The Social Security Factor on the FERS Disability Retirement Claim

For the FERS employee, whether as a Federal, non-Postal employee, or as a Postal worker, who intends to file for Federal Disability Retirements benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the administrative process of filing for Social Security Disability benefits (SSDI) is a bureaucratic involvement and, by some accounts from Human Resource Offices of various Federal agencies, there is the view that the Federal Retirement application cannot be process by OPM unless and until SSDI is also filed.  This is not true.

While SSDI must be filed, and a receipt of such filing shown to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the purpose of such filing from the standpoint of OPM is not to compare or evaluate the enhanced eligibility status of a FERS disability retirement applicant by seeing whether or not the Social Security Administration will approve or disapprove one’s claim (that would be too logical, inasmuch as there is a higher legal standard of essentially “total disability” under SSDI, and so an approval by Social Security Disability standards should then automatically invite approval by OPM) — although, under Trevan v. OPM, there is certainly a basis to invite such a legal analysis.

No; the only reason why OPM wants to see a receipt of an SSDI filing, is merely for purposes of cross-checking whether or not a monetary offset should be applied if both SSDI and FERS Disability Retirement annuities are concurrently paid.  And, even then, it is often the case that the 100% offset in the concurrent receipt of payments from an OPM Disability annuity and SSDI in the first year, and the subsequent years of 60% offset of payments, will not be applied, and OPM will come back years later demanding the refund of the overpayments resulting from the failure of OPM applying the offset.

Most Federal employees and Postal workers who file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits will continue to either work to a limited extent, or at least remain on the rolls of their Federal agency or the U.S. Postal Service during the long waiting time during the process of filing for Federal Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and, as such, there will be an automatic denial from the Social Security Administration because of income considerations for the year in question, etc.

The simplest solution to Human Resource Offices demanding and insisting that SSDI must be filed for before an OPM Disability Retirement application is processed and forwarded to Boyers, PA, is to file online, get a receipt, and be done with it. Then, if OPM requests that the applicant file again at a later date to determine if a denial from SSDI was truly based upon one’s disability (or lack thereof), or because of income considerations, then that can be done with greater effort after one has received a Medical Disability approval from OPM.

This is a world of bureaucracies, and the rules, however lacking of a rational foundation, needs to be adhered to and complied with.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

The “Other” Civil Service System

Information concerning Federal Disability Retirement benefits will often refer to the universe of “FERS” employees (acronym for Federal Employees Retirement System, which was enacted by Congress in 1986 and became effective the following year), with little to no information concerning its replacement system, the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS).

There are, additionally, some hybrid systems, sometimes referred to as CSRS-Offset; but FERS & CSRS constitute the crux of employment systems of retirement for all Federal employees and Postal workers. The reason for the unfairly-weighted balance in favor of FERS employees is that, because the system has been in place for almost 30 years, now, and most CSRS employees have either already retired, died in office, or are otherwise catatonic in the catacombs of bureaucracies, there is a basic assumption in place that any references to FERS employees and the benefit of Federal Disability Retirement, necessarily includes CSRS employees and is indirectly applicable to the surviving few remaining.

References to FERS thus necessarily assumes an inclusion of CSRS employees, and this is true in Federal Disability Retirement applications, and for any FERS or CSRS employees seeking to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  The primary differences between the two is merely one of completing standard forms.  Thus, for FERS disability retirement applicants, one must complete the SF 3107 series, as well as the series of SF 3112 forms; and for CSRS employees, the SF 2801 series is completed in place of SF 3107, but both systems must complete the SF 3112 series of forms.

Of course, when FERS was first introduced, enacted and presented to the entirety of the Federal public sector, the numbers of CSRS employees clearly outnumbered the number of FERS employees. Furthermore, when previously-separated CSRS employees (for whatever reasons) re-entered the Federal workforce, many were given the option of re-establishing inclusion and participation in the previously-abandoned system of CSRS. But, over time, and especially in the last decade, the number of FERS Government employees has outpaced CSRS employees, and the last and dying breed of CSRS employees will be like those Civil War veterans of yore, pictured in grainy photographs of faded daguerreotype plates, of antique images of a time past, and passing by today.

The “other” system has now become the new; and as time fades the faces of antiquity, those images of an age long past have replaced the reality of the present; sort of like computer-enhanced graphics which make us all look the age we desire.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

OPM Disability Retirement Wait Processing Time

What is the time it takes to process an OPM Disability Retirement application?

Most of it depends upon the delays naturally encountered throughout the process itself: the length of time doctors take in compiling the medical information requested; preparation and formulation of one’s Federal Disability Retirement forms, including the Statement of Disability; how long the agency Human Resource Office takes (is it through a local H.R. Office, or through a centralized district human resource office; for Postal employees, everything it submitted through the H.R. Shared Services office in Greesnboro, North Carolina); whether it is submitted directly to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in Boyers, PA (if the Federal or Postal employee is separated from Federal Service for more than 31 days, then it must be submitted directly to OPM; if less than 31 days, then through one’s Human Resource’s Office).

Then, once a case number is assigned to one’s Federal Disability Retirement application (called a CSA Number, a 7-digit number with an additional 0 as an irrelevant appendage, sometimes making it into an 8-digit number; for FERS employees, it begins with the number 8; for CSRS employees, it begins with the number 4), the entire application is sent down to Washington, D.C. Care should be given that the initial application be sent to the Boyers, Pennsylvania address, and not to Washington, D.C. — as this additional bureaucratic step of first processing the application in Boyers, PA is a required administrative procedure.

Then, the true waiting period begins. As to the original question, How long does it take to get an OPM Disability Retirement application decided? There is a formula to follow: First, take the number of months it took to get notification that the packet was forwarded to the next step from your Human Resource Office (again, for Postal workers, that would be from the H.R. Shared Services Office in Greensboro, N.C.); multiply it by the number of weeks it took to obtain a CSA Number from Boyers, PA; then, take that number, add the additional time it will take to sit in the “unassigned” pile of Federal Disability Retirement cases at OPM in Washington, D.C.; then, when it is finally assigned, multiply by an exponential factor of 10, and you may get a realistic wait time to meet one’s expectations of a quick, efficient and streamlined bureaucratic process (facetiously stated).

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Federal Disability Retirement Pros and Cons

Federal employees and Postal workers who suffer from a medical condition, where the seriousness of the medical condition begins to impact the ability and capacity to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, must take a pragmatic, blunt assessment of one’s future — taking into account all of the factors necessary in order to make a proper decision.

For, in the end, the choices are starkly limited: Stay at one’s job (often not even a real choice, given that the medical condition and its impact upon one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job has forced the question itself to be asked); resign and walk away with nothing, with a deferred retirement at age 65 (again, not a realistic choice, and one which should not be considered, but in the universe of options, it is the non-choice of choices); file for Federal Disability Retirement through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (this is, obviously, the most viable of the three alternatives).

One can weigh the pros and cons of filing or not filing: the daunting administrative and bureaucratic process which must be faced; the potential for reduced income; the loss of camaraderie enjoyed for these many years; the cutting short of projects and mission essentials labored upon for so long; and a multitude of similar changes. But in the end, all pros and cons must face in the same direction, and point to the inevitable game-changer: one’s medical condition, and the impact which it has upon one’s ability, inability, capacity, or lack thereof, in performing all of the essential elements of one’s job.

At the North Pole, all directions point south; for the injured Federal employee or the Postal worker with a medical condition, such that the medical condition prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, the compass pointing to the need to file for Federal Medical Retirement is the direction mandated by circumstances, and not necessarily by whether the pros win out over the cons.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Physical and Mental Conditions in Federal OPM Disability Retirement Claims: Ahead of the Proverbial Curve

Trends are often characterized by the actions of a few.  Whether in cultural expectancies via movie moguls, fashion designers, technology innovators and convention-busters, the known so-called leaders who stay ahead of the proverbial “curve” which maintains the continuum of linear stability in a given society, often dictate the direction of an otherwise directionless future.

The ivory tower of academia is another such bastion of proclivities where, if observed carefully, can infer a discernment for future waves to come. The views of sociologists, psychologists, philosophers and economists (to name just a few “ists” within the self-vaunted world of esoteric penumbras; note, however, how the “philosopher” is not termed the “philosophist” — why is that? Perhaps because there was a desired disassociation with sophistry?) preview a trend of forthcoming conundrums impacting a society.

In the pragmatic world in which most of the rest of society inhabits, however, the dualism pronounced (and in many sectors of philosophy, denounced) concerning the bifurcated universe of the cognitive as opposed to the physical, continues to be debated. Dennett, consciousness, Nagel, Scruton, and the continuing debate over whether human consciousness can be reduced through the scientific language-game of mere biological processes, rages on in the ivory towers of conceptual constructs.

In the real world, this debate is reducible to the pragmatic question of whether psychiatric conditions are “as acceptable” as physical manifestations of traumatic conditions. For the Federal employee and the U.S. Postal worker who is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the question of whether it is “more difficult” to win a Federal Medical Retirement claim from OPM is one which overwhelmingly can be answered in a positive, pro-worker manner: today, fortunately, there is little distinction to be made between psychiatric health problems and physical health problems.

Major Depression, Anxiety, panic attacks, Bipolar Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorders, suicidal ideations, nervous breakdowns, etc. — all are viable bases upon which to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, on a par with physical conditions of chronic pain, cervical and lumbar dysfunctions, shoulder impingement syndrome, Crohn’s Disease, etc.  Descartes’ dualism cannot be found in the world of OPM and in the filing for a Federal Medical claim of disability.

The proverbial curve of societal trends is often determined by those at “the top”; but in the case of acceptance of psychiatric conditions in comparative analysis to physical conditions in the filing for Federal Disability benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the trend of acceptance on a par for both was established long ago, probably as a result of the reality of either and both conditions, and the realization by the bureaucracy that however you term the condition, the importance of a Medical Disability Retirement claim finds its essence on the impact of one’s ability or inability to perform all of the essential elements of one’s positional duties.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Federal Disability Retirement Representation: Substance and Process

In any bureaucratic, lengthy administrative process, one can become embroiled in the procedural aspects of an endeavor, and overlook the substantive elements which form the foundation of any case.  Conversely, one can make the mistake of approaching a case and declare to one’s self, “This is so obviously a good case,” and take shortcuts in the process of putting together an effective and persuasive case.

Either approach is one fraught with grave errors, and for Federal employees and Postal workers who are beginning the process of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Medical benefits, first through one’s own agency (if still on the rolls of the Federal agency or the U.S. Postal Service or, if separated, for not more than 31 days), and ultimately submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in Boyers, Pennsylvania (directly, if the Federal employee or U.S. Postal worker has been separated from Federal service for more than 31 days), it is important to keep the balance between the substance of a case, and the process of the case.

Substantive issues involve everything from the factual, informational content required on all standard forms (SF 3107, along with Schedules A, B & C, and the required attachment of one’s DD 214 showing prior active military service; SF 2801 for CSRS employees; and the substantive content of the description of one’s medical conditions to be considered, as required in SF 3112A, etc.), as well as the medical documentation needed to provide the evidentiary support for one’s case.

“Process” issues involve the timeframe in filing a case, the administrative procedures of where the disability application must be submitted through, as well as the myriad of sequential steps required for satisfaction of accommodation issues with one’s agency.

Substance and process — they are the necessary sides of a single, inseparable currency of an administrative reality known as Federal OPM Disability Retirement, and both must be attended to in order to reach the heights of efficacy mandated for a successful outcome in the preparation, formulation and submission of an OPM Medical Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Beginning the Federal Disability Retirement Process

The Chinese proverb, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, is meant to remind us that looking at a process in its entirety can result in self-defeat even before starting, and every daunting journey must begin with the small, almost insignificant, effort of initiation.

Facing a bureaucracy and an administrative process can feel like that metaphorical journey of a thousand miles.  The multiple and complex standard forms to complete; the legal criteria to meet; the need to gather, compile and consolidate the medical documentation into a linear, coherent whole; and all of this, in the face of voluntarily reducing one’s income by applying for an annuity and having to deal with the debilitating medical condition from which one suffers.

But the successful way to approach the entire administrative process known as Federal Disability Retirement, is to bifurcate it into workable portions. The SF 3107 series (reissued in May, 2014, where previous editions are now outdated) is merely informational in nature.  It is is the SF 3112 series of forms which one must take care in preparing and formulating, and especially SF 3112A, which requests for detailed information concerning one’s medical conditions, the impact of the medical conditions upon one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job; and other pertinent information needed to convey compliance with a legal criteria established through many years via legal opinions issued by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, as well as by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Yes, it is a difficult process, and one which can be eased by legal advice and expertise. But as with all journeys, to look upon the landscape and obstacles as mere hindrances to overcome, will serve one better, than to stand at the foothills and refuse to begin the journey at all.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Benefits: Agency Input

Whether, and to what extent, Federal agencies will support a Federal Medical Retirement, goes to the ultimate issues of sufficiency, necessity and relevancy.  Sufficiency is satisfied by the minimal act of completing the two primary standard forms which the agency is responsible for:  SF 3112B (the Supervisor’s Statement) and SF 3112D (Agency Certification of Reassignment and Accommodation Efforts).

Necessity is further accomplished by processing the Federal employee’s Federal Disability Retirement application if the Federal employee or the U.S. Postal employee is still on the rolls of the agency or the U.S. Postal Service, or even if he or she has been separated, the separation has not been for more than thirty one (31) days.  If the Federal employee (now former) or U.S. Postal worker (also now former) has been separated for more than thirty one (31) days, then the Federal Disability Retirement application must be submitted directly to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the individual is under FERS or CSRS. In either case, the current Federal agency’s Human Resource’s Office would still have to complete SF 3112D, and the former or current Supervisor must complete the Supervisor’s Statement (SF 3112B). Lack of cooperation on the part of an agency or the U.S. Postal Service, once the Federal employee or U.S. Postal worker is separated from Federal Service, is often a problem — but, then, lack of cooperation can be a problem in any event, even if one is still with the agency.

Finally, the question of relevancy is always a problem to be encountered and confounded.  Is what the agency states on SF 3112B and/or SF 3112D helpful, significant or even relevant?  It all depends.  Some statements can be less-than, while others can remain neutral or somewhat helpful.  Relying upon one’s agency, whether current or former, to help in a Federal Disability Retirement application, beyond doing that which is sufficient or even necessary, is to run on a fool’s errand.

But then, when a Federal employee or a U.S. Postal worker finds it necessary to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether one is under FERS or CSRS, through one’s agency and then ultimately to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is to sufficiently reflect a choice of wisdom, and thereby the wise person has already shown a necessary discernment between the importance of priorities in life, as opposed to the irrelevant glitter of fool’s gold.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

OPM Medical Retirement: Holding on

The sense of belonging — of the attraction of the communal hearth — is a powerful draw, and prevents many from traveling too far from the proverbial oak tree.  The inherent contradiction, for Americans, is the paradigm of the rugged individual, and the concomitant idea that this country was and is different precisely because of the type of individuals and individualism which formed the basis of this community we call country.

But times change.  Change itself is a concept which engenders fear, loathing, and angst beyond mere discomfort.  Habituation and repetitive comfort can be derived merely in the methodological constancy of the mundane. Being comfortable and seeking human comfort is not a crime, and is often the telos of career choices. It is when that second step of the dialectical process intercedes and interrupts, however, that the discomfiture of disruption creates havoc and one’s life can go awry.

The thesis is the life lived; the antithesis is the condition of interruption or disruption; and the synthesis is that which is potentially to be, but now not yet known.  So goes the Hegelian dialectical process.  For the Federal employee and the U.S. Postal worker whose career has fortunately been gliding upon a linear path, and from start to career’s finish, a relatively smooth ride has been enjoyed, the blessing of such a continuum is one of mundane and delicious success.  But for the Federal employee or Postal worker who suffers from a medical condition, such that the medical condition impacts one’s ability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, the possibility that one’s chosen career may need to be interrupted, is indeed a hearth-wrecking event.

Determining whether or not filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is a necessity, is a hard choice; knowing what the choices are, while limited and finite and therefore easily discernible, can nevertheless remain a conundrum but for good advice and counsel which can be objectively assessed and conveyed.  For the Federal employee and the U.S. Postal worker, the benefit of Federal Disability Retirement can be a two-edged sword: on the one hand, the mere existence of the benefit reminds us of our vulnerability and mortality; on the other hand, it is a benefit to be accessed when needed, and the need is based upon a legal criteria which must be proven to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and such need allows for an out from the quandary of one’s medical conditions.

The draw of the hearth is indeed a powerful one; one’s organization, agency or Federal department can be considered a hearth of sorts, especially when one has expended so much time and effort in building one’s Federal career. But when the embers of warmth begin to fade, and the winds of winter blow the chilling parabola of a future reflected, consideration must be given for change, and change may require the embracing of an antithesis in order to build a brighter future for tomorrow.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire