for an employer, but also includes
pay for time lost, wage continuation payments, certain employee protection
payments and any other payment for which the employee will receive additional
7. What documentation is required
when filing for a railroad retirement disability annuity?
Employees filing for disability annuities are required to submit medical
evidence supporting their claim. Applicants should be prepared to furnish dates
of hospitalization, names and dosages of medication, names of doctors, etc.
Applicants may also be asked to take special medical examinations given by a
doctor named by the RRB. If a disability applicant is receiving workers'
compensation or public disability benefits, notice of such payments must be
Sources of medical evidence for railroad retirement
disability purposes may include, but are not limited to, the applicant's
railroad employer, personal physician and hospital, the Social Security
Administration or the agency paying workers' compensation or public disability
benefits. This evidence generally should not be more than 12 months old. In
addition, proof of age and proof of any military service credit claimed and a
description of past work activity will also be required.
8. What is the best way to apply for a railroad retirement disability annuity or
early Medicare coverage?
Applications for railroad
retirement disability annuities are generally filed at one of the RRB's field
offices, or at one of the office's Customer Outreach Program (CORP) service
locations, or by telephone and mail. However, applications by rail employees for
early Medicare coverage on the basis of kidney disease have to be filed with an
office of the Social Security Administration, rather than the RRB.
To expedite filing for a railroad retirement disability annuity, disabled
employees or a family member should call, write, or send a secure message via
the RRB's website, www.rrb.gov, to the agency's nearest field office to schedule
an appointment. For the appointment, claimants should bring in any medical
evidence in their possession and any medical records they can secure from their
treating sources, such as their regular physician. Employees who are unable to
personally visit an RRB office or meet an RRB representative at a CORP service
location may request special assistance, such as having an agency representative
come to a hospital or the employee's home. RRB personnel can assist disabled
employees with their applications and advise them on how to obtain any
additional medical evidence required or any other necessary documents or
9. Can an individual continue to receive an
employee disability annuity even if he or she does some work after it begins?
Special earnings rules apply to disability annuitants and they are more
stringent than those that apply to annuitants who have retired on the basis of
age and service. Disability annuities are not payable for any month in which the
annuitant earns more than $810 in 2013 in any employment or self-employment,
exclusive of work-related expenses. Withheld payments will be restored if
earnings for 2013 are less than $10,125 after deduction of disability-related
work expenses. Failure to report such earnings could involve a significant
These disability work restrictions cease upon a
disabled employee annuitant's attainment of full retirement age (age 65 for
those born before 1938 to age 67 for those born in 1960 or later). This
transition is effective no earlier than full retirement age, even if the
annuitant had 30 years of service. Earnings deductions continue to apply to
annuitants working for their last pre-retirement nonrailroad employer.
If a disabled annuitant works before full retirement age, this
may also raise a question about the possibility of that individual's recovery
from disability, regardless of the amount of earnings. Consequently, any
earnings must be reported promptly to avoid overpayments, which are recoverable
by the RRB and may also include penalties.
employment with a rail labor organization affect eligibility for a disability
Payment of an employee's disability annuity
cannot begin earlier than the day after the employee stops working in
compensated service for any railroad employer, including labor organizations.
Such work includes service for more than $24.99 in a calendar month
to a local lodge or division of a railway labor organization. Also,
work by a local lodge or division secretary collecting insurance premiums,
regardless of the amount of salary, is railroad work which must
11. Must an employee relinquish employment
rights in order to receive a disability annuity?
employee can be in compensated, but non-active, service while filing a
disability annuity application as long as the compensated service terminates
within 90 days from the date of filing. However, in order for a supplemental
annuity to be paid or for an eligible spouse to begin receiving benefits, a
disability annuitant under full retirement age must relinquish employment
12. How can individuals get more information
about disability annuities?
More information is
available by visiting the RRB's website, www.rrb.gov, or by calling an RRB
office toll-free at 1-877-772-5772. Persons can find the address of the RRB
office servicing their area by calling the agency's toll-free number or at