CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Again — Reminder as to the Statute of Limitations

I have many, many people who are on all sides of the spectrum concerning the time-line of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS — people who call me 2, 3, 5, sometimes 10 years after being separated from service, saying they were never informed about the benefit of Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Obviously, such former Federal employees cannot now (except in extremely peculiar and rare circumstances) file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, under either FERS or CSRS.

Then, there are those who are still “on the rolls” — those who have never been separated (normally because of the negligence or neglect of the Agency) from Federal Service, who call to ask whether they can file for Federal Disability Retirement now.  The answer is most often, Yes, and furthermore, once the disability retirement is approved, the annuitant can receive back-pay all the way back to the last date of pay.  Then, there are those who call me in a state of panic, saying that it has been almost a year after the injury; is it too late to file?  No, it is not too late, so long as it has not been over one year from the time of separation from service.  Thus, here is a reminder (again):  A Federal or Postal employee has up until one (1) year to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, from the time of being separated from Federal Service — meaning, when you have been terminated from being a Federal or Postal employee, and are off of the “rolls” of the agency.  I don’t know how to make this any clearer.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Decision (Again)

Yes, it is a difficult decision to make — to come to terms with filing for Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS.  It makes it all the more difficult when individuals wait until the last possible minute before calling up the attorney (me) to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  There have been a few times in the past (very few) when I simply could not take on a case with only a week left before the Statute of Limitations runs out.  The only thing I can do at that point is to identify which forms to fill out (however imperfectly), and give the fax number and the address to Boyers, PA for the individual to file.

Remember the important point:  You can always make factual, medical and legal arguments after you have filed; you cannot make any arguments if you have failed to file on time.  Of course, it comes with the territory — as an attorney who exclusively represents Federal and Postal employees to obtain disability retirement benefits (there are many attorneys who practice Federal Disability Retirement law as one aspect of a larger practice which includes other areas of Federal Employment law), I understand how intertwining the medical condition is, with the anxiety and stress of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, and how procrastination is often part and parcel of the medical condition itself.

At the same time, however, I take pride in doing a good job; I like to service my clients; I like to see the successful outcome.  As such, I am reluctant to take on cases where there is very little time to file.  I have, and will, take on cases where the Statute of Limitations is about to run out, but there must be at least some time left.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement is a Medical Issue

If a Federal or Postal Employee is still on the rolls of the Agency, or if you have not been separated from service for more than 31 days, then the disability retirement application must be routed through your agency before being forwarded to the Office of Personnel Management for processing and review.

If you have been separated from Federal Service — meaning, you have actually been taken off of the rolls of your agency (this does include being on sick leave, or on annual leave, or on leave without pay) — for 31 days or more (but not for more than 1 year, in which case you have lost your right and ability to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, because you have allowed the 1-year statute of limitations to pass by), then you must file your case directly with the Office of Personnel Management in Boyers, PA.

Whether routed through your agency or directly to the Office of Personnel Management, remember that a Federal Disability Retirement application is ultimately a medical issue — not a supervisor’s issue, not an agency issue; it is not determined by your agency; your eligibility is not determined by your supervisor.  It is, essentially, and at its very core, an issue between you, your doctor, and your inability to perform the essential elements of your Federal or Postal job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability: Perennial Issues

Like perennial plants, some issues continue to repeatedly crop up; once planted, they keep showing up in various question-forms.  The one which needs to be addressed, again, is the “1-year” issue:  there are actually two (2) questions which keep resurrecting themselves: A.  Filing a disability retirement application within 1 year of separation from service, and B. A medical condition which must last for a minimum of one year. 

As to the former:  The statute of limitations begins to toll when a person has been officially separated from Federal Service.  This means that the Agency must take you off of the Federal rolls.  If you continue to receive a paycheck, you are likely not separated (unless, of course, it is some form of a severance paycheck); if you receive a paycheck with “0-balances”, you are still not likely separated. If you are injured and you haven’t worked for a year, but you have not received notification that you have been separated from Federal Service, the 1-year mark has likely not begun.  On the other hand, if your SF-50 or PS Form 50 states that you are separated, then you are separated.  At that point, you have one (1) year to file your Federal Disability Retirement application. 

As to the latter (Issue “B” herein):  In most cases, it is a prospective issue.  It doesn’t mean that you must “have been” medically unable to work for a year; it doesn’t mean that you have to wait around for a year, out of work and penniless, for a year; it doesn’t mean that you must be on OWCP or on LWOP or on sick leave for a year — instead, it means that your medical condition must last for at least a year.  In other words, as is the case with most medical conditions, after a couple of months, your doctor should have an opinion — a “prognosis” — of how long your medical condition which impacts your ability to perform the essential elements of your job, will likely last, within reasonable medical certainty.  Indeed, since the Federal Disability Retirement process often takes from 8 – 10 months (from start to finish) to obtain an approval, by the end of the process, the full year will likely have occurred anyway.  In other words, you don’t need to wait around for a year to show that you can’t perform the essential elements of your job; indeed, that would be foolish. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Confusion About the 1-Year Rule

I am receiving too many questions about certain issues, which leads me to believe that a clarification is again in order.

First, concerning the Statute of Limitations on filing for Federal disability retirement benefits.  A Federal or Postal Employee must file for federal disability retirement benefits within one (1) year of being separated from Federal Service.  Thus, if you have been on LWOP, or on OWCP, or on sick leave, but you are still receiving “zero-balance” paychecks which show that you have NOT been separated from service yet, then your 1-year statute of limitations has not yet even begun.  The 1-year Statute of Limitations begins from the effective date of your separation from Federal Service. Your SF 50 (or, for Postal employees, PS Form 50) would reflect that date of separation.

Second, some of the questions which have been posed to me suggest that there is a misunderstanding as to the substantive requirements of the law, as well.  A Federal or Postal worker does NOT have to have been medically unable to perform one’s job for a full year before filing for disability retirement.  Rather, the requirement is prospective — that your medical condition must last for at least 1 year.  Thus, normally after a few months of treating with your doctor, your doctor should be able to make a reasonable medical determination that your medical condition is going to last for at least a year, and more often than not, for much longer.

The distinction which I am attempting to clarify can make a tremendous difference: Federal and Postal workers filing for federal disability retirement do not have to wait a year after learning of his or her medical condition — that would be foolish, especially because the process of obtaining disability retirement can itself often take 6 – 8, sometimes 10 – 12 months.  Rather, a Federal or Postal worker can file soon after learning about a medical condition, so long as the treating doctor can provide a reasonable medical opinion that the condition will last for a minimum of 1 year.

I hope that this will help clarify any confusion people may have about the “1-year” rule — both as it applies to the ability to file for federal disability retirement benefits, as well as to the issue of how long the medical condition must last.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

The Emergency Federal Disability Filing

On the desk of one of the Circuit Court clerks, in an adjacent county, is a sign which reads: “The fact that you waited until today does not make it into my emergency.” Those who stand in line to file an emergency pleading, either try to ignore the prominently-displayed sign, or hope that some other clerk will attend to his or her needs. Yet, we all know that there are times when, for one reason or another — the year passed so quickly; the medical reports which we expected months ago just arrived; “life happened” and the 1-year mark for filing for disability retirement is upon us — we have a couple of weeks, or perhaps a week, or perhaps only a couple of days, to file for Federal disability retirement benefits.

When such an emergency filing becomes necessary, three things must happen: First, the three essential forms must be quickly filled out (whether they are adequately and sufficiently filled out is another matter — but just remember that if you don’t at least meet the 1-year statute of limitations for filing for Federal disability retirement benefits, you are left with no argument at all; whereas, at least by filling out the forms and filing, regardless of their adequacy or completeness, you can at least argue later that it meant x or y).

Those three (3) forms are: SF 3107 Application for Immediate Retirement for FERS; SF 2801 for CSRS; Schedules A, B & C for FERS & CSRS; and SF 3112A, Applicant’s Statement of Disability for FERS & CSRS.

Second, fax the three completed forms to Boyers, PA, and Express Mail or FedEx it (and get a fax confirmation sheet); and Third, follow up with a phone call to Boyers to get the name of the person who will confirm that he/she received the fax. Every now and then, “life happens”, and emergency filings are necessary. In a perfect world, such emergencies should be unnecessary; and while the clerk in the Circuit Court in an adjacent county might look with disgust upon the lawyer or pro-se individual attempting to file an “emergency” pleading, whether it is his emergency, her emergency, or someone else’s fault, the fact still remains: It needs to be filed on time.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM disability retirement: Clarification of issues for FERS & CSRS employees

In moderating the Martindale-Hubbell Message Board for Federal Disability Retirement Issues, two areas of law need clarification for those out there contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS: First, the issue of whether a potential applicant needs to wait to be separated from Federal Service in order to obtain the “Bruner Presumption“, before filing for disability retirement.

The short answer is an unequivocal, “No”. To wait for an agency hoping that they will separate you for your medical inability to perform your job, is like waiting for your rich uncle to die and leave you an inheritance: It may never happen, and even if it does, it may not be worth it. While the Bruner Presumption is a nice additional weapon to have in arguing for an approval, it is not a necessary element.

The most important element in an OPM disability retirement case is to have a supportive doctor. Application of the Bruner Presumption — a recognition by the Agency that they cannot accommodate you, and further, that you cannot perform your job as a result of your medical condition, while a weapon in arguing for an approval to OPM, is not necessary in most cases. The point is to make sure your supporting medical documentation is strong, thereby negating the need for the Bruner Presumption.

Further, another common confusion which people have is what it means to be “separated from service”. The Statute of Limitations in Federal Disability Retirement cases is 1 year from the date a Federal Employee is separated from Federal Service. The 1-year does NOT begin when a person is on LWOP, or when a person is on FMLA, or any other reason. The 1-year begins when a person is officially terminated, separated, or taken off of the rolls of Federal Service, or when a person resigns from the Federal Service. It is 1 year from that date that a person must file for Federal disability retirement benefits, or you lose your right forever to do so.

Second, and finally (at least for this particular Blog piece), with respect to the 80% rule — where a person can earn income up to 80% of what one’s former Federal job currently pays: this is in addition to the disability retirement annity that a person receives.

Think about it, and it is logical: disability annuity is not “earned income”; the 80% rule applies only to “earned income”. Thus, for example, a person who was making $60,000 at a Federal job, who goes out on disability retirement, would get $36,000 the first year under FERS (60%), and $24,000 per year every year thereafter (40%). At the same time, that person can go out and make up to $48,000 per year (80% of $60,000), with that amount going up slightly each year (assuming that the payscale in the Federal system goes up each year for that same pay and grade). I hope this clarifies some of the issues that may have given rise to some confusion.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS disability retirement: Don’t rely upon the waiver statute to be able to file

If an individual fails to file for Federal disability retirement within one (1) year of being separated from Federal Service, he/she loses the right to file forever, unless the individual is able to show mental incompetency – and that is indeed a very high standard to meet. The relevant statutory provision is found at 5 U.S.C. Section 8453; to wit:

A claim may be allowed under this subchapter only if application is filed with [OPM] before the employee or Member is separated from the service or within 1 year thereafter. This time limitation may be waived by [OPM] for an employee or Member who, at the time of separation from service or within 1 year thereafter, is mentally incompetent if the application is filed with [OPM] within 1 year from the date of restoration of the employee or Member to competency or the appointment of a fiduciary, whichever is earlier.

Note the heavy burden of relying upon this statute if you failed to file for disability retirement within the 1-year statutory timeframe: First, note the discretionary nature of the statute – that even if incompetency is found, the time limit “may be” waived – not a certainty, but discretionary (now, it is true that as the Board in Barton v. OPM, DC-844E-03-0366-I-1, 2004 decision, stated, the Board will review a decision by OPM “to see if OPM abused its discretion or if its decision was wholly unwarranted” – but again, no one should want to rely upon such a review to be able to file for disability retirement).

Second, you would need to have strong medical evidence that you were “mentally incompetent” within the 1-year timeframe after separation from Federal Service. Third, even if you were found to be mentally incompetent, the 1-year statutory timeframe to file begins to run either when a fiduciary is appointed, or when the person is found to be competent, whichever comes first.

Don’t rely upon the waiver provision. Once a FERS or CSRS member finds that he/she cannot perform one or more of the essential elements of the job, it is time to file.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: Remember the Basics

Time goes by too quickly; Christmas, New Years, winter — and now the dawn of Spring approaches; and the timeline of 12 months from the time one is separated from Federal Service can suddenly come and go; prospectively, 12 months can seem like a sufficient amount of time; retrospectively, when 10 months passes by and suddenly there are only a couple of months left to file; where has the time gone?

Do not wait until the last moment; all arguments about one’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job become irrelevant if you miss the statutory deadline. To be eligible for Federal Disability retirement, you must file within one (1) year of being separated from Federal Service.

All of your medical records and reports will be worth merely the paper they are written on if you fail to file within that 1-year deadline. The statutory clock begins to toll once you have been separated from Federal Service. Always keep the basics in the forefront of your mind; otherwise, if the basics are not attended to, everything else becomes a moot point.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Reminder: Statue of Limitations on Filing for FERS & CSRS Federal Disability Retirement

At various times, in various forums, I have noted some confusion on the issue of when an individual can/must file for disability retirement, so I want to clarify some of the issues.

Confusion #1: Do you have to wait 1 year in order to file for Federal dislability retirement?  The answer is “No” — the “1-year requirement” is merely that your medical condition is expected to last for at least a year.  Thus, if you have a medical condition that impacts your ability to perform the essential elements of your job, your doctor will certainly be able to tell you whether he/she thinks it will last for at least a year.  Thus, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you actually have to wait for a year with your medical condition before you can file for federal disability retirement; it merely means that your condition is expected to last at least 1 year, and doctors can normally provide a prognosis of the expected amount of time.

Confusion #2: You have 1 year from the time of your injury to file for disability retirement.  The answer: “No” — you have 1 year from the date you are separated from Federal Service to file for disability retirement.  If you do not file prior to the expiration of that 1 year statute of limitations, you lose your right forever. Some confuse the 1-year requirement with thinking that it is within 1 year of being on Leave Without Pay, or 1 year from being away from the job, etc.  The 1-year requirement is 1 year from the day you have been separated from Federal Service.

Finally, remember that disability retirement can take anywhere from 6 months to a year to obtain, because of the bureaucratic maze which one must go through in the process of filing; thus, it is often a good idea to file sooner, rather than later.  Once you realize that you are no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of your Federal job, and once you have the support of your doctor, it is time to file.

Hope this clears up any confusions

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Attorney