Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Proverbial Cup, Half Full or Half Empty

It is the classic metaphor by which we judge a person’s outlook and perspective on life; and whether influenced or determined by nature or nurture (and whether we repackage the issue by surrounding ourselves with linguistic complexities of scientific language encapsulating DNA, genetic predisposition, or social welfare conversations), the judgments we place upon people are more likely based upon mundane and commonplace criteria:  Does he uplift or depress?  Does she smile or frown?  Do you see the world around as a cup half empty, or half full?

But such stark bifurcations which colonize individuals into one classification or another, are rarely statements of ultimate truth or reality.  More likely, life is often a series of missteps and opportunities unclaimed.  Even waiting too long in making a decision can then result in an option lost, an alternative missed.  The complexity of life’s misgivings often confound us.

For Federal and Postal employees who are beset with a medical condition such that the medical condition prevents him or her from performing the essential elements of the official positional duties one occupies, the choices are not always clear precisely because the prognosis of future abilities and capacities cannot always be predicted with accuracy.  But at some point in one’s career, the choice between the half-filled cup and the half-empty one becomes more than an encounter with a proverb.

The medical condition itself may mean that one’s cup is half empty; but what one does in response, will determine whether the future bodes for a half-filled cup.

For the Federal and Postal worker, filing a Federal Disability Retirement application with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, is a step which can become a positive direction forward, or a misstep because of hesitation, procrastination, or even a predisposed genetic determination of an inability to engage in decision-making.

But nothing is ever forever; today’s half-filled cup can be refilled tomorrow, and Federal Disability Retirement can help to ensure one’s financial and economic security for the future.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Embracing Progress toward Better Conditions

Federal Disability Retirement from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is indeed based upon a progressive paradigm.  It not only recognizes that an individual may be disabled from a particular kind of job; but, moreover, it allows and encourages the Federal or Postal employee to plan for the future, and to seek a way of starting a new vocation in a different field, without penalizing the former Federal or Postal employee by taking away the Federal disability annuity.

There are maximum limits to the paradigm — such as the ceiling of earning up to 80% of what one’s former position currently pays. But to be able to earn up to 80% of what one’s former position currently pays, while at the same time retaining the ability to continue to receive the disability annuity, is far different than the paradigm presented under SSDI or OWCP.

Further, because there is a recognition that one’s medical disability is narrowly construed to one’s Federal or Postal position, or any similar job, the restrictions placed upon the “type” of job a Federal or Postal annuitant may seek, is fairly liberally defined.  Yes, both types of positions should not require the identical physical demands if such demands impact the same anatomical basis upon which one’s Federal Disability Retirement benefits were approved for; but, even in such circumstances, one has the right to argue that the extent of repetitive work, if qualitatively differentiated, may allow for a similar position in the private sector.

Compare that to OWCP, where one cannot work at any other job while receiving temporary total disability benefits from the Department of Labor.  Ultimately, Federal Disability Retirement allows for the Federal or Postal employee to plan for the future; and that, in and of itself, is worth its weight in gold.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Durational Attitude, Or: “If Only I Had…”

There are periodic offers for an “early out”; or the ability upon reaching certain trigger points of leaving the Federal Government; or receiving OWCP benefits, which is certainly a higher rate of immediate return (assuming qualification and eligibility has been established); or even a settlement for a separation with some severance pay, a lump sum to settle a lawsuit, etc.

On the other hand, one of the advantages of a Federal Disability Retirement benefit, of course, is that the number of years which one remains on Federal Disability Retirement counts toward the total number of years of service, such that at age 62, when the Disability Retirement benefit is recalculated as regular retirement, those years on Disability Retirement are calculated into the benefit. Thus, for those who live to be a ripe old age, those differences in percentage points will continue to reap the benefits.

It is the long-term viewpoint which should always be considered; for, in later years, the durational perspective, if not taken, may well result in the rueful reminiscence of a forlorn, regretful attitude.  One may make statements of vacuity, such as, “I don’t live with regrets”; but the annuity and one’s bank account may tell a different story.

Planning for the future in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, entails, involves, and encapsulates more than just the “now” and the “present”; it is the immediacy of the future which one should always plan for.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: The Progressive Paradigm

Ultimately, Federal Disability Retirement is one of the most progressive paradigms designed — for, as a compensatory program, it not only allows for, but encourages, the Federal or Postal worker to become a self-paying entity by working at another job, a new vocation, a different career, etc, after being approved for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, thereby allocating taxes in order to pay for the annuity itself.

The fact that the U.S. Office of Personnel Management may sometimes and randomly inquire as to the continuing disability status of the (former) Federal or Postal employee, or require an annual check upon the previous year’s income earnings in order to determine if the individual has exceeded the allowable ceiling of 80% of what one’s former position currently pays, is a fairly easy threshold to meet.

Because the focus is upon the particular kind of job which the Federal or Postal employee had previously engaged in, it is natural that any job which the (former) Federal or Postal employee would seek and obtain, would have some qualitative and substantive differences from the Federal or Postal job.

At the same time, however, the skills which the Federal or Postal worker obtained and applied while working for the Federal government, need not be completely abandoned.  There just needs to be a medical justification as to why the individual is able to work in a private-sector job X, as opposed to the Federal job from which he or she medically retired from.

Often, it is a good idea to get the green light from one’s treating doctor, before accepting the private sector job, which would then establish the medical distinctions necessary to justify and answer any future OPM inquiry.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Pushing the Reset Button

Preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, is like the proverbial phrase of pushing the “reset” button.  While the phrase is overused and in many ways has lost its useful meaning, the conceptual underpinning implies that it allows for a fresh start.

The decision itself is often the largest hurdle to overcome; once made, it allows for a goal-oriented outlook on a different course of action, and often compels the Federal or Postal worker to manage one’s “life-affairs” with greater determination and incentive, perhaps because one is provided with another proverbial gift:  the “light at the end of the tunnel”.  For, the darkness which pervades is often characterized by the morass of daily pain, the chronicity of the pain, the endless and incessant meaninglessness — of the vicious cycle of coming to work only to survive; then to go home only to recuperate in order to turn right around and go into work for another day of survival; and, often, to an agency which eyes the Federal or Postal worker with suspicion and with little or no loyalty, compassion or sympathy.

Federal Disability Retirement is meant as a mechanism for recuperation from one’s medical condition — a medical condition which prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s particular kind of job, but which will allow for future work in another vocation.  It is the ultimate “reset button” — to allow for the beginning towards a different tomorrow.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The (non) Problem of Causality & Causation

In a Worker’s Comp (DOL/OWCP/FECA) case, causation and causality often loom as significant issues, and doctors often have to walk a difficult line in making unequivocal statements, or somewhat equivocating statements, as to the “cause” of a medical condition or injury.

Such statements can sometimes be the singular focus as to the success or failure of an OWCP case.  Why?  Because OWCP compensable injuries and medical conditions must be related to the job — either as something caused by an accident while on the job, or in some way occupationally related.

In Federal Disability Retirement cases under FERS or CSRS, one can be on a skiing vacation and incur a medical condition or disability, and so long as that person is unable to, because of the medical condition, perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, one is thereby eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS.

Sometimes, however, the issue of causation comes into the picture, but can work in a detrimental way, but need not.  Let me clarify:  In a chemical sensitivity case, or a psychiatric condition which finds its originating “causation” from the workplace, the doctor may want to relate the “cause” of the medical condition directly to the workplace.

This is fine, so far as it goes — and, ironically, most doctors (because they have no idea about FERS or CSRS Disability Retirement) think they are doing their patients a favor by relating it as “causally related” to the workplace.  More often than not, however, it can open up a “can of worms” — of being characterized by the Office of Personnel Management as a “situational disability”, which must be avoided like the plague.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Freedom of Retirement

In this tough economy, many people are rightly concerned that, upon an approval for Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS, that it will be difficult to “make up” the income with another job, even though a person under Federal Disability Retirement can earn up to 80% of what one’s former Federal or Postal position currently pays.

Yes, it can be tough; yes, the economy is a concern; but recessions ultimately come to an end, and while a job to make up the severe pay-cut may be long in coming, self-employment, to begin a start-up business, or to work part-time is often an excellent opportunity.

Unlike having the larger percentage of pay under OWCP-DOL benefits, a disability retirement annuity under FERS or CSRS is indeed a greater pay-cut.  But salary is not everything; the freedom of retirement, the ability to determine one’s future, and not be under the constant and close scrutiny of Worker’s Comp, accounts for much.  Where some see a severe pay-cut, others see as an opportunity to begin a second career.  And the price of freedom from those onerous fiefdoms of federal agencies is often better health, and greater enjoyment of one’s freedom and retirement.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Problems with the OWCP Paradigm

The problem with basing one’s future stability upon an “OWCP Paradigm”, or “model”, are multiple in nature.  To begin with, you cannot work at another job while receiving OWCP temporary total disability payments.  Thus, while you may be an injured worker, and unable to perform the essential elements of your Federal or Postal job, you may nevertheless be able to be productive in some other capacity, and may be capable of starting a business or working in some other field.  This is true if you are on OPM Disability retirement:  You can go out and get another job, and make up to 80% of what your former position currently pays, and continue to receive your disability annuity.  This is a good deal, in my view, because it provides an incentive to go out and become productive, and to plan for the future. 

Furthermore, OWCP/Department of Labor is notorious for cutting off benefits at the first sign that you are anything less than fully cooperative with their dictates.  OWCP may send you to a “second opinion” doctor who finds that you are “completely recovered”, thereby endangering your Worker’s Comp benefits.  Or, in order to save money, they may dictate to you that you must work as a Wal-Mart greeter, and pay you the difference between a menial job (not of your choice) and what they are paying you.  If you refuse, OWCP may simply ascribe what they believe you can earn, and pay you the difference — or not pay you anything.  While OWCP has procedures for appealing decisions, it is a long and arduous road to take.

These are only some of the problems associated with basing one’s future upon a Worker’s Compensation paradigm.  That is not to say that one should not file for and accept OWCP payments — it definitely pays more, and for a temporary period of payments in order for an injured Federal or Postal employee to remain financially solvent in order to recover from one’s work-related injuries, it is a good program.  As a paradigm for planning for one’s future, however, there is much to be desire.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Interaction with Upcoming Postal VER

High pressure sales always need to be met with a pause, a breath, and a moment of reflection.  This is not to attempt to splash any cold water upon the impending Voluntary Early Retirement packets which will be “in the mail” shortly (April 6 – 10, 2009 is the projected date of mailing out VER offer packets to all VER eligible employees).  For some employees, this may be the best and most rewarding route.  My concern is a simple one, with a long history of truth from the great source of all truths:  “If it is too good to be true, then…”   The short window of opportunity within which a decision must be made (all VER eligible employees must decide whether to apply for retirement during the period of April 10 -May 15, 2009; the actual required documents to apply for the VER must be postmarked by May 15, 2009) is short; this is a serious decision, and must be considered carefully.  Some people will decide that the comparison to disability retirement benefits is great enough to consider filing for VER first, obtaining it, then filing for disability retirement benefits within 1 year therafter.  That would be fine, but there are certain steps (creating a “paper trail”) which should be taken if this 1 – 2 – Step is going to be considered.  In any event, the bottom-line consideration must always be:  Is it in the best interest of my future?  Is it the most I can get?  Is it comparable to disability retirement benefits?  Will I think it was the best decision to make 10, 15, 20 years from now (for example, remember that the years in which a person is on disability retirement counts as years in service for recalculation purposes at age 62).  All in all, any decision that has such a small window of consideration must be scrutinized carefully.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: This Economy & Opportunities

I have written and emphasized this issue before, but it is an issue which must be reiterated, re-emphasized, and re-stated: those who file for and obtain disability retirement do not need to feel like their lives are being retired. This is not an admission or an acknowledgment of an end; rather, it is an opportunity for a beginning. Federal Disability Retirement is merely a time when one sector of one’s life is about to move on into a different sector and phase of one’s life. It is merely a concession that the long and productive career which one has enjoyed, is simply no longer the “best fit”, and it is time to go on and move on into another sector of life. Thus, a disability retirement annuitant has the opportunity, even in this tough economy, to look into multiple other and future opportunities. A disability annuitant has multiple advantages in this economy: excellent health insurance that is carried; an annuity which allows for him/her to work part or full time; the ability to pick and choose the opportunities; and a professional background and resume of a long and excellent career in the Federal sector. Disability retirement is an option and an opportunity; it is not the “end” of a career; rather, it is the beginning of a future opportunity.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire