Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Preserving One’s Rights

Often, loss of vigilance occurs as a result of the relief of attaining something; once gotten, the fight to get it suddenly disappears, and the overwhelming sense of relief is likened to the response of a balloon which deflates upon a pinprick.

But vigilance is the key to ongoing success.  There is never a time to be nonchalant; to attain is merely another step in a process, and that process must be fought for just as diligently as during the time of fighting to reach a goal.

For Federal and Postal workers who are preparing to file, or who are in the process of filing, for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the goal of getting an approval from OPM for a Federal Disability Retirement is merely an intermediate step.  Once attained, the goal is to preserve and to protect.  Fortunately, that is a fairly simple matter — one of maintaining regular contact with one’s doctor; of making sure that one’s doctor will continue to support one’s case in the event that the Federal or Postal annuitant receives a medical questionnaire from OPM.

OPM disability retirement is not like OWCP; because you are allowed to work at other employment and make up to 80% of what your former job currently pays, there is normally nothing wrong with engaging in normal activities which would violate any rules (unlike OWCP cases, where investigators will often videotape individuals to show the engagement of activities contrary to medical restrictions, etc.).  But let not victory lead to lack of continuing vigilance; as that which was won can only be maintained with an attitude similar to keeping to the path which guided one to achieve the goal in the first place.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: When It All Becomes Worthwhile

Aristotle’s admonishment of determining too early the virtue and reputation of an individual, can be analogously likened to the state of emotional turmoil we find ourselves in, at any given moment of one’s life.  Happiness is indeed a fleeting state of one’s being; and the history of civilization is one fraught with trembling and fear, with interludes of joyous celebration.

For the Federal and Postal employee contemplating preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the administrative process of the actual filing itself, and the patient waiting for months-on-seemingly-unending-months, is merely a continuation of the trials which the Federal and Postal Worker has had to endure within the context of a history of such trials.

We tend to view life’s events in a vacuum, as picture-perfect albums of lives lived in tandem with our selective memories.  And for evolutionary purposes, perhaps that is the only way we could survive; for, to constantly be reminded of the trials would be to relive the morbid traumas of our lives.

The Federal and Postal employee who has come to a point in his or her life such that filing for Federal Disability Retirement is the only viable option left, must then endure the further trial of waiting upon the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to render its decision.

In the end, when an approval is received, the sigh of relief reverberates to tell of the happiness felt in that moment of jubilation; but silent is the suffering which preceded that fleeting snowflake of time as joy floats soundlessly for a frozen frame of time.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Post Disability Retirement Issues

Often, there is a collective sigh of relief once a Federal Disability Retirement application is approved, such that the newly designated and identified Federal Disability Retiree or “annuitant” forgets that, just as it was important to be scrupulously vigilant in attempting to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits, so it is just as essential to remain attentive in maintaining and retaining the benefit itself.

Thus, the Federal Disability Retirement annuitant should presumptively expect to be selected in the future to answer a Medical Questionnaire.  Such presumption of receipt will enable the former Federal or Postal Worker to keep the necessary focus, and thus the benefit.  It will often come every 2 years or so, if at all, and will request an update of the status of the medical condition, the prognosis, and whether the annuitant has recovered sufficiently to return to one’s former job, or any similar job that the Federal Disability Retirement annuitant worked at previously.

It is therefore important to continue to foster, maintain or establish anew the doctor-patient relationship, such that if and when a Medical Questionnaire is received, the entire process does not become an unforeseen emergency.  Preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits required a significant investment of one’s energy, time, savings, and attention; vigilance in continuing to retain such a benefit deserves no less.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: The Ecstasy of Approval

Winning, of course, cures all ills; it is the pinnacle of a goal-oriented aim of any endeavor — to prevail, to obtain the intended effect, to accomplish the very goal which one has set out to do, etc.  In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the goal is to obtain an approval from OPM.

An approval, however, has many consequences, and often in very short order — separation from Federal service; a sudden cut in pay (if one has continued to work during the administrative process; of course, the opposite may be true if one has been on LWOP or has already been separated from Federal Service); a drastic change in daily routine, etc.

Thus, part of the process during the patient time of waiting (I will restate the syllogistic quip which I have repeatedly invoked:  Patience is a virtue; Federal and Postal employees who file for Federal Disability Retirement must be the most patient of individuals; ergo, Federal and Postal employees are the most virtuous of people) is for the Federal and Postal employee (or ex-employee, as the case may be) to prepare for the eventuality of the achieved goal, both physically (perhaps a move is contemplated because of the reduced circumstances?) and psychologically (the sudden alteration in work, economic changes, etc.).  The ecstatic response of Federal and Postal employees in being informed of an approval from the Office of Personnel Management is indeed gratifying; but it is the days, weeks and months that follow, which tests the preparatory mindset of the Federal or Postal Employee.

In psychology, there is that special Gestalt experience; but it is often the period that follows which constitutes the more important phase of psychological awakening.  Similarly, while the “win” in a Federal Disability Retirement application is indeed the intended goal, one must always remember that there is an afterlife to live, and how one prepares for that, is all the more important.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: A Word about Approvals

It is the general policy of the Office of Personnel Management to withhold releasing of information concerning a pending Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, via telephone.  

This is a good policy, in that a potential conflict and mistake can occur between an action taken on a case (i.e., an approval or a denial) and what is inputted into the computer system; or, as has been the case in the past, where the secretary or receptionist divulges the decision over the telephone — and is mistaken.  

Generally, one must wait for the Office of Personnel Management to send the hard copy of the decision on a Federal Disability Retirement application.  Receipt of the actually letter of approval or denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, from the Office of Personnel Management, constitutes the official notification of the decision on a pending Federal Disability Retirement application.  If the Federal or Postal employee’s representative or attorney receives the decision of approval or denial from the Office of Personnel Management, that also constitutes official notification.  

The problem of telephone notification of an approval is that, if what is told over the telephone differs from the actual notification and decision rendered by the Claims Representative who is handling the case, then obviously that would be an upsetting matter to the Federal or Postal employee who is anxiously awaiting the decision.  

For the Federal or Postal employee who has waited many, many months for a decision on a pending Federal Disability Retirement application from the Office of Personnel Management, waiting a few more days in order to receive the actual approval letter (or a denial letter, whichever the case may be) is well worth the wait.  

It is better to wait a few more days to get the decision in person.  As the old adage goes, “A bird in hand is worth two in the bushes”…

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Subsequent Actions

Obtaining Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management is a “process” as opposed to an entitlement, and this distinction has been variously explained and expanded upon in previous blogs and articles.  

But the term “process” also needs to be applied in two different ways — it is a process applied as an administrative issue involving the Office of Personnel Management, but moreover, it should remain so for the individual Federal or Postal worker who has worked so hard to obtain the Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  By this, is meant that, just because the Federal or Postal worker has secured an approval from the Office of Personnel Management, does not (and should not) mean that the “process” ends for the Federal or Postal employee.  

Obtaining the Federal Disability Retirement annuity is one part of the process; once secured, some simple steps should be set in place, such that the Federal Disability Retirement benefit is “secured” and “protected” for the future.  

Thus, the continuation of the process should minimally and necessarily include:  Keeping in contact with one’s treating doctor or doctors; making sure that any outside employment adheres to the 80% rule for earned income; maintaining an ability to justify the conceptual distinction between any job acquired after one’s Federal Service and the job previously performed; being prepared to respond to OPM’s Medical Questionnaire in the event that one is selected to do so; and other preemptive measures.  

Surprises and emergencies occur when one fails to adequately plan for the future; future planning should be a daily maintenance project, taking only 5 minutes of one’s daily process (if that); and, after all, Poor Richard’s Almanac of 1732 was right in declaring, “A stitch in time saves nine”.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: Reminder

If a Federal or Postal Employee files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, remember that:  (A)  You are not required to stop working, as most people for economic necessity continue to work, and (B)  If you stop working, and you are not using your Sick Leave or Annual Leave, but are out on LWOP, remember that once you obtain an approval for your Federal Disability Retirement, that back-pay will be paid all the way back to your “last day of pay”, and not to the last day you “worked”. 

In other words, if you are out on LWOP for three months (as a hypothetical), and on the day before you are approved for your OPM Disability Retirement, you receive a paycheck from your Agency for 1 hour of SL or AL, then you have lost all of the potential “back pay” of the three months on LWOP, because the “last day of pay” was the day just before your Federal Disability Retirement was approved.  Be careful that this does not happen.  While donated leave is often accepted because of economic necessity, you will likely regret accepting such payment once your Federal Disability Retirement application is approved.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: OPM May Say So, But… (Part 2)

Then, of course, there are the multiple “other” issues which the Office of Personnel Management “says so”, such as failure to pay the full amount of back-pay due; failure to compute the average of the highest-3 consecutive years correctly; reinstating the full amount of FERS once a person becomes no longer eligible for Social Security Disability benefits; arbitrarily and capriciously deciding that the medical report is not “good enough” in answering a post-disability approved, Medical Questionnaire; failing to compute the earned income in any given year properly, and thereby informing the disability retirement annuitant that he or she earned over the 80% limit of what the former federal employee’s former job currently pays; and a host of other issues.  My specialty is in obtaining disability retirement benefits for my clients; I only selectively get involved in post-disability annuity issues, but the point here is that the Office of Personnel Management has a track-record of being in error, in multiple ways, on multiple issues, in volumes of cases. 

It is thus important to recognize that the Office of Personnel Management is not an infallible agency.  Far, far from it, they are merely made up of people who are subject to error, but often stubbornly so — unless you counter their denial in an aggressive, but calm and rational manner.  If a denial comes your way, do not get distressed; prepare your case well, and lay out the groundwork necessary to win.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The End Goal

The goal at the end of the process is to obtain that “approval” letter from the Office of Personnel Management.  It resolves and sets aside the months of anxiety and stress compressed into a time of agonizing suspension from life’s ability to move forward; for, during that time of waiting, one cannot “move forward”, because without the knowledge of whether one can obtain the financial benefit of the Federal Disability Retirement annuity under FERS or CSRS, one cannot make the decisions in life to make plans for the future. 

It is of great satisfaction to an attorney to reach the “end goal” — to hear from the client that he or she has received the letter of approval from the Office of Personnel Management, and to hear the relief and joy in the voice of one who finally sees “light at the end of the tunnel” constitutes great professional satisfaction for the representing attorney.  It means that the proper medical narratives were gathered; that the description of the client’s medical conditions and their impact upon the essential elements of one’s job was properly formulated; and it means that the legal argument presented to the Office of Personnel Management was persuasive.  Client satisfaction means alot to an attorney; for one who solely specializes in Federal Disability Retirement Law, to see the end product — the obtaining of a Federal Disability Retirement annuity — is of great professional satisfaction.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

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