Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Moving beyond the Stagnant Waters of OWCP

“Is it possible…” is an impossible question to answer.  For, the conceptual distinction between that which is possible, as opposed to probable, is one which reveals the chasm between the world of fantasy and one of reality.  The world of the “possible” is unconstrained and unbounded; the world of probable occurrences may be fenced in by statistical constructs, actual circumstances, and real-world experiences.

While it is possible to stay on OWCP for a long duration, it is also probable that OWCP will cut off one’s benefits at some future, undetermined and unexpected time.  Thus, for the Federal or Postal employee who is on, has been on, or even is contemplating filing for, OWCP/FECA benefits because of a work-related injury, the benefit itself is attractive enough to remain on the rolls of OWCP until such time as (A) the Federal or Postal employee can return back to work, (B) the Federal or Postal Worker is deemed recovered, and the OWCP benefits are cut off, or (C) the Federal or Postal Worker decides to “move on” in life.

The first two choices are essentially out of the arena of “control” of the Federal or Postal employee, for one cannot determine or expedite the recovery period of a medical condition, and further, only the doctor (or its surrogate, the Office of Worker’s Compensation Programs) can determine whether or not the Federal or Postal work is now recovered.  As for the last choice, however, it is the Federal or Postal worker who can make the determination — especially if one has already gotten an approval from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management on one’s Federal Disability Retirement application.

OWCP is not a retirement system; one cannot work at another job while on OWCP; one must sit and do what the OWCP case worker tells you to do.  It is only with Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, that one can actually engage in another, alternative vocation or career, and begin to move on in life, and become released from the stagnant waters of a constraining medical condition — or that of OWCP.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Psychiatric Issues

For Federal and Postal workers who are filing, or contemplating filing, for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the distinction between “physical” medical conditions and “psychiatric” medical conditions are not always so clear and distinct.  While cases can be bifurcated for many clients (where the medical basis upon which a Federal Disability Retirement is based is wholly physical, or entirely psychiatric), often, cases have a “mixed” character to them, where depression, anxiety, panic attacks, etc., arise or become “secondary” to a chronic medical condition.  

The complex interaction between physical pain, chronic medical conditions which impact one’s job, physical abilities, etc., can at their inception be “secondary” in the sense that they have arisen and manifested the symptomatologies “after” or “second to” the original medical conditions.  However, after some time (and this is being stated from a legal perspective reviewing many such instances in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS), such secondary Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and even other psychiatric medical conditions, can become the central or prominent medical condition which forms the basis of a OPM Disability Retirement application.  Thus, that which was once “secondary” does not always remain so; it can become the primary basis.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Attorney

Federal Disability Retirement: OPM Disability & OWCP Disability (Continuing…)

A person who is on OWCP Disability payments — 3/4 of one’s gross pay if married or with dependents, or 2/3 of one’s gross pay if single without dependents – may well find the comfort of such payments and the security of such income to be relatively “safe”.  The old adage that one does not read the fine print during times of smooth sailing, and only begins to worry about issues when things go awry, is something to be kept in mind.  If a Federal or Postal employee is receiving OWCP Disability payments, and as such, one’s financial stability is somewhat assured because of it, that is precisely the time to be considering one’s future.  

OWCP Disability payments have a formal designation — it is called “Temporary Total Disability“.  The focus should be upon the first of the three terms — temporary.  It is not meant to be a permanent feature; OWCP is not a retirement system.  If placed on OWCP for over a year, the Federal Agency or the Postal Service will often separate and remove a Federal or Postal employee from the employment rolls of the Agency.  Once removed, the Federal or Postal employee has only up to one (1) year to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  Once that year passes, you cannot file.  Years later, when OWCP & the Department of Labor stop those “Disability payments” for whatever reason, you cannot then start thinking about filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS. You will be reminded that TTD stands for just that — Temporary Total Disability. It will then be too late.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: OPM Decisions

One would like to think that the Office of Personnel Management takes each case independently, reviews each case according to the merit of that particular case, and that, based upon a fair, independent and careful evaluation process, a decision is made for an approval or disapproval.  When a decision from OPM reaches a Federal Disability Retirement applicant under FERS or CSRS, that applicant will see such a decision, and that decision alone.  When an attorney who specializes in OPM Disability Retirement sees such a decision, it is clearly based upon a template, and after viewing thousands of such template-based decisions, a pattern begins to develop. 

Templates are not in and of themselves a negative thing; one need not “reinvent the wheel” each and every time.  It is only when a template does not “fit” a particular case, or where it is clear that a decision contradicts the substantive content of the disability retirement application or the documentary attachments, that there is any negative issue with a template.  Fortunately, most OPM decisions are fair and properly evaluative; every now and then, however, it is evident that a template-driven decision has been issued without thought or fair analysis.  That is when a true problem has arisen.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Future Reviews

There are horror stories:  of people on “disability” who are watched and video-taped, and after having 500 hours of taping, it is edited to show that, within a 2-minute period, it is revealed that you can indeed perform physical feats which your medical disability should restrict.  As an attorney who receives daily inquiries concerning Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, people relate such fears to me.  However, I am quick to remind such callers on two (2) matters:  First, such stories relate almost exclusively to Federal OWCP cases, which have nothing to do with Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS, and Second, the people I represent have legitimate medical conditions which impact and prevent one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, and as an additional Third element in the issue, Federal Disability Retirement annuitants are allowed, under the law, to go out and get another job, and to work and make up to 80% of what his or her former position currently pays. 

Now, obviously, any such job should be essentially different, in many ways, from the former job.  But the point is that the medical disability under FERS or CSRS is intimately wedded to a particular job, and the inability to perform the essential elements of that particular job.  That is where the difference lies between Federal Disability Retirement rules under FERS & CSRS and OWCP cases — the former allows one to continue to remain productive in the workplace; the other does not.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

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