Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The 80% Rule

When a Federal or Postal employee files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, and obtains an approval from the Office of Personnel Management, under FERS he or she will receive 60% of the average of one’s highest three consecutive years of pay, then 40% every year thereafter until age 62, at which point the disability annuity is recalculated based upon the total number of years of Federal Service, including those years that the disability retirement annuitant has been on Federal Disability Retirement.  Thereafter, the now “former” Federal or Postal employee has the capability to work at another, private-sector job, and earn up to 80% of what one’s former Federal or Postal job currently pays, on top of the disability annuity that one is receiving.

While some may wonder whether this is a “fair” benefit, especially in these trying economic times, it might be wiser to consider whether or not it is prudent to consider the economic incentives inherent in such a system.  For, by allowing for the Federal or Postal Disability Retirement annuitant to go out and attempt to earn income in another, different kind of job, it allows for continuing productivity, payment of taxes and FICA back into the “system”, as opposed to limiting the individual to merely receiving a government benefit. As all of “economics” is ultimately based upon incentives to the working population in order to encourage a system of the highest extent of productivity, this system creates an economic incentive to those who are merely disabled from performing a certain kind of job.  They can continue to remain productive — just in a different kind of job from the one in which he or she is disabled.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Early Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: The MSPB & Beyond, a Retrospective View

Assume the following hypotethical:  a Federal or Postal employee has filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, and has been denied twice by the Office of Personnel Management, has gone before an Administrative Judge for a Hearing at the Merit Systems Protection Board, and now a decision has been made to file a Petition for Review.  

What is the MSPB looking for at a PFR?  

The arguments to be made will focus upon whether or not the Administrative Judge applied “the law” (collectively known for all of the statutes, rules, regulations and prior cases which have touched upon, defined, or otherwise decided upon, any and all issues concerning Federal Disability Retirement) correctly, or whether he/she made an “error of law”.  As such, from a retrospective viewpoint, what should have been done during the Hearing of the matter before the MSPB & the Administrative Judge?  The answer:  where possible, a citation of the applicable cases showing at each juncture of the evidence submitted, that it complied with a specific case and holding of a case.  With that “on the record”, it constrains the Administrative Judge from ruling against the Appellant, but more importantly for purposes of the Petition for Full Review, it establishes the errors of law which the Administrative Judge committed, for purposes of showing reversible errors at the PFR.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Beyond the MSPB

With certain notable exceptions (e.g., documents which could not be obtained prior to or during the Hearing; an SSDI approval which was awarded after the close of the record, etc.), the Hearing which is set for the Merit Systems Protection Board (better known by its acronym, the “MSPB”) is the time and place to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that a Federal or Postal employee is eligible to meet each of the legal criteria in a Federal Disability Retirement case.

MSPB Hearings for Federal Disability Retirement applications are performed telephonically; but beyond the time to submit all additional medical documentation and have any witnesses testify, it is the time to set the stage for a future Petition for Review (PFR) or an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Any legal issues concerning the eligibility criteria, accommodations, sufficiency of medical documentation, etc., needs to be argued at this stage of the process, in order to be able to make the argument later that the Administrative Judge committed “legally reversible” errors in his or her Initial Decision on the case.  As with anything well-built, a solid foundation must be prepared, and in the arena of legal battles, the introduction of clear legal precedent is what establishes the foundation for a future appeal.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: The MSPB

The Merit Systems Protection Board (better known by its acronym, the “MSPB”) is the third stage of the administrative process in attempting to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  By this Stage, while the Office of Personnel Management has been both the “judge and jury” for determining one’s eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, the case is then handed over to an Administrative Judge to be the arbiter of such determination.

While it is advisable for a Federal or Postal Worker to obtain a FERS/CSRS Disability Attorney from the start of the administrative process, it is of even greater importance to consider obtaining proper legal representation before proceeding down the path of the MSPB.  This statement of advising any Federal or Postal employee to obtain proper representation at the MSPB is made for several reasons, not the least of which includes the following:  The MSPB is the last “stage” of the process in which a Federal or Postal employee who is seeking to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits may submit evidence in order to prove one’s case (with some special exceptions); any basis for an appeal, upon the chance that the Administrative Judge rules against you, must be established during the Hearing of the case at this stage; and since this stage is the arena of “the law”, it is important to be familiar with the most recent case-laws which govern Federal Disability Retirement.  The MSPB is not a place to feel one’s way through; it is the playground where the “grown-ups” play.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: A Hostile Work Environment

Unfortunately, reality often outperforms and upstages any attempt at fictional characterization of the workplace.  Often, the meanness and temperamental behavior of a supervisor in the “real” workplace can never be properly represented by an actor’s attempt in a sitcom or a drama; the persistent, irrational, capricious and outright cruel behavior and acts of “the boss” or one of his/her underlings can never be accurately depicted in fiction.  Further, the reality of the consequences of such behavior can be devastating.  Workplace stress resulting from demeaning behavior, intentional acts to undermine, cruel and arbitrary acts against a specific employee, can all result in serious medical consequences.  

It is all well and good to talk about internal procedures — of filing an EEOC Complaint; filing a grievance; filing a complaint based upon discrimination, etc.  But beyond such agency procedures to protect one’s self, there is the problem of the eruption of a medical condition, be it Major Depression, Anxiety, panic attacks, physical symptoms of IBS, chronic pain, headaches —  some or all of which may result from such stresses in the workplace.  There is no diagnostic tool to establish the link between the medical condition and the workplace stress.  

For Federal and Postal employees thinking about filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, there is the context of harassment & stress in the workplace, and then the medical condition which prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job. Sometimes, it is difficult to bifurcate the two.  That which is difficult, however, must sometimes be accomplished in order to be successful.  The origin of the medical condition may have to be set aside, because it “complicates” the proving of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  If one is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, the story — however real — of the workplace harassment, may have to be left behind.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Sometimes, It is the Wrong Question

If the question is asked, “Is it difficult to get Federal Disability Retirement benefits based upon a Stress Claim?” — within the context of the poorly-worded question, you may get a wrong answer.  This is because it is the wrong question to begin with.  

The concept and term “stress claim” is more appropriately formulated in the context of an OWCP claim.  It implies that one is claiming for compensation based upon a situation — a hostile work environment, a harassing supervisor, etc. — because the origin and inception of the medical condition generically characterized as “stress” implies that it is the workplace which is the originating responsibility for the very medical condition claimed.  

Such a question would thus imply a multitude of irrelevant considerations for purposes of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, such as the causality of the claim, whether the cause is merely situational (is it the supervisor causing the stress?  If so, if a Federal or Postal worker moved to another office or agency, could he or she work in the same job?), or contained within the context of the workplace. The problem with using the term “stress” in a question is that, whether as a noun or a verb, it implies too much while revealing too little.  If expanded upon (e.g., while stress may be the origin, is the medical condition Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, etc.), then the entire question takes on a new form.  Sometimes, the problem begins with the question asked which is poorly worded; and to a poorly worded question, a wrong answer might be given.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OWCP Payments & FERS/CSRS Disability Retirement

There are many Federal and Postal workers who have been receiving OWCP payments (Temporary Total Disability benefits) for years.  Such payments can, indeed, continue for many years, or for a few months, depending upon the length of time it may take for a medical condition to persist.  

The problem with relying upon OWCP as a retirement system is that, strictly speaking, it is not a retirement system.  The Department of Labor can begin the process of sending the benefit recipient to a “Second Opinion” doctor, and the process of attempting to cut off OWCP benefits has thus begun.  

Further, there is often the problem of reliance upon OWCP, resulting in a Federal or Postal worker failing to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits within 1 year of being separated from Federal Service.  This sometimes happens because the Federal or Postal Worker begins to feel secure in the monthly OWCP benefit, and because it pays a higher rate than FERS or CSRS Disability Retirement benefits.  However, one should never be fooled by the tenuous nature of OWCP — it is not meant to be a retirement system, and most Federal and Postal workers who have experienced first-hand the treatment by OWCP/DOL will attest to the fact that they can be sudden, arbitrary, and difficult to deal with.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Sometimes, It’s “The Law”

An assumption is often made that the “Disability Specialist” at the Office of Personnel Management who reviews the Federal or Postal Disability Retirement application understands, comprehends, and applies the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement applications.  Now, such an assumption may be logical and reasonable, to the extent that one thinks (A) that those who aspire to working in a specific specialty have some knowledge or understanding of the specialty, and (B) if a decision is made which involves discussing “the law”, one presumes that the mere discussion of it proves some knowledge of it.  

The problem with such reasoning, however (apart from the popular tripartite acronym which originates from the word “********-u-me”), is that it betrays the facts:  often, from reviewing the denial letters generated from the Office of Personnel Management, it is painfully clear that the administrative specialist, the legal specialist, or whatever other “specialist” designation has been embraced by the worker at the Office of Personnel Management, simply fails to apply all of the applicable laws which govern Federal Disability Retirement applications.  This is understandable, to this extent:  OPM representatives (other than those representing OPM at the MSPB level) are not lawyers, and as such, do not keep up with the latest evolution of the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement issues.  Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, is another matter altogether.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Reconsiderations

When a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is denied at the first stage of the process, a Federal or Postal worker who filed for the benefit has the administrative right to request that it be “reconsidered” by the Office of Personnel Management.  Once requested, the case file is turned over to the “Disability Reconsideration Branch” of the office, and will be reviewed and evaluated by a Disability Specialist — not the same person who reviewed it at the Initial Stage of the process. 

A person who has filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits has thirty (30) days to Request Reconsideration.  While the 30-day period may arguably have some flexibility based upon when the applicant actually received the denial letter, it is nevertheless a good policy to adhere to the 30-day time-frame by counting the date of the denial letter as the “beginning” date.  Obviously, it is better NOT to be placed in a position of having to argue whether or not the applicant met the 30-day deadline.  Further, it is best to send it in via a means where confirmation of receipt can be shown.  OPM is a large bureaucracy, and things get lost in the morass of the volume of submissions.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: The Origin of Psychiatric Disabilities

When preparing the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (Standard Form 3112A) in preparing to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, it is important to keep the essence of the statement “on topic”.  By this, is meant that the primary focus of the applicant’s statement should be repetitively twofold:  First, what the medical conditions and their symptomatologies & manifestation of symptoms are, and Second, how those medical conditions and symptoms impact one’s ability/inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  

While history and origin of a medical condition may be somewhat relevant (unlike in an OWCP case, where causality and date of injury and where/how it happened are important elements in establishing that a medical condition was somehow job related), normally in Federal Disability Retirement cases the origin of a medical condition should not be emphasized, if only because OPM does not care about it.  If the origin of one’s psychiatric medical conditions (e.g., Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, etc.) find their source from conflicts within a job, such a history may be a red flag which can lead the Office of Personnel Management to conclude that the medical condition constitutes a “situational disability“.  In a final determination as to whether a medical condition can be characterized as “situational”, while it must be looked at in its full context, nevertheless, it is the origin of a psychiatric medical conditions which is the first point of reference in making such a determination.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire