FERS Disability Retirement Attorney: The Social Security factor

For Federal and Postal employees under FERS, who now comprise the majority of the workforce in the Federal government, the issue of when to file for Social Security Disability benefits (SSDI) while concurrently filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is often a recurring question.

On SF 3112A, at the very bottom of the standard form, there are two boxes to check with respect to whether (A) Social Security disability benefits have been applied for, and (B) whether the receipt has been attached and included with one’s Federal Disability Retirement application.

Since most FERS Disability Retirement applicants are still on the agency’s rolls as either active employees, on Sick Leave, Annual Leave or Leave without Pay, the filing for Social Security disability benefits becomes an anomaly, a puzzle and a conundrum, precisely because of the following: Ultimately, the reason why Social Security disability benefits must be applied for, is to see whether or not a coordinating “offset” between FERS Disability Retirement benefits and Social Security disability benefits will be appropriately imposed (a 100% offset in the first year of concurrent receipt of benefits where the annuity rate for the FERS Disability Retirement annuitant is set at 60% of the average of one’s highest-3 consecutive years of service; then, every year thereafter, a 60% offset during each year of concurrent receipt of Federal Disability Retirement benefits at the Federal Disability Retirement annuity rate of 40% of the average of one’s highest-3 consecutive years of service); but presumably such an analysis leading to an offset would occur if an approval by the Social Security Administration is based upon information concerning the severity and extent of the medical condition and disability, and not because a denial of Social Security disability benefits is based upon one’s status of employment.

But here is the “rub”:  Human Resource Offices often will demand and insist that Social Security disability benefits must be filed for, before the Federal Disability Retirement application can be forwarded to OPM.  Nothing could be further from the truth; but then, as gods, dictators and other power-wielding fiefdoms comprise the vast expanse of authoritative sources in the universe, it is often a good idea to go with the flow, file (with minimal effort expended), obtain a receipt which shows that one has filed, and be asked at a later date to duplicate the effort, if needed.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Interactions

Preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is a necessary step for a Federal or Postal employee who finds that he or she can no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job because of a medical condition.  

In doing so, there are obviously potential interactive processes which one must consider.  If the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS, then you must file for SSDI (Social Security Disability benefits), because that is what the law requires.  

Further, one must determine how aggressively, to what extent, and to what end and purpose one needs to file in pursuing SSDI concurrently — for, if one is planning on working at another, separate job while receiving a Federal Disability Retirement annuity, then the cap imposed by SSDI as opposed to the 80% allowance for FERS Disability Retirement without SSDI, needs to be taken into consideration.  Such future planning will then determine the course of one’s actions, as to how hard one will try and obtain SSDI benefits.  

Additionally, if the medical condition arose from a work-related injury, then obviously filing a claim concurrently with the Department of Labor, Office of Workers Compensation under FECA should be contemplated.  

Then, there are those who, whether by accident or wisdom and foresight, obtained and paid for throughout the intervening years, a private disability insurance policy.  Such private disability insurance policies are essentially contracts — and whether there is an offset with Federal Disability Retirement benefits, Social Security, or OWCP depends upon the “fine print” of the contract.  

One minor note as to private disability policies:  The time to read the fine print is when the insurance agent is trying to sell you a policy — not when you need to apply for the benefits.  Private policies can be negotiated, and the terms can be amended.  

Finding a negative consequence after the fact is a costly error in judgment which can easily be mitigated by spending a few moments at the outset.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: FERS & SSDI Filing

At some point in the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS (CSRS is exempted from this particular aspect), the Federal or Postal employee must file for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.  FERS employees are under the Social Security System, and the reason behind the requirement of filing is to see whether or not the Federal or Postal employee will concurrently be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.  

Most Federal and Postal employees are not eligible for Social Security Disability benefits, because the higher standard of “total disability” does not apply to the Federal or Postal employee who is filing under FERS, which has a lower standard of being unable to, because of a medical condition, perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  

The requirement to file for SSDI under FERS is one which must be satisfied at or prior to the time of an approval by the Office of Personnel Management.  It is not, as many Human Resources Departments of various agencies will erroneously inform you, a precondition to filing for FERS Disability Retirement benefits. The only requirement which must be satisfied is that, at or prior to the time of an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application issued by the Office of Personnel Management, a receipt showing that one has filed for SSDI benefits must be presented to OPM before OPM will process the approved Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS.  This is to ensure that, prior to payments being issued, it has been determined that no offsets with SSDI will be necessary.  

Again, at or time of the approval of a Federal Disability Retirement claim, is the requirement of presenting a receipt showing that a Federal or Postal employee has filed for Social Security Disability benefits.  It is NOT a precondition of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits with the Office of Personnel Management.  It does NOT have to be done sequentially — and this is where Agencies misinform Federal and Postal employees.  One does not have to file for, let alone get approved for, Social Security Disability benefits prior to filing for FERS disability retirement.  I don’t know how much clearer I can state this fact.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: FERS & SSDI

Of course one must file for SSDI (Social Security Disability benefits) when a Federal or Postal employee under FERS (the Federal Employees Retirement Systems, as opposed to CSRS, the Civil Service Retirement System) files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  If approved by Social Security, there is a 100% offset of benefits in the first year, and a 60% offset of benefits every year thereafter until age 62.  The real underlying question for most people, is how aggressively one should, or one wants to, pursue Social Security benefits.  This is often determined by what one plans to do after becoming a Federal Disability Retirement annuitant.  For, if you plan to work part or full time, and think that you will be earning more than the yearly ceiling allowable under SSDI, which is around $12,000.00 per year, then it is probably not worthwhile to pursue it very aggressively.  On the other hand, if you plan on relying exclusively on your disability annuity, it is probably a good idea to pursue it with the intent of obtaining it. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Agency Interaction

Federal Agencies often act like little fiefdoms.  This is not necessarily a negative thing; each agency is an independent entity, and each has a province of responsibilities which it must carry out and execute according to the statutory mandate provided by Congress.  As independent entities, each agency acts without coordination or regard to other agencies. 

Thus, while approval for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration will mean an offset of monetary payments under FERS, such interaction between the two agencies simply goes to the financial payments — not to the substantive issues of approval or disapproval of a disability retirement claim.  Similarly, while receipt of temporary total disability payments from the Office of Worker’s Compensation Programs means that you cannot concurrently receive payments under CSRS or FERS disability retirement (unless you are receiving a scheduled award from OWCP/DOL), the substantive basis of approval or denial of a claim rarely overlaps.  This is because each agency has its own independent criteria for eligibility — meaning that, for Social Security, the “disability” has a higher standard of “total disability”, whereas under FERS & CSRS, it is a lower standard of “inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job”.  Similarly, with OWCP/DOL, the issue of “causality” and whether it is “work-related” is often the important component of consideration. 

All of this is not to say, however, that an approval of a disability benefit from one agency,or a report from a doctor considered for one benefit, should not be used by the applicant for submission to another agency.  Indeed, this should be done — but carefully, and with thoughtfulness. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Social Security Disability

Under the rules concerning FERS disability retirement applications, one must file for Social Security Disability.  As most people already know, there is an interaction/offset between Social Security Disability benefits and FERS disability benefits, if both are approved (100% offset in the first year of annuity, 60% offset every year thereafter).  One would assume (dangerously, as it turns out), that if an application for Social Security disability is approved, that it would automatically render an approval under FERS disability retirement a “sure” thing.  Nothing could be further from the truth. 

The fact that Social Security has a higher standard of proof — where one must be considered “totally disable” as opposed to (under the legal standards for FERS) “disabled from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job”) — one would think that, legally and logically, if you have met the higher legal standard of proof, then the lesser standard would have been automatically met.  Unfortunately, because the two standards are applied in different, independent agencies, the fact that Social Security Disability benefits are awarded is not a guarantee that the FERS disability retirement application will automatically be granted.  However, there is clear case-law stating that OPM must consider the approval by SSD as one factor among many in the consideration of FERS disability retirement applications.  It is important to cite such cases in support of your application for FERS disability retirement.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire