Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: The SSDI Filing Requirement

As part of the filing for Federal Disability Retirement from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the Federal or Postal employee who is under FERS (CSRS is exempted from this procedural requirement) must file for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

How aggressively should one file for SSDI, and when should it be filed?  The latter question will be taken up first: as a practical matter, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management does not need to see a receipt showing that one has filed for SSDI until the date of an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application.

However, most agencies are under the mis-impression that, procedurally, it must be accomplished prior to submission of a Federal Disability Retirement application, and some agencies actually misinform Federal and Postal employees by insisting that one must receive a “decision” from the Social Security Administration prior to submitting a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS, with OPM.  That is simply untrue.  All that OPM requires is a mere receipt showing that you filed.  This can be completed and a receipt printed out, by filing online.

As for the extent of one’s efforts in filing for SSDI?  In order to answer that, multiple questions should be asked of one’s self:  Will I be working at another job in the private sector while on FERS disability annuity?  Do I plan to make more than the low threshold ceiling of allowable earned income which Social Security allows for?  How likely will it be to qualify for the higher standard of being unable to engage in “substantial gainful activity” under SSDI rules?

These are all questions which should be asked in the course of filing for SSDI under the FERS program of applying for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Remember, it is the question which narrowly focuses the answer; without the former, it is unlikely that one will arrive with accuracy unto the latter.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: The Long-term Plan

Federal Disability Retirement is best anticipated and implemented within the larger context of a long term plan.  For, with the reduction of immediate income, replaced by an annuity which is fixed, but with a future potential to earn additional earned income in another (or even similar) vocation, it is best seen not just for the present circumstances, but as a base from which to build a greater future.

Future considerations may need to be entertained.  For example, how aggressively should Social Security Disability (SSDI) be pursued? If the Federal or Postal employee attempting to become eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits will not be immediately seeking to work at another, private-sector job, and there is a good chance for qualifying for SSDI, then you may want to consider seriously attempting to qualify for SSDI.

For most people, the FERS requirement of filing for SSDI is a mere formality. For those who intend upon using the immediacy of the annuity for a recuperative period in order to attend to medical needs, then perhaps a minimal effort in applying for SSDI would be appropriate.  

With the recent case of Stephenson v. OPM now firmly in the “win” column, any issue about future recalculation once a Federal or Postal employee loses his or her entitlement to SSDI benefits, has now been resolved, and the Federal or Postal annuitant need not worry about the issue.  Of course, there is a wide chasm between what “the law” says, and how quickly OPM will do what they are now mandated to do.  But in the end, OPM will have to recalculate and reinstate any amounts which were offset, once a Federal or Postal employee loses his or her SSDI benefits.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Continuation of the Offset Issue

As noted previously, the issue of whether or not OPM needs to recalculate one’s FERS Disability Retirement annuity upon losing one’s SSDI benefits should now be resolved.  

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management has been arguing for years, if not decades, that despite losing SSDI payments because the recipient has engaged in substantial gainful activity, that no recalculation is in order because the annuitant is still technically “entitled” to the benefits.  

The argument which the undersigned writer made before a 3-Judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, however, is the following:  How can one “offset” something with nothing?  As King Lear said to his daughter Cordelia when she refused to shower him with flowery praises of love, “Nothing comes from nothing”.  

Whatever word-games one may engage in, one cannot offset an amount of zero against another amount.  Further, since the FERS (and CSRS) Disability Retirement annuitant is allowed to make up to 80% of what one’s former position pays, it made absolutely no sense to penalize the individual who was receiving SSDI but loses it for making too much money, to not place him/her in the same position as one who never received SSDI.  

Common sense seems to have prevailed.  

The security of knowing that, in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the Courts will actually reverse a nonsensical position of a government agency, is indeed something to smile about.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Medical Retirement and the Interplay with SSDI

Some stream of consciousness thoughts:  First, there is still the prevailing problem of Federal or Postal workers being lead to believe that there is some sort of sequential requirement in filing for Social Security Disability benefits (SSDI) and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

While the sequence of filing for SSDI would be logically coherent — i.e., since at the time of an approval of a FERS Disability Retirement Application, the Office of Personnel Management requests to see a receipt of filing from the Social Security Administration — many people in fact go this route.  But the problem arises when Federal and Postal employees somehow get the misinformation that they must wait until they receive an approval from SSDI, which can take years.

During the wait, the 1-year statute of limitations may come and go.

The solution:  Go ahead and file for SSDI, get a receipt, etc.  But never allow the 1-year Statute of Limitations to pass in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  Again, for OPM purposes, all that is required is a mere showing of a receipt that you filed; no determination needs to be made and, moreover, OPM only requests to see the receipt at the time of an approval.

Second, if SSDI approves your Social Security Disability Case at any time during the process of filing for OPM disability retirement benefits, it can have a persuasive impact, but not a determinative one.  This merely means that OPM will consider it in the totality of the medical evidence you submit.  But to have a persuasive impact, you need to make the “legal” argument — i.e., you need to try and persuade.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: SSDI & OPM Disability Retirement

Until the economy begins to significantly expand in order to allow for a greater increase of the workforce, those who are on FERS or CSRS Disability Retirement often consider aggressively pursuing Social Security Disability benefits.

While the standard of proof is higher, where the concept of “total disability” is much more applicable (pragmatic interpretation:  the medical condition presents a quantifying impact upon a greater area of one’s life activities, and not merely upon the essential elements of one’s job), the problem with SSDI benefits is that it limits the Federal and Postal employee from making outside income beyond about a thousand dollars per month.

Without SSDI, of course, a former Federal or Postal worker who is receiving Disability Retirement benefits through the Office of Personnel Management, can earn up to 80% of what one’s former (Postal or non-Postal Federal) job currently pays.  And, with the ability to retain one’s health insurance benefits, life insurance, etc., the Federal Disability Retirement annuitant can be an attractive labor force for companies who are trying to contain costs and expenses.

This is a highly competitive economy, with companies being proactively selective and discriminating in their hiring practices.  For the Federal or Postal employee preparing, formulating, and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, many options remain open, and advantages to be taken. Yes, the medical condition itself is a “negative” which forces one to leave the Federal workforce; but once FERS or CSRS disability retirement benefits are approved, there are many positive decisions to make.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: SSDI and the Pursuance Thereof

How aggressively one should pursue SSDI concurrently as one is preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is a question which one is often confronted with during the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

If one is under CSRS, then the question is a moot point, because CSRS employees do not have a requirement of filing for SSDI benefits.

For FERS employees, however, who make up the vast majority of Federal and Postal employees who file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, there is a requirement of filing concurrently for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.  For purposes of satisfying the requirement of OPM, one needs to only show a receipt that one has filed.  Further, while many Human Resources personnel offices, both for Federal agencies and the U.S. Postal Service (the latter being comprised of the central office known as the H.R. Shared Services Center located in Greensboro, N.C.), misinform and misinterpret the statutory requirement of filing for SSDI, by telling people either that one must file and get a decision from the Social Security Administration prior to filing for FERS Disability Retirement benefits (wrong), or that you cannot file for FERS Disability Retirement unless and until you file for SSDI (also wrong) — the fact is, the only time OPM requires a showing of having filed for SSDI is at the time of an approval of a FERS Disability Retirement application.

As for how actively or aggressively one should pursue SSDI?  That depends, in most cases, on whether you will be attempting to work in a private sector job while on Federal Disability Retirement.  Because SSDI has stringent limits on what you can make in earned income, while OPM Disability Retirement allows for you to make up to 80% of what your former position currently pays, on top of the disability retirement annuity one receives, it becomes a pragmatic calculation.

Pragmatism is the guiding light to determine one’s self-interest, and that which is in the best interest of one’s future.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: SSDI, FERS & Persuasive Impact

As part of the process in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, one must file for Social Security Disability benefits (SSDI) — if the Federal or Postal worker filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is under the FERS programs (CSRS employees are exempted because it is not tied to the Social Security component as part of the retirement system).

A small percentage of cases actually get approved by Social Security prior to a decision being made by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  When that happens (and yes, it is fairly rare, if only because most Federal and Postal employees filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits do so with a recognition that (A) they cannot do a particular kind of job, and (B) with a view towards working at another job, career, vocation, etc., whether part-time or full-time), then the question becomes:  What does one do with an SSDI approval letter?  Trevan v. OPM and subsequent cases, of course, comprise the rule on the matter; but such court cases essentially state that the decision of the Social Security Administration, as well as other Federal entities, are merely persuasive, as opposed to determinative.  But how persuasive?  Persuasive is a relative term.

To an unsuspecting innocent bystander, a person of reprehensible intensions may “persuade” quite easily; to the cynic and man of suspicious nature, “persuasion” may take the full effort of a team of con artists.  For the OPM Case Manager in the OPM Disability, Reconsideration & Appeals division, a decision by the Social Security Administration will take a 3-legged approach to have any impact at all:  (A)  the decision itself, (B) the case-law which makes the Federal Agency’s decision relevant to an OPM Disability Retirement case, and (C) accompanying medical evidence.  And, of course, the 4th component in all of this would be the methodological argumentation by the Applicant or the Federal Disability Attorney who argues effectively the previously-cited 3 components.

Persuasion is a “relative” term — indeed, relatives tend to be more familiar and therefore easily persuaded; strangers to the process need not apply.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: SSDI & FERS

It happens quite often.  In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the Federal and Postal employee must file for Social Security Disability benefits (under FERS; CSRS is exempted because there is no Social Security component under the law).

While many Human Resources offices, as well as the H.R. Shared Services office in Greensboro, N.C. for the Postal Service, will assert to the Federal and Postal employee that they must “wait” until they get a decision from the Social Security Administration, the truth is that the U.S. Office of Personnel Management only needs to see a receipt showing that SSDI was filed, and this can be easily obtained online by simply completing their questionnaire, submitting it, then printing out a receipt.  Moreover, OPM only needs the receipt showing that one has filed, at the time of an approval.

By being misinformed and ill-advised, what often happens is a delay in the entire process — either that the H.R. office of an agency, or for the U.S. Postal Service, delays processing their part of the Federal Disability Retirement application, or the Federal or Postal employee is left with the misinformation and impression that he or she cannot file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits until the Social Security Administration has made a decision.

Then, of course, there are those who believe (wrongly) that they must receive a “final” decision from SSDI — meaning that after the initial denial is issued, and they have appealed the decision, they must await the results of the appeal.  This can take many months, if not years, and by that time, there is the danger that the Statute of Limitations has come and gone for filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Information is normally a neutral conglomeration of facts and issues, but can be a positive thing; misinformation, by inverse logical definition, would then be a negative thing.  More than that, reliance upon misinformation can lead to real-world consequences — ones which are irreversible.  As such, one must check and double-check the source of information, in order to ensure that reliance results in reliability.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Process Argument and Legal Conclusions

Legal conclusions are extraordinary conceptual constructs:  without knowing the process of how one arrived at the conclusion, lawyers and others can utilize it to their flexible extreme without any contextual regard and argue with it on either side of a fence or, if there are more than two sides to a fence, those as well.

That is why, for instance, in a Federal Disability Retirement case before the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, one cannot simply provide the Office of Personnel Management with an approval letter from the Social Security Administration showing that SSDI has been approved.

Such evidence, while in and of itself certainly shows that one is “disabled” from gainful employment — does not “prove” that one is eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  Why?  One would think that a higher level of disability determination would necessarily constitute a showing of all lesser eligibility criteria, but there can be the rare exception, and it is that rare exception which the law allows for in refusing to accept the legal conclusion as evidence and in place of the “process” evidence.

First, it could be that SSDI was filed for based upon different medical conditions than that filed for in the Federal Disability Retirement application.  Or, it could be that the particular kind of job, with all of its essential elements, from which the Federal or Postal worker is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, is the one rare and exceptional work which can be performed, despite being totally disabled from all other jobs in the universe of employment.  As such, the context and “process” of how one got to Point B from Point A is a necessary component in a Federal Disability Retirement application.

One must still submit the medical evidence which shows that the Federal or Postal employee is disabled from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  While the conclusion of the journey is important, the process of how one got there is still relevant.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

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