FERS Disability Retirement: The Social Security factor

For the FERS employee, whether as a Federal, non-Postal employee, or as a Postal worker, who intends to file for Federal Disability Retirements benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the administrative process of filing for Social Security Disability benefits (SSDI) is a bureaucratic involvement and, by some accounts from Human Resource Offices of various Federal agencies, there is the view that the Federal Disability Retirement application cannot be process by OPM unless and until SSDI is also filed.  This is not true.

While SSDI must be filed, and a receipt of such filing shown to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the purpose of such filing from the standpoint of OPM is not to compare or evaluate the enhanced eligibility status of a FERS disability retirement applicant by seeing whether or not the Social Security Administration will approve or disapprove one’s claim (that would be too logical, inasmuch as there is a higher legal standard of essentially “total disability” under SSDI, and so an approval by Social Security Disability standards should then automatically invite approval by OPM) — although, under Trevan v. OPM, there is certainly a basis to invite such a legal analysis.

No; the only reason why OPM wants to see a receipt of an SSDI filing, is merely for purposes of cross-checking whether or not a monetary offset should be applied if both SSDI and FERS Disability Retirement annuities are concurrently paid.  And, even then, it is often the case that the 100% offset in the concurrent receipt of payments from an OPM Disability annuity and SSDI in the first year, and the subsequent years of 60% offset of payments, will not be applied, and OPM will come back years later demanding the refund of the overpayments resulting from the failure of OPM applying the offset.

Most Federal employees and Postal workers who file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits will continue to either work to a limited extent, or at least remain on the rolls of their Federal agency or the U.S. Postal Service during the long waiting time during the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and, as such, there will be an automatic denial from the Social Security Administration because of income considerations for the year in question, etc.

The simplest solution to Human Resource Offices demanding and insisting that SSDI must be filed for before an OPM Disability Retirement application is processed and forwarded to Boyers, PA, is to file online, get a receipt, and be done with it. Then, if OPM requests that the applicant file again at a later date to determine if a denial from SSDI was truly based upon one’s disability (or lack thereof), or because of income considerations, then that can be done with greater effort after one has received an Medical Disability approval from OPM.

This is a world of bureaucracies, and the rules, however lacking of a rational foundation, needs to be adhered to and complied with.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement Benefits and the “Other” Civil Service System

Information concerning Federal Disability Retirement benefits will often refer to the universe of “FERS” employees (acronym for Federal Employees Retirement System, which was enacted by Congress in 1986 and became effective the following year), with little to no information concerning its replacement system, the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS).

There are, additionally, some hybrid systems, sometimes referred to as CSRS-Offset; but FERS & CSRS constitute the crux of employment systems of retirement for all Federal employees and Postal workers. The reason for the unfairly-weighted balance in favor of FERS employees is that, because the system has been in place for almost 30 years, now, and most CSRS employees have either already retired, died in office, or are otherwise catatonic in the catacombs of bureaucracies, there is a basic assumption in place that any references to FERS employees and the benefit of Federal Disability Retirement, necessarily includes CSRS employees and is indirectly applicable to the surviving few remaining.

References to FERS thus necessarily assumes an inclusion of CSRS employees, and this is true in Federal Disability Retirement applications, and for any FERS or CSRS employees seeking to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  The primary differences between the two is merely one of completing standard forms.  Thus, for FERS disability retirement applicants, one must complete the SF 3107 series, as well as the series of SF 3112 forms; and for CSRS employees, the SF 2801 series is completed in place of SF 3107, but both systems must complete the SF 3112 series of forms.

Of course, when FERS was first introduced, enacted and presented to the entirety of the Federal public sector, the numbers of CSRS employees clearly outnumbered the number of FERS employees. Furthermore, when previously-separated CSRS employees (for whatever reasons) re-entered the Federal workforce, many were given the option of re-establishing inclusion and participation in the previously-abandoned system of CSRS. But, over time, and especially in the last decade, the number of FERS Government employees has outpaced CSRS employees, and the last and dying breed of CSRS employees will be like those Civil War veterans of yore, pictured in grainy photographs of faded daguerreotype plates, of antique images of a time past, and passing by today.

The “other” system has now become the new; and as time fades the faces of antiquity, those images of an age long past have replaced the reality of the present; sort of like computer-enhanced graphics which make us all look the age we desire.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

OPM Disability Retirement Wait Processing Time

What is the time it takes to process an OPM Disability Retirement application?

Most of it depends upon the delays naturally encountered throughout the process itself: the length of time doctors take in compiling the medical information requested; preparation and formulation of one’s Federal Disability Retirement forms, including the Statement of Disability; how long the agency Human Resource Office takes (is it through a local H.R. Office, or through a centralized district human resource office; for Postal employees, everything it submitted through the H.R. Shared Services office in Greesnboro, North Carolina); whether it is submitted directly to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in Boyers, PA (if the Federal or Postal employee is separated from Federal Service for more than 31 days, then it must be submitted directly to OPM; if less than 31 days, then through one’s Human Resource’s Office).

Then, once a case number is assigned to one’s Federal Disability Retirement application (called a CSA Number, a 7-digit number with an additional 0 as an irrelevant appendage, sometimes making it into an 8-digit number; for FERS employees, it begins with the number 8; for CSRS employees, it begins with the number 4), the entire application is sent down to Washington, D.C. Care should be given that the initial application be sent to the Boyers, Pennsylvania address, and not to Washington, D.C. — as this additional bureaucratic step of first processing the application in Boyers, PA is a required administrative procedure.

Then, the true waiting period begins. As to the original question, How long does it take to get an OPM Disability Retirement application decided? There is a formula to follow: First, take the number of months it took to get notification that the packet was forwarded to the next step from your Human Resource Office (again, for Postal workers, that would be from the H.R. Shared Services Office in Greensboro, N.C.); multiply it by the number of weeks it took to obtain a CSA Number from Boyers, PA; then, take that number, add the additional time it will take to sit in the “unassigned” pile of Federal Disability Retirement cases at OPM in Washington, D.C.; then, when it is finally assigned, multiply by an exponential factor of 10, and you may get a realistic wait time to meet one’s expectations of a quick, efficient and streamlined bureaucratic process (facetiously stated).

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Federal Medical Retirement: Pros and Cons

Federal employees and Postal workers who suffer from a medical condition, where the seriousness of the medical condition begins to impact the ability and capacity to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, must take a pragmatic, blunt assessment of one’s future — taking into account all of the factors necessary in order to make a proper decision.

For, in the end, the choices are starkly limited: Stay at one’s job (often not even a real choice, given that the medical condition and its impact upon one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job has forced the question itself to be asked); resign and walk away with nothing, with a deferred retirement at age 65 (again, not a realistic choice, and one which should not be considered, but in the universe of options, it is the non-choice of choices); file for Federal Disability Retirement through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (this is, obviously, the most viable of the three alternatives).

One can weigh the pros and cons of filing or not filing: the daunting administrative and bureaucratic process which must be faced; the potential for reduced income; the loss of camaraderie enjoyed for these many years; the cutting short of projects and mission essentials labored upon for so long; and a multitude of similar changes. But in the end, all pros and cons must face in the same direction, and point to the inevitable game-changer: one’s medical condition, and the impact which it has upon one’s ability, inability, capacity, or lack thereof, in performing all of the essential elements of one’s job.

At the North Pole, all directions point south; for the injured Federal employee or the Postal worker with a medical condition, such that the medical condition prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, the compass pointing to the need to file for Federal Medical Retirement is the direction mandated by circumstances, and not necessarily by whether the pros win out over the cons.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Physical and Mental Conditions in Federal OPM Disability Retirement Claims: Ahead of the Proverbial Curve

Trends are often characterized by the actions of a few.  Whether in cultural expectancies via movie moguls, fashion designers, technology innovators and convention-busters, the known so-called leaders who stay ahead of the proverbial “curve” which maintains the continuum of linear stability in a given society, often dictate the direction of an otherwise directionless future.

The ivory tower of academia is another such bastion of proclivities where, if observed carefully, can infer a discernment for future waves to come. The views of sociologists, psychologists, philosophers and economists (to name just a few “ists” within the self-vaunted world of esoteric penumbras; note, however, how the “philosopher” is not termed the “philosophist” — why is that? Perhaps because there was a desired disassociation with sophistry?) preview a trend of forthcoming conundrums impacting a society.

In the pragmatic world in which most of the rest of society inhabits, however, the dualism pronounced (and in many sectors of philosophy, denounced) concerning the bifurcated universe of the cognitive as opposed to the physical, continues to be debated. Dennett, consciousness, Nagel, Scruton, and the continuing debate over whether human consciousness can be reduced through the scientific language-game of mere biological processes, rages on in the ivory towers of conceptual constructs.

In the real world, this debate is reducible to the pragmatic question of whether psychiatric conditions are “as acceptable” as physical manifestations of traumatic conditions. For the Federal employee and the U.S. Postal worker who is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the question of whether it is “more difficult” to win a Federal Medical Retirement claim from OPM is one which overwhelmingly can be answered in a positive, pro-worker manner: today, fortunately, there is little distinction to be made between psychiatric health problems and physical health problems.

Major Depression, Anxiety, panic attacks, Bipolar Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorders, suicidal ideations, nervous breakdowns, etc. — all are viable bases upon which to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, on a par with physical conditions of chronic pain, cervical and lumbar dysfunctions, shoulder impingement syndrome, Crohn’s Disease, etc.  Descartes’ dualism cannot be found in the world of OPM and in the filing for a Federal Medical claim of disability.

The proverbial curve of societal trends is often determined by those at “the top”; but in the case of acceptance of psychiatric conditions in comparative analysis to physical conditions in the filing for Federal Disability benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the trend of acceptance on a par for both was established long ago, probably as a result of the reality of either and both conditions, and the realization by the bureaucracy that however you term the condition, the importance of a Medical Disability Retirement claim finds its essence on the impact of one’s ability or inability to perform all of the essential elements of one’s positional duties.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Federal Disability Retirement Representation: Substance and Process

In any bureaucratic, lengthy administrative process, one can become embroiled in the procedural aspects of an endeavor, and overlook the substantive elements which form the foundation of any case.  Conversely, one can make the mistake of approaching a case and declare to one’s self, “This is so obviously a good case,” and take shortcuts in the process of putting together an effective and persuasive case.

Either approach is one fraught with grave errors, and for Federal employees and Postal workers who are beginning the process of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Medical benefits, first through one’s own agency (if still on the rolls of the Federal agency or the U.S. Postal Service or, if separated, for not more than 31 days), and ultimately submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in Boyers, Pennsylvania (directly, if the Federal employee or U.S. Postal worker has been separated from Federal service for more than 31 days), it is important to keep the balance between the substance of a case, and the process of the case.

Substantive issues involve everything from the factual, informational content required on all standard forms (SF 3107, along with Schedules A, B & C, and the required attachment of one’s DD 214 showing prior active military service; SF 2801 for CSRS employees; and the substantive content of the description of one’s medical conditions to be considered, as required in SF 3112A, etc.), as well as the medical documentation needed to provide the evidentiary support for one’s case.

“Process” issues involve the timeframe in filing a case, the administrative procedures of where the disability application must be submitted through, as well as the myriad of sequential steps required for satisfaction of accommodation issues with one’s agency.

Substance and process — they are the necessary sides of a single, inseparable currency of an administrative reality known as Federal OPM Disability Retirement, and both must be attended to in order to reach the heights of efficacy mandated for a successful outcome in the preparation, formulation and submission of an OPM Medical Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

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