Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Compounding Complexities

As with most things in life, preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management is an engagement of a process which should be affirmatively sought without delay.  Delay and procrastination results in further compounding the complexities which result from a medical condition.  

Dealing with a medical condition while attempting to perform all of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal position is complex enough; when it becomes apparent that one’s medical condition will last for a minimum of 12 months, and further, that one or more of the essential elements of one’s job can no longer be performed as a result of the medical condition, then it is time to consider filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  

The cumulative effect of delay and procrastination becomes progressively compounded in both complexity and unintended consequences:  the Agency begins to put greater pressure as work has to be shifted to others; greater mistrust arises; Agencies begin to react with adverse, punitive measures, such as imposing unreasonable leave restrictions, placing an individual on a PIP, proposing suspensions and other adverse actions; all of which results in greater anxiety and exacerbation of one’s medical conditions, which become deleteriously impacted because of the health, financial and professional pressures felt.  

Unless a delay upon making a decision in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is “planned”  — for a viable, reasonable and rationally-based purpose — such delay and procrastination will only accelerate and compound the problems of one’s life.  The benefit of a medical retirement under FERS or CSRS was created and offered by the Federal Service for a specific purpose.  It is well to embrace that purpose with purposefulness. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Working while Waiting

Because of economic necessity, it is often advisable for Federal and Postal employees who are filing or have filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS to continue to work, to the extent possible, without damaging one’s health.  

Often, agencies will “accommodate” a Federal or Postal employee during the waiting process — utilizing the term “accommodation” in a loose sense of the word, and not in compliance with what the law requires in terms of the concept of “accommodation” for purposes of Federal Disability Retirement.  Thus, in the loose sense of the term, an Agency may temporarily accommodate a Federal or Postal employee with light duty work, suspension of one or more of the critical elements of one’s position (such as traveling, lifting certain heavy things, standing for extended periods of time, etc.), and that would be helpful to allow for the income to the Federal or Postal employee during the long administrative process.  

However, one should also be aware that, upon an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application from the Office of Personnel Management, any back pay will be awarded only to the last day of pay — whether it is for a full week’s wages or for a dollar.  

Thus, since back pay for the first year will be at a rate of 60% of the average of one’s highest three consecutive years, it is wise to calculate and see whether the amount of work one is performing falls below the 60% mark.  If it does, then it might be prudent to go out on LWOP.  On the other hand, it may well be that economic necessity will dictate one’s decision and force the issue, and that would be fine — so long as one makes a decision on matters impacting Federal Disability Retirement benefits based upon full knowledge and comprehension of all of the relevant facts.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Working while Waiting

The question is often asked whether a Federal or Postal employee is able to, allowed to, or can work, while filing for and awaiting a decision upon, a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management.  The subtle distinctions to be made between “able”, “allowed” and “can”, of course, are done purposefully.  

Within the medical restrictions, condition and extent of severity of the medical conditions, most Federal employees are able to continue to provide some level of productivity within his or her position with the Federal government.  

Whether a Federal or Postal employee is allowed to work while having filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is a separate question, but for the most part, agencies allow the employee to continue working — sometimes in a light duty capacity (especially where certain essential elements of the job may pose a danger because of the medical restrictions imposed), but often in a temporarily reduced capacity.  Thus, the “allowed” category is essentially up to each individual and independent agency, but for the most part agencies do allow Federal employees to continue to work.  

The latter distinction — whether a Federal or Postal employee “can” work — is a hybrid of the previous two categories.  Most Federal and Postal employees must work, out of economic necessity, and therefore will force themselves to continue to work as long as possible.  

The Federal or Postal employee who can continue to work, will work, and can do so to the extent that the Federal Agency or the Postal Service will allow the employee to perform some, if not most, of the essential elements of one’s job.  It should be a coordinated effort between the Agency and the employee who has shown his or her loyalty these past many years, but unfortunately such coordination breaks down somewhere during the process.  

During the trying times of preparing, formulating, filing, then waiting for a decision on a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the time for an Agency to show that the concept of “loyalty” is a bilateral proposition should surface — if only for the time to complete the process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Burden of Proof

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, a considerable amount of effort goes into anticipating any objections which may be encountered by the Office of Personnel Management, and to “preempt” such anticipatory objections by addressing them at the outset.  

A proper balance must be maintained in engaging in such preemptive accounting, because one does not want to address the issues which would unnecessarily create a “red flag”, yet at the same time, discussing and explaining reasonable areas of potential concern should be a part of any Federal Disability Retirement application.  

The problems always arise because it is the Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits who has the affirmative burden of proving one’s eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  The Federal or Postal employee must, by a preponderance of the evidence, prove his or her “burden of proof” affirmatively.  

Conversely, the Office of Personnel Management has the authority to review, criticize, analyze, and ultimately approve or deny a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  They can merely sit back and take pot shots at an application, point out that this particular legal criteria was not “sufficiently met”, or simply make a generic statement that the medical evidence did not present a “compelling enough” case (what in the world could such a generalized non-statement possible mean?).  

Yet, one must play the language game, and play it well, and the best way to play it is to attempt to preempt and anticipate OPM’s potential objections, and to meet one’s burden of proof by jumping ahead, and predicting how an OPM Representative might view the Federal Disability Retirement application that is being prepared.  Predicting the future is always a tenuous endeavor; nevertheless, one must engage the potential pitfalls, and anticipate the actions of the Office of Personnel Management, if one is going to be successful.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Responding to OPM

As different Stages in the process of preparing, formulating, and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits require a different response, so there is a reason why it is important to recognize and understand the procedural differences and distinctions between each stage.

Each stage in the entirety of the process is not just a difference of departments — of different “sections” of the Office of Personnel Management reviewing the Federal Disability Retirement application based upon the identical paradigm of review.  Yes, the first two stages of the process (the “Initial Stage” of the application, then the “Reconsideration Stage” of the process) involves the same agency (the Office of Personnel Management), but the underlying reviewing needs of the distinct departments are identifiably different).  

That is why it is important to understanding the underlying procedural requirements, thereby gaining an insight into the substantive needs and requests of the separate departments.  Thus, at the initial stage of the application, a Federal or Postal employee is attempting to meet, by a preponderance of the evidence, all of the criteria necessary in obtaining a Federal Disability Retirement annuity.  

If it is denied at the First Stage, then the Office of Personnel Management will normally indicate the deficiencies they have “discovered” in the application.  Whether true or not, whether right or wrong, it is often necessary to address — at least in part — some of the issues brought up by the initial denial.  

Then, of course, if it is denied a second time and one must file an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, a response for the Third Stage of the process will require another, completely different set of responses.  Paradigm shifts occur not only in science; they occur in the administrative procedures of a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Different Denials

After having formulated, prepared and filed a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the period of long waiting ensues with the review process of the Office of Personnel Management (having survived the waiting process through the Agency).  

At this initial stage of the application, the Federal or Postal applicant will be forced to wait (anxiously) for a decision by OPM.  Thus, when the Office of Personnel Management makes a decision at the First Stage, and that decision is a “denial” of the Federal Disability Retirement application, there is a spectrum of possible responses — immediate, emotional, angry, frustrated, etc.  

Instead, however, the proper response is to recognize that this initial denial is merely part of a greater process which involves many steps, procedures, responses and replies.  Indeed, part of the reason why a Federal or Postal employee feels the pressure and anxieties is because one tends to view the application process as a “one-time” deal — where submission of an application should be reviewed by OPM and an approval is granted.  This can be true — but should be viewed as merely an anomaly, and not the standard.  

While having a Federal Disability Attorney prepare the application for Disability Retirement should increase the chances of an approval at any level of the process, it is nevertheless first and foremost a process involving multiple steps and stages, with potential pitfalls and denials throughout.  Thus, a Federal Disability Retirement application may be initially denied, then responded to, then denied a second time at the Reconsideration Stage of the process, and require a further response.  

Different denials require different responses, not because they are not all part of the same process (I know, the double negative gives one pause), but because each denial is given by different departments and personnel at the Office of Personnel Management. Remember, one must prove one’s eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, and proof means that there is the potential for an adversarial component of the process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Anxiety of Procrastination

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, there are numerous issues, points, time-frames,etc., during the administrative process, when a Federal or Postal employee’s anxieties may become exacerbated — both because of the inherent complications resulting from the process itself, as well as because of what others do.  Many of the complexities which arise are beyond the control of one’s capabilities.  Thus, if one is accustomed to having some “control” over events and circumstances, it can quickly become a process full of anxieties, exasperation and frustration.  

Time is often beyond one’s control — the time the Agency takes to fill out their portion; the time a doctor responds to a request for a medical narrative; and, finally, the time that the Office of Personnel Management takes in reviewing and rendering a decision on a Federal Disability Retirement application.  

One point of frustration which often builds without ceasing, however, is within the control and capacity of all Federal Disability Retirement applicants — procrastination.  Procrastination merely delays the inevitable, and compounds the complexities because it merely allows for outside difficulties and problems to continue to build, without resolution.  If the need arises to begin filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, procrastination should not be part of the game plan.  This is especially true because the Office of Personnel Management is a bureaucracy which takes a long time itself, and procrastinating at the front-end of the process will only delay things further at the back-end.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire