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

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Interactions

Preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is a necessary step for a Federal or Postal employee who finds that he or she can no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job because of a medical condition.  

In doing so, there are obviously potential interactive processes which one must consider.  If the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS, then you must file for SSDI (Social Security Disability benefits), because that is what the law requires.  

Further, one must determine how aggressively, to what extent, and to what end and purpose one needs to file in pursuing SSDI concurrently — for, if one is planning on working at another, separate job while receiving a Federal Disability Retirement annuity, then the cap imposed by SSDI as opposed to the 80% allowance for FERS Disability Retirement without SSDI, needs to be taken into consideration.  Such future planning will then determine the course of one’s actions, as to how hard one will try and obtain SSDI benefits.  

Additionally, if the medical condition arose from a work-related injury, then obviously filing a claim concurrently with the Department of Labor, Office of Workers Compensation under FECA should be contemplated.  

Then, there are those who, whether by accident or wisdom and foresight, obtained and paid for throughout the intervening years, a private disability insurance policy.  Such private disability insurance policies are essentially contracts — and whether there is an offset with Federal Disability Retirement benefits, Social Security, or OWCP depends upon the “fine print” of the contract.  

One minor note as to private disability policies:  The time to read the fine print is when the insurance agent is trying to sell you a policy — not when you need to apply for the benefits.  Private policies can be negotiated, and the terms can be amended.  

Finding a negative consequence after the fact is a costly error in judgment which can easily be mitigated by spending a few moments at the outset.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: SSDI Impact

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS (CSRS individuals are exempted for this particular issue), the Federal or Postal employee who is contemplating filing for the benefit must at some point in the process file for Social Security Disability benefits (SSDI).  This is because the law is set up for an off-setting feature between the two “pockets” of benefits — where, in the first year, there is a 100% offset between FERS & SSDI, and a 60% offset every year thereafter.  

In some rare instances, Social Security will approve a person’s disability application before the Office of Personnel Management has approved a FERS Disability Retirement application.  In that instance, one can use the SSDI approval as “persuasive” evidence to the Office of Personnel Management.  It is not determinative evidence, but there are legal arguments to be made which essentially state that, since a person has been found to be “totally disabled” by the Social Security Administration, based upon the same or identical medical evidence and documentation, that the Office of Personnel Management should grant a FERS Disability Retirement application based upon the same or identical medical evidence.  

Is the reverse true?  If a FERS Disability Retirement application is approved, can such an approval be used as evidence — persuasive or determinative — for an SSDI application?  That would be a weaker argument, precisely because OPM Disability Retirement does not make a determination of total disability, but rather, a decision that the Federal or Postal employee cannot perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s particular kind of job.  Moreover, the Social Security Administration might also argue that inasmuch as SSDI does allow for some earned income (about $1,000 per month) from a job, such allowance shows that approval of a FERS Disability Retirement, which recognizes that one is merely disabled from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s particular kind of job, should not be determinative of a Social Security criteria which requires a higher standard of disability.

Knowing what impact each aspect or element of a process will have upon another is an important step in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application. As knowledge is the source of success, utilization of such knowledge is the pathway to an approval in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS and CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Agency Actions Are Merely Persuasive

Whether it is one’s own agency which acts, or some third-party agency, the effect of such actions upon a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is merely persuasive, and not determinative, from the viewpoint of the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS.  

Such actions may include:  Disqualification based upon a medical condition, whether because of the primary, underlying medical condition, or a secondary condition resulting from a prescription medication; determination by the Agency based upon a fitness for duty review; failure to pass certain physical fitness standards; declarative statement by the Agency that no accommodations can be accorded, whether because of one’s medical condition or other influencing factors; a conclusion reached by an Occupational Nurse or doctor; acceptance of a case by OWCP, Department of Labor; approval by the Social Security Administration, the Veterans Administration, etc. — all of these “third party” determinations can be persuasive for a Federal Disability Retirement application, but are not necessarily determinative in coming to a conclusion of approval by the Office of Personnel Management.  

Why “persuasive” as opposed to “determinative”?  Because of two fundamental reasons:  (1)  The Office of Personnel Management is an independent agency, mandated by statute, regulation and case-laws, to make its own determination of eligibility of each Federal Disability Retirement application, separate and apart from any other agency, and (2) such agencies which make such determinations are not medical facilities (although a doctor or nurse may have some involvement in the decision-making process), and this is ultimately a “medical” disability retirement, and not an agency retirement system mandated by law.  

As such, one must still prove by a preponderance of the evidence that one is eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, based upon the nexus between one’s medical conditions and one’s essential elements of the Federal or Postal job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Clarifying Misconceptions

Information is interesting.  But not all interesting information is useful.  And, further, not all information, even if interesting and (potentially) useful, is accurate.  Ultimately, in order for information to be of practical use, it must be accurate, useful, and purpose-related.  Thus, when inaccurate (partial or complete) information is placed into the public domain, it often becomes useless, but remains interesting to the extent that people continue to rely upon such information.

In filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, it is important to obtain, process, and apply useful and accurate information.  Two sets of basic information need to be clarified:  First, many Postal and Federal employees have been confused about SSDI and its impact upon Federal Disability Retirement and the application process in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS (CSRS exempted because an SSDI receipt is not necessary).  Showing a receipt for having filed an SSDI application is all that is needed.  An approval is not necessary; and, indeed, for most Federal and Postal employees, one will not ordinarily qualify for SSDI precisely because it has a higher standard to be eligible.  Further, a sequential showing is NOT necessary — i.e., one does not have to first file for SSDI in order to file for FERS Disability Retirement benefits.  All that is necessary, from OPM’s perspective, is that at the time of an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS, a Federal or Postal employee must show a receipt showing that one has filed for SSDI benefits.  

The Second informational error to be corrected:  While somewhat redundant based upon the first, a Federal or Postal employee does NOT have to be approved for SSDI in order to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS.  That would be pointless and illogical, if one stops and thinks about it.  Again, all that is necessary is that one files, and one shows a receipt at the time of an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS.  Yes, this is the information age; but it still comes down to a human being who places the information into the public domain, and the question continues to be asked:  Who is the person putting out the information, and can that person be trusted?

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

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