NOAA Disability Retirement
When a member of the NOAA, or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, becomes disabled while serving in the NOAA, he or she is entitled to disability retirement. However, the process of retiring with disability from the NOAA and obtaining appropriate benefits can be confusing.
To be eligible for disability retirement or discharge, a NOAA Corps officer must be found unfit to perform their assigned duties because of a physical or mental condition. The level of fitness varies based on an officer’s length of service in the NOAA Corps. NOAA Corps officer with under 10 years of active service must meet the standards for Duty Level 1: unrestricted duty at sea or ashore with no restrictions from weather severity or duration and the ability to land, work, and live on any coast or terrain. Those who have served for 10 to 18 years must meet the requirements of Duty Level 2, including the requirements of Duty Level 1 but with less arduous activities. Finally, service for more than 18 years requires an officer to meet the requirements of Duty Level 3. Usually, officers at this level must meet the standards for office responsibilities.
Any officer who is unable to fulfill the required tasks of their duty level because of a disability incurred in the line of duty and is ineligible for limited duty is eligible for disability benefits. Generally, a disability acquired or aggravated while on active duty is considered to be incurred in the line of duty unless it was the result of the NOAA Corps officer’s intentional misconduct, while he or she was absent without leave (AWOL), or due to the NOAA Corps officer’s willful neglect.
To be found unfit for duty due to a disability, the NOAA Corps officer should undergo a fitness evaluation. The NOAA Corps officer themselves can request in writing that the Director, NOAA Corps initiate a fitness evaluation. Alternatively, an aircraft commander, commanding officer, or supervisor can initiate a fitness evaluation when they suspect that the NOAA Corps officer’s unacceptable performance is due to a medical reason. Following the request for a fitness evaluation, a complete medical examination of the NOAA Corps officer should be conducted by the Medical Board. The records of the Medical Board procedures will then be referred to the MRB for a recommendation regarding fitness and disability rating.
Once a disability is determined to be incurred while in the line of duty, the disability must be rated using the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD). The VA rating determines the payment the NOAA Corps officer receives once discharged. Furthermore, the Director, NOAA Corps has the authority to assign ratings in unusual cases if it can be documented that VASRD does not reflect the true nature of the disability.
The process of receiving disability retirement or discharge from the NOAA is often a confusing or difficult process, and the above is merely a summary of the path towards retiring with a disability. For a detailed account of the process of disability retirement or discharge from the NOAA, see “Chapter 8 – Termination of Active Service” of the NOAA Corps Directive, found at https://www.corpscpc.noaa.gov/procedures/corps_directives/chapter_8/ncd_ch8.pdf.
The following information should not be viewed as legal advice. Contact us at Veteran@CitizenSoldierLaw.com or other competent counsel.