OPM Disability Retirement: The Meaning of Separation from Service

The 1-year rule, or more properly, the Statute of Limitations, continues to be confused at various levels.  The beginning point in understanding the rule must always be to first clarify what constitutes the trigger-point; for, if one does not know what represents the first day of the year, how can one calculate the remaining 364 days?

First, in negative form:  Being on LWOP, Sick Leave, or any time of leave, does not constitute a separation from service.  Indeed, logically, if one reflects upon it for a moment, the very fact that one is on some type of leave would imply that one is on leave “from” an agency, thereby inferring that no separation from service has yet occurred.  Thus, separation from Federal Service is an event which occurs when a Federal or Postal employee affirmatively resigns; is issued a termination or separation letter; or is issued a personnel action on an SF Form 50 or PS Form 50, showing that Federal or Postal employment has been terminated.

For Postal employees, if you continue to receive a “0″-balance pay stub, it likely means that you have not yet been separated.

Obviously, for Federal Disability Retirement purposes, whether under FERS or CSRS, knowing whether or not you are separated from Federal Service is important, because the Office of Personnel Management will not make a determination on the substantive basis of a Federal Disability Retirement application if it has been filed in an untimely manner (i.e., after a year has passed from the date of separation).

Then, of course, there is also the “other” 1-year rule, of showing that one’s medical condition will last for a minimum of 12 months.  But let us not get ahead of ourselves and confuse and conflate the two.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Separation from Federal Service

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management under either FERS or CSRS, the “clock” begins to run on the ability to even file, once a Federal or Postal employee has been officially separated from Federal Service.  

By “officially separated”, does NOT mean the following:  Being on LWOP does not begin to toll the statute of limitations; the date of injury does not begin the “1-year timeline”; being away from the job does not start the clock.  What counts as the beginning of the 1-year statute of limitations is the effective date of being separated from Federal Service.  

Such separation is normally accomplished by the Federal Agency and the Postal Service by (a) resignation or (b) an initiation of a proposed removal, then a decision on the proposed removal.  In either event, the result of the action by either the Federal or Postal employee or the Agency, is the issuance of an SF 50, which reflects the personnel action performed by the Agency, effectively and officially separating the Federal or Postal employee from Federal Service.  

Recognizing and knowing the date of separation from Federal Service is important in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, precisely because you only have one (1) year from the date of separation to file for such benefits.  If you file after the date, unless you fall into a very specific and limited category of individuals, you will have forever lost your right to file for OPM Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  You will likely have a “deferred retirement”, but your ability to file will have been lost forever.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Using an Agency’s Action

Agencies will often act in predictable fashion; they act based upon prior actions engaged in; they act as an organic constituent of procedures and policies previously followed (often blindly and without thought) in the past; they act in self-interest, and often with a very narrow, myopic path and goal.  

If an agency ignores the medical conditions and the documentation submitted showing the medical conditions of a Federal or Postal employee, and removes an individual from his or her Federal position based upon reasons other than one’s medical inability to perform one’s job (whether intentionally or because no one bothered to look at the medical documentation), then the resulting action can obviously impact a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  Often, the Agency’s general counsel will be the first person to finally listen to reason, and by then an appeal has been filed with the Merit Systems Protection Board, for the sole and narrow purpose — not of overturning the termination or getting one’s job back, but — of rescinding the adverse decision of removal and reissuing a removal based upon one’s medical inability to perform one’s job.  

This course of action, however, is not always necessary.  Often, the adverse action, the delineation of poor performance, etc., can be directly tied to one’s progressively deteriorating medical condition, and the Agency’s own actions can be used to one’s advantage in proving a Federal Disability Retirement case.  Each case is different, and discretion in fighting for that which is helpful, and recognizing that what may “appear” to be adverse, is actually to one’s benefit, is the key to winning a Federal Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Filing within the Statute of Limitations

Under Federal Disability Retirement for FERS & CSRS, a Federal or Postal employee must file for the benefits within one (1) year of being separated from Federal Service. Another way to put it, is that a Federal or Postal employee must file within a year after being terminated as an employee from the Federal Government or the U.S. Postal Service.  Thus, the 1-year Statute of Limitations does not begin from the “date of injury”, or from the date a person went on Sick Leave, Annual Leave, or Leave without Pay (LWOP).  Rather, the tolling of the Statute of Limitations begins when a person is separated from Federal or Postal Service.  

Thus, for example, if a Postal employee continues to receive “zero-balance” paychecks, it is a good indicator (though not a certainty) that the Postal Worker has not been separated from service, but is merely in an LWOP status but still “on the rolls” of the Postal Service.  In most cases, the Federal employee will be informed that he or she is being separated from Federal Service, through a process of personnel actions, resulting in an SF 50 being issued informing the Federal employee of his or her separation from Federal Service.  From that point on, the Federal or Postal employee has one (1) year to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  

Remember, if you don’t file for it, you can’t make any arguments about your Disability Retirement application.  While there are limitations as to amending or supplementing a Federal Disability Retirement application after it has been file, there is not a scintilla of a chance to argue, amend or supplement if you don’t meet the minimum requirement — i.e., filing for it within the 1-year Statute of Limitations.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: The Repetitive Reminder

Remember that a FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement application must be filed within one (1) year of being separated from Federal Service.  For some odd reason, there is still some prevailing misconception that the 1-year Statute of Limitations begins from either (a) the date of the onset of an injury, (b) from the date one goes out on LWOP, Sick Leave, or some other administrative leave, or (c) from the date that one is no longer able to perform the essential elements of one’s job — or (d) some combination of the three previous dates.

Whether from confusion, misinformation from the Agency, misinterpretation of what information is “out there” or some combination of all three, the Statute of Limitations in filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is one (1) year from the date that a Federal or Postal employee is separated from his or her agency, or from the Postal Service.  Inasmuch as a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRs will often taken 6 – 8 months (minimum) to get a decision from the First Stage of the process, it is a good idea to get started earlier, rather than later.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Service Disability Retirement: After Separation from Service

It should be well established for anyone who has looked into Federal Disability Retirement issues, that a person has one (1) year from the time of separation from Federal Service to file for Federal Disability retirement benefits.  Separation from Federal Service can take many different forms:  Resignation; separation for cause; administrative separation based upon one’s medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; etc.  The latter of these delineated forms (separation for medical inability to perform) is obviously the most beneficial to one contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement (first and foremost because it allows for the Bruner Presumption to be applied). 

On the other hand, separation based upon a resignation is often neutral for issues concerning disability retirement (unless, of course, one has been foolish to put into his or her letter of resignation that the reason for the resignation is to go and become a professional poker player for the next year — but even then, if a medical condition existed prior to resignation, one might still be eligible for disability retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS); and, obviously, if the resignation was accompanied by a medical reason, and that particular medical reason was reflected in the SF 50, all the better.  Even separation for adverse actions — if there was a medical condition which existed prior to separation — can be explained away and fought for.  The point here is, regardless of the nature, reason and expressed rationale for separation from service, if a medical condition existed prior to separation from service, such that the medical condition prevented one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, there is a viable basis for filing for, and fighting for, Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Paradigms for the Future

In attempting to decide to file for Federal Disability Retirement Benefits, it is often the case that Social Security disability benefits must be considered (not just “considered”, obviously, for FERS employees, because it is a requirement to file for it), and how seriously and vigorously; and further, whether to pursue, or to continue on, OWCP temporary total disability benefits.  These are “paradigms” that must be considered for the future.  By “paradigm”, I mean that they represent “models” of how a person wants his or her future to be based upon. 

For instance, let’s take the paradigm of Social Security disability benefits.  Because FERS employees who file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits must also file for Social Security disability benefits (to see if they qualify; and, if qualified, the offsetting features will apply), one must take into consideration whether or not a Federal or Postal employee will actually want Social Security disability benefits.  This question arises because Social Security has a “cap” in which a person who receives Social Security disability benefits can make ancillary earned income (roughly no more than $10,000 per year).  Because of this, one must think of the future paradigm of one’s life:  If a person on FERS disability retirement wants to go out and get a part-time job, or start on a path for another career, where he or she makes 15, 20, 25,000 per year or more (because remember, a person can make up to 80% of what a person’s former Federal or Postal job currently pays), then he or she may not want to get Social Security disability benefits.  Most people who are on Federal disability retirement are simply disabled from performing one or more of the essential elements of the particular job; they are not “totally disabled”, and therefore are able to go out and start a second career.  This is the “paradigm” for the future which must be considered, and such a model for the future must be carefully thought through.  Next:  the OWCP paradigm.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: When to File

I still get calls by people who state that (A) they are waiting for a year before they are going to file for FERS or CSRS disability retirement, (B)  It hasn’t been a year since they have been on LWOP, but it almost will be, or (C) They are waiting to be terminated so that their year will begin.  Quiz:  Which of the above (A, B or C) is the correct basis upon which to decide to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits?  Answer:  None of the Above. 

Since OPM disability retirement can take anywhere from 6 – 8, sometimes 10 months to get (beginning the time-sequence from the time a doctor is contacted to provide a medical report, to putting the entire packet together, to getting it to the Agency Human Resources Personnel, to getting it to Boyers, PA, to getting it to Washington, D.C., to getting an initial approval, etc.), it is:  A.  Not a good idea to “wait a year” because there is no reason to wait; B. You don’t need to wait a year on LWOP to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, and:  C.  You don’t need to get terminated, or separated from Federal Service, in order to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits. 

Let me re-emphasize:  The “1-year rule” has to do with the following:  A.  You have one (1) year from the date you are separated from Federal Service to file for disability retirement — but you can file at any time, whether separated or not, as long as it is not after 1 year after being separated from service.  B. Your medical condition must be expected to last for a minimum of 12 months — but your treating doctor should be able to tell quite easily whether or not the medical condition for which you are being treated will last that long — normally within a couple of months of treatment. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

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