CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Recognition

People who are considering filing for disability retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS often come to a recognition that there is life after the Federal Government, right around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the holiday period in between.

Why?  Because when family, friends and loved ones gather around, and there is some time to recuperate and rejuvenate from the daily grind which further exacerbates and worsens one’s medical conditions, the time of respite, the time of peace and quite, of reflection and time reserved away from work, allows for people to recognize that, Yes, there is life beyond the job, and second, that to continue the daily grind until retirement may result in the inability of one to enjoy one’s retirement in later years.

Good health is a gift; all too often, we misuse that gift.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement in a Tough Economy

Healthy individuals may wonder why, in such a tough economy, an individual would consider filing for Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS.  This is an economy which has been shrinking and shedding employees.  Yet, for the Federal or Postal employee whose health and increasingly debilitating medical conditions directly impact one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job, the choice is actually not all that convoluted.

Where a Federal or Postal employee can no longer perform the job; where sick leave and annual leave have been exhausted to go to doctors’ appointments, or just to stay home to recover enough to make it into the office for another day; or for those who are on LWOP for greater than the time working; in such circumstances, the stark reality is that a disability annuity is better than what the future may offer otherwise.  Removal for unsatisfactory performance; being placed on a PIP; being told that there is no more work at the Postal Service; being counseled for performance issues; these are all indicators of the proper choice to make.

Yes, it is a tougher economy; but when the economy begins to rebound, the first people that private employers turn to hire are those who are essentially independent contractors; and, especially with the looming overhaul of private health insurance, a former government worker who carries his or her own health insurance is, and can be, an attractive worker to a private employer.

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

OPM Disability Retirement: Long, Longer & Longest View

I have often spoken of the need to take the “long-term” view in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS — both in terms of having patience for the inherently long process in terms of time, as well as in terms of preparing a case for not just the First Stage of the process, but further, for the second Reconsideration Stage, as well as for an Appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.

This “long-term” view is meant to prepare a potential applicant for what it means to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits; to not be overly concerned if you are denied at the first, or even the second stage of the process; and to be prepared financially to weather the “long haul”.  In short, it is meant to prepare the potential applicant for the long, and longer, view of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

It is also necessary, however, to prepare one’s self for the “longest” view — that of maintaining and keeping safe the disability retirement benefits once it is approved — by preparing to be randomly selected every two years or so with a periodic “review” with a Medical Questionnaire.  The Medical Questionnaire is an innocuous looking form, asking for an “update”, and giving you 90 days to respond.

Be cautious.  Be aware.  Take it seriously.

Don’t wait for the 89th day to begin responding to it.  None of my clients who have gotten his or her Federal Disability Retirement benefits has ever lost it; people who have gotten Federal Disability Retirement benefits on their own and have later lost the benefit, have come to me to regain it; I have been successful in recovering the benefit, in every case.  However, it is not always easy — if only because the disability annuitant initially thought that it was an “easy-looking” form.

Preparation for the “longest view” begins not upon receipt of the Medical Questionnaire; it begins at the very, very beginning — when one first decides to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Agency Interaction

Federal Agencies often act like little fiefdoms.  This is not necessarily a negative thing; each agency is an independent entity, and each has a province of responsibilities which it must carry out and execute according to the statutory mandate provided by Congress.  As independent entities, each agency acts without coordination or regard to other agencies.

Thus, while approval for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration will mean an offset of monetary payments under FERS, such interaction between the two agencies simply goes to the financial payments — not to the substantive issues of approval or disapproval of a disability retirement claim.  Similarly, while receipt of temporary total disability payments from the Office of Worker’s Compensation Programs means that you cannot concurrently receive payments under CSRS or FERS disability retirement (unless you are receiving a scheduled award from OWCP/DOL), the substantive basis of approval or denial of a claim rarely overlaps.  This is because each agency has its own independent criteria for eligibility — meaning that, for Social Security, the “disability” has a higher standard of “total disability”, whereas under FERS & CSRS, it is a lower standard of “inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job”.  Similarly, with OWCP/DOL, the issue of “causality” and whether it is “work-related” is often the important component of consideration.

All of this is not to say, however, that an approval of a disability benefit from one agency,or a report from a doctor considered for one benefit, should not be used by the applicant for submission to another agency.  Indeed, this should be done — but carefully, and with thoughtfulness.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Summer Waiting

I have written previously about the long and arduous waiting process & period in trying to obtain FERS Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management.

Remember that, in your calculation in attempting to survive financially, economically, emotionally, medically, physically, mentally — and in all other ways, keep in mind that the summer months from July to August often represent a “dead zone” when many Federal employees take time off for vacation, time for family, and time for relaxation.

While it is understandable that this makes the Federal disability retirement applicant nervous and anxious to be placed “on hold” when such an important decision may be held in abeyance, it is simply a reality which must be taken into account.  Don’t get frustrated; be patient.  The summer months will come and go, and the important point is to keep looking forward to the future.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: The Complexity of the Simple

Federal disability retirement law, the statutes and regulations which govern eligibility; the multiple case-law opinions from Administrative Judges and Federal Circuit Judges interpreting the governing statutes and regulations; the lawyers who argue different aspects and attempt to “fine-tune” existing law (including this lawyer) — the entirety results in “making complex” that which was essentially simple.

There is an old adage that the King who declared the first law of his Kingdom was really attempting to reduce the unemployment figures by creating the need for lawyers.  Indeed, “the law” is often made more complex by lawyers.  However, while the multiple issues governing Federal disability retirement law under FERS & CSRS may appear, at first glance, “simple”, it is such simplicity which engenders the complex, precisely because laws which reflect a simple conceptual paradigm require extensive interpretation in order to explain the simpleness of the simplicity.  That is why law itself is complex.  Don’t let the complex confluse you.

As you prepare a disability retirement application, recognize that it is a complex process; at the same time, make sure to explain your medical condition and how it impacts your ability to perform the essential elements of your Federal or Postal position in an easy-going, simple and straightforward manner. Don’t make it complex; keep it simple; but recognize the complexities.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: VER, the Economy, & Decisions to Make

The news coming out on the Voluntary Early Retirement offer for Postal employees has not been very positive.  My information has been gathered from multiple sources:  Official Statements from the U.S. Postal Service; “insider information” from Postal employees; various newspaper accounts and website information.  Recent statements from the APWU President, of course, sheds further light on the matter.  Mr. Burrus warns (wisely, in my opinion) that, in this “uncertain economy, there is no reason to make a hasty decision.”  That is certainly true.  The loss of potential future income over a period of years or decades should be considered; the one sector of the economy which seems to be expanding at an alarming pace is the Federal government, and if the Federal government is unwilling to let AIG and banks fail, then surely it will not allow the Postal Service to self-destruct.  Now, with respect to Federal and Postal employees who must, because of medical conditions which impact his or her ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job, a decision to file for disability retirement benefits is a pragmatic one:  either disability retirement, or risk being terminated because of the continuing decline in performance and ability to complete the essential elements of the position.  An offer of a VER without financial incentives — taking into account what an individual will lose in benefits, pay increases, etc. over the next decade or two — is not a very attractive offer.  Any such VER should be considered carefully.  On the other hand, disability retirement is a different matter:  It is a pragmatic decision to accept the fact that one has a medical condition such that you cannot perform the particular kind of job you hold, anymore.  It is a decision that it may be the right time to “move on” — bad economy or not.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Disability Retirement: Interaction with VER, A Continuing Dialogue

I sincerely hope that the proposed VERs which will be issued in the next couple of weeks will be economically viable and rewarding for those who qualify.  I say this because the primary criteria proposed for qualification involves those who are at least 50 years of age with at least 20 years of service, or any age with at least 25 years of service.  Anyone who has dedicated his or her life for a minimum of 20 years deserves something comparable to “full retirement” benefits.  My suspicions are raised, however, only because the motivating factor behind the offer is to target employees in specific locations where reductions in force or restructuring will be taking place — i.e., from the Post Office’s perspective, those places where greater “efficiency” can be obtained, at the cost of a person’s lifetime dedication and service to the Federal Government.  I realize that Adam Smith’s economic truth will always be at play — that self-interest leads to unintended consequences which, in a capitalist system, results in collateral benefits of employment, wide economic impact, etc.  But just make sure that, just as the Post Office is looking after its own interest first, that each Postal employee looks after his or her own interest, similarly — first.  Look at the VER carefully.  Compare it to disability retirement benefits carefully — not only in terms of “today’s” dollar value, but also into the future.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire