CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Initial Step Is the Most Difficult

I find that the initial step in filing for Federal Disability Retirement is the most difficult step for people to take.  It is often a psychological block.  I have spoken on this issue in the past.  For a Federal or Postal worker, especially in these constrained economic times where the job market outside of the Federal Sector appears restrictive, at best, the pressure of one’s medical conditions and the impact upon one’s job, results in an anxiousness when it comes to filing for federal disability retirement under FERS or CSRS.  Certainly, it is a significant pay cut.

Certainly, it is a worry that — although one may be able to make up to 80% of what one’s (former) Federal salary currently pays — it may be that the private sector may not offer the opportunities to make up the difference in the pay cut.  Yet, the choices are often stark and untenable; for, at some point, it becomes clear that one’s medical conditions prevents one from performing the essential elements of the job.

As such, the only and best choice is to move forward:  in fact, even in this economy, creativity will be rewarded.  Private companies actually find independent contractors who carry his or her own health insurance a plus; part-time work is offered more readily in a bad economy precisely because it allows for companies to obtain necessary work and skills without having to pay the “extra” benefits.  The initial step is the most difficult; after stepping beyond the difficulty, Federal and Postal workers who obtain disability retirement benefits find that there is a different and better future — even in this economy.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: A New Beginning

After representing so many Federal and Postal employees over these many years, there are stories which continue to sadden me; as with all professionals, I attempt to bifurcate my life, and not get “personally” involved with my cases.  To blur the lines between providing sound and effective legal advice, and getting “involved” in the personal tragedies of my clients, would certainly undermine the professional effectiveness needed in providing for my clients.  To a great extent, I am successful. Every now and then, however, I am informed of a tragedy — and it touches me. Perhaps that is a good thing; for one can become insensitive, or “de-sensitized” in a way that can be detrimental.

I try and explain to many people that getting Federal Disability Retirement benefits should never be a judgment upon one’s career — let alone one’s life. A career can span a lifetime, or it can extend for a couple of years (i.e., at least the 18 months of Federal Service that is needed to even qualify under FERS). However long, to come to a point in one’s career where it becomes necessary to acknowledge to one’s self that certain medical conditions are directly impacting one’s ability to perform the essential elements of the job — such an admission should never be interpreted to mean that such a circumstance has somehow devalued the worth of a person.

Human beings are complex entities, bundled up by personality, uniqueness, family, job, hobbies, thoughts — a compendium of a history of one’s life.  Note that I merely inserted the concept of “job” within a sequence of many facets.  And, indeed, one’s job is important — it takes us away from the many other bundles of our lives, and forces us to expend 8, 10, 12 or more hours per day, Monday thru Friday, and some weekends, too.  But that which takes up a large quantity of our time does not necessarily or logically result in the definitional essence of a human being; the fact that we spend a great deal of time in the bathroom does not mean that such an activity defines our “essence”.

“Worth” of a human being attaches to each of us, and is inseparable from each human being.  One’s job and career constitute only a small part of us.  Let’s keep that in mind, and in its proper perspective.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: the Psychological Barrier

I hear the anguish in people’s voices; an individual has worked for the Federal Government, or the Postal Service, for 20+ years; “I’m not lazy”, “I’ve worked all of my life”, “I gave my Agency the best, each day”, “I am not asking for a hand-out.”  No justification is needed.  No defense is needed.  Disability retirement is not welfare; it is not a hand-out; it is a benefit which was part of the employment package which your employer — the Federal Government — offered to you, when you applied for the job.  You could have applied for a private sector job, and received a higher offer of monetary compensation, but with lesser benefits.  A Federal employee who accepts a Federal or Postal position, does so with the understanding that the monetary compensation may be lesser, but the total package of benefits makes it worthwhile.  Some of those benefits are considered as “safety-net” benefits, and disability retirement is one of those.  No justification is needed.  No defense is needed.  You worked hard; you gave it your best; it is time to take that benefit which you earned, and move on to another phase of your career, your life, and your contribution to society –which yet remains in abundance.  Your best days are yet to come.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The “No Other Choice” Case

Then, of course, there are cases where an individual has “no other choice” than to file for disability retirement. Sometimes, it is a chance that is taken — the chance of paying an attorney. Yes, adverse removal actions can impact one’s chances of obtaining disability retirement benefits. A case study: A recent client was removed from a Federal Agency for criminal conduct (obviously, no names will be used, and the facts will be somewhat altered to protect the client’s confidentiality of information). The individual was nowhere near retirement age; but suffice it to say that he/she had been a loyal employee for 20 years. He/she had a medical condition — a psychiatric condition, which pre-dated the criminal conduct. He/she hired me to obtain disability retirement.

What choice did the person have? He/she really had “no other choice” other than to walk away with nothing, or take the chance of paying an attorney (in this case, me). I was blunt about the entire affair: Normally, I am able to get most of my clients approved at the first or second stage of the process, and I will normally ascribe a “success-rate” to a case; in this instance, the probable rate of success, in my opinion, was lower than my normal prediction. Nevertheless, he/she wanted to go forward with it. I contacted the doctors and guided them into writing a forthright medical report; today, the client is receiving his/her disability retirement annuity. Did the person “deserve it” despite the criminal conduct? Absolutely! His/her medical condition pre-dated the criminal conduct, and in fact was a major factor in the actuation of the criminal conduct itself. I am happy for the client, and from a professional standpoint, it is always satisfying to win a case where a client entrusted a case in which he/she had “no other choice” — but once the choice was made, to have made the right choice.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirements: The Remainder of the Year

Thanksgiving is now over. There are barely 4 weeks before Christmas. Yet, for those who are considering filing for disability retirement, time is not the issue; rather, it is whether or not a Federal employee is able to persist in continuing his or her employment before the time of recognition comes. Recognition comes, generally speaking, in three steps: A constant struggle with a medical condition, and the impediment such a medical condition creates, either in being able to come to work consistently, or in being able to perform the essential elements of the job sufficiently. Second, an awareness that weekends and evenings are no longer a time of respite or enjoyment; rather, it is a time to recuperate from the work week. And third, the psychological wall, of not wanting to acknowledge that one has a medical condition such that one can no longer perform at the level that one expects of one’s self. Remember this: disability retirement is a benefit you earned when you worked with loyalty for the many years you have. It does not mean that you cannot be productive in some other employment or capacity; and, certainly, you never want to continue to work such that, upon reaching retirement, you are so debilitated that you cannot enjoy your remaining years of retirement. The year is coming to a close. One’s lifetime of accomplishments, however, extends far beyond the end of a fiscal year.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: First Steps

Before you even think about filing for disability retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, there is often a psychological component which must be overcome:  After a lengthy and loyal service provided to the Federal Government, it is often difficult to “come to terms” with the idea that you can “no longer do” the job you have been so competent at, for the past X-number of years.

Remember, however, that filing for, fighting for, and being approved for disability retirement benefits is not an admission or concession that you are disabled; rather, it is only an acknowledgement that you are no longer a good fit for that particular job.  It doesn’t mean you can’t go out and be productive in some other capacity.

Or, another way to look at it, of course, is as follows:  If you can push yourself and ignore what your mind or body is telling you, and you somehow miraculously reach retirement age, you may have crossed the finish line; but are you in any shape to enjoy that retirement?

Retirement should not be an end in itself; it should be a goal with a context of being able to enjoy the continuation of your life.  Too many people look at the conceptual framework of “retirement”, without stopping to consider what it means.  When a medical condition comes about which impacts your ability to do your job, it is time to pause and reflect:  What are my goals?  Is it time for me to do something else in life?  Don’t just suffer your medical condition; listen to it.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Is There Life after a Disability in the Federal Workplace?

In tough economic times, it is often difficult to find that “silver lining”. This is even truer for my clients who obtain disability retirement benefits from the Federal Government, as well as those contemplating it. For, ultimately, I always find (without exception) that Federal and Postal Workers who are contemplating filing for disability retirement don’t want to be in the position he/she finds him/herself in.

They have been loyal and hard working Federal employees.  They have shown such loyalty through years and years of committed service.  But, for whatever reasons, and for whatever circumstances and situations, a sudden medical condition, or a degenerative medical condition, has brought that loyal employee to a point where he or she is no longer a “good fit” for a particular kind of job.

Such an employee can often be placed on a PIP (“Performance Improvement Plan”), or be given a Letter of Warning, or be placed on Leave Restrictions, or be told that no more light duties are available — all indicators that the Federal Agency or the particular Post Office is no longer willing to engage in “bilateral loyalty” — in other words, your 20 years of Federal Service will be rewarded with a boot out the door.

But such Federal and Postal employees must always have a positive attitude:  disability retirement benefits are there for you when they are normally unavailable in the private sector; while it pays a flat amount which one may not be able to necessarily live on, it is nevertheless a “base annuity” that can be depended upon.  And, further, a recent New York Times article concerning the state of the present economy pointed out what I have noted in the past:  Private Companies are hiring more and more older workers who have their own health insurance benefits, and who can work part-time without benefits.

That accurately describes the disability retirement annuitant, who is able to make up to 80% of what his/her former position pays now, on top of the disability retirement annuity, and retain life & health insurance benefits.  Always look for the silver lining.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire