Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: 80% Rule

Around this time of year, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management sends out their Disability Earnings Survey to all Federal and Postal Disability Retirement Annuitants, to determine what earned income was obtained by the Federal or Postal Annuitant.  It is a simple form and should be completed and returned, and will not impact one’s Federal Disability Retirement benefit so long as one has remained under the 80% cap.

Now, as to determining how the Office of Personnel Management determines what is the “true” 80% cap, is another matter.  There have been wide discrepancies between OPM’s determination and the Federal or Postal annuitant’s assertion as to what the “current pay” of a former position is, or should be.  That is entirely a different area of law which the undersigned writer does not become involved in.

However, the wisest thing to do, unless one desires to become engaged in a continuing, protracted battle with the Office of Personnel Management, is to calculate the amount as conservatively as possible, and to take the lower amount and remain well under 80% of what one’s former position currently pays.  While this is sometimes difficult, remember that the benefits of retaining one’s Federal Disability Retirement annuity — of continuing Health Insurance Benefits, to name one — makes it worthwhile.  For, ultimately, one is potentially making 120% of what one was making before (80% of what one’s former position currently pays, plus the 40% of annuity).

Stay close to making 100%, if possible, and that will avoid future headaches.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Projecting Forward

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS (while the statutory references and case-laws applying to each retirement system may be different, the basic substantive laws governing each are essentially identical), it is important always to project forward, to prepare for the eventuality, and to consider the options so that events don’t take control, as opposed to the Federal or Postal Worker (to the extent possible) maintaining control of the present and future events as they unfold, with the multiple and varied contingencies which can reasonably be predicted.

For instance, upon an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application from the Office of Personnel Management, the rate of annuity compensation begins at 60% of the average of one’s highest three consecutive years of service.

That first year, then, should be looked upon as a “transition” period for the Federal or Postal worker — with the full knowledge that in the following and subsequent years, the annuity will drop down to (and remain until age 62, when the disability retirement annuity becomes recalculated and converted administratively into a regular retirement, based upon the total number of years of Federal service, including the time on Federal Disability Retirement) to 40% of the average of one’s highest three consecutive years of pay.

That being said, viewing the first year of annuity payments as a “transition” year means that one should be projecting forward as to what one will do in the following and subsequent years.  What kind of work will one do?  How will you make up the difference and reduction in annuity payments?  What preparations are or will be made for the reduction?  Will supplemental income be needed?  Will it be part-time or full-time?  What is the maximum allowable earned income which one can receive?  These are all transition questions which are important in planning for the projected future, forward.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: Changes & Transition

Change is a necessary part of life; indeed, this is a time of change for many, as schools end, young men and women graduate from college; people often get married in the months of spring & early summer, etc.

As one grows older, and one becomes more “entrenched” in one’s career, finances, and daily routine & family life, “change” becomes a greater hardship.  Indeed, for those filing for OPM Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, it is precisely “change” which is the hardest aspect of the entire process of transition.

For, the contemplation of filing for Federal Disability Retirement means the formal beginning of the transition of one type of daily living, with a transformation into a completely different set of paradigms of daily life.

This is often the hardest part of the entire process.  It is hard enough financially and medically to deal with many of the changes.  One way in which to deal with such changes and the difficult period of transition, is to take an affirmative view of things when beginning the process of preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS — to begin the process on your own terms, by speaking with an attorney for guidance and advice, and by refusing to allow circumstances under the control of others — especially your own agency — to dictate the time, terms, and conditions of this major life change.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The 80% Rule

I recently wrote an article on FedSmith.com concerning the legal process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, and a reader posted a comment implying and suggesting a lack of understanding about a benefit which would allow for payment of 40% of the average of one’s highest three consecutive years, and in addition, to allow for that annuitant to make up to 80% of what the former federal position currently pays.

I beg to differ. The purpose of allowing an annuitant to potentially go out and earn additional compensation in the private sector are multi-fold: it allows for an individual to remain productive; he or she continues to contribute in the workforce and, as a consequence, pays taxes, FICA, etc.; the amount of 40% (after the first year) is an incentive to go out and do something else. Further, Federal Disability Retirement benefits are part of a compensation package offered to a Federal or Postal employee — it is part of the total employment package, and there is certainly nothing wrong with taking advantage of that employment benefit if and when the need arises. The truth is that most people don’t get anywhere near the 80% mark, but hover closer to the 40 – 50% mark, and together with the disability annuity, are able to make a decent living. All in all, the 80% rule is a smart and thoughtful incentive for those who are disabled.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Recognition

People who are considering filing for disability retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS often come to a recognition that there is life after the Federal Government, right around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the holiday period in between.  Why?  Because when family, friends and loved ones gather around, and there is some time to recuperate and rejuvenate from the daily grind which further exacerbates and worsens one’s medical conditions, the time of respite, the time of peace and quite, of reflection and time reserved away from work, allows for people to recognize that, Yes, there is life beyond the job, and second, that to continue the daily grind until retirement may result in the inability of one to enjoy one’s retirement in later years.  Good health is a gift; all too often, we misuse that gift.  Happy Thanksgiving to all, and please enjoy a safe holiday weekend.

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

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Right Questions

Often, a person who is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS doesn’t know the “right question” to ask in order to make a proper decision.  Because a medical condition often leaves a person with daily and profound fatigue  (both physical and cognitive), it is enough just to get through the day, come home and attempt to recuperate and regain enough strength to try and make it back to work the next day.  Then, of course, there are the financial worries — whether or not the disability annuity will be enough to support a family; whether a person will be able to supplement his or her income with a part-time job in this tough economy; or whether Social Security Disability benefits can be approved and, even with the offset, allow for enough income for some semblence of financial security. 

All of these questions — or concerns — are clearly legitimate ones, and provide a good foundation for determining the viability for filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  But there are others, also:  What will happen if you don’t file for disability retirement benefits?  Will you be placed on a PIP?  Will you receive an unsatisfactory performance rating?  Will you last until retirement age?  If you last until retirement age, will you have the health necessary to enjoy your retirement?  Is it time to start a small business venture in this tough economy, and if so, when the economy begins to recover, will your small business grow with a growing economy?  Will your supervisor support your extended absences or over-use of sick leave for much longer?  Is the work that is getting backed up placing more pressure on you, such that it is exacerbating your medical condition further?  Think through the questions seriously.  It may be time to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement in a Tough Economy

Healthy individuals may wonder why, in such a tough economy, an individual would consider filing for Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS.  This is an economy which has been shrinking and shedding employees.  Yet, for the Federal or Postal employee whose health and increasingly debilitating medical conditions directly impact one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job, the choice is actually not all that convoluted. 

Where a Federal or Postal employee can no longer perform the job; where sick leave and annual leave have been exhausted to go to doctors’ appointments, or just to stay home to recover enough to make it into the office for another day; or for those who are on LWOP for greater than the time working; in such circumstances, the stark reality is that a disability annuity is better than what the future may offer otherwise.  Removal for unsatisfactory performance; being placed on a PIP; being told that there is no more work at the Postal Service; being counseled for performance issues; these are all indicators of the proper choice to make.

Yes, it is a tougher economy; but when the economy begins to rebound, the first people that private employers turn to hire are those who are essentially independent contractors; and, especially with the looming overhaul of private health insurance, a former government worker who carries his or her own health insurance is, and can be, an attractive worker to a private employer.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Initial Step Is the Most Difficult

I find that the initial step in filing for Federal Disability Retirement is the most difficult step for people to take.  It is often a psychological block.  I have spoken on this issue in the past.  For a Federal or Postal worker, especially in these constrained economic times where the job market outside of the Federal Sector appears restrictive, at best, the pressure of one’s medical conditions and the impact upon one’s job, results in an anxiousness when it comes to filing for federal disability retirement under FERS or CSRS.  Certainly, it is a significant pay cut.  Certainly, it is a worry that — although one may be able to make up to 80% of what one’s (former) Federal salary currently pays — it may be that the private sector may not offer the opportunities to make up the difference in the pay cut.  Yet, the choices are often stark and untenable; for, at some point, it becomes clear that one’s medical conditions prevents one from performing the essential elements of the job. 

As such, the only and best choice is to move forward:  in fact, even in this economy, creativity will be rewarded.  Private companies actually find independent contractors who carry his or her own health insurance a plus; part-time work is offered more readily in a bad economy precisely because it allows for companies to obtain necessary work and skills without having to pay the “extra” benefits.  The initial step is the most difficult; after stepping beyond the difficulty, Federal and Postal workers who obtain disability retirement benefits find that there is a different and better future — even in this economy.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire