Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Certainties and Presumptions

Life presents conundrums of certainties and presumptions; the former in order to retain sanity; the latter in order to appear sane.  A certain event is one which is expected to occur because of a natural law, a habitual repetition of reliance, or because the daily routine has engrained it upon our consciousness.  A presumption is a wish for certainty which may not even be rationally-based, but one in which we conclude will likely occur because of past events, contextual probabilities, and a sense that the present should reflect the historicity of the past.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, it is best to establish the strict bifurcation between certainties which are clearly so, and avoid presumptions.

It is certain that Federal Disability Retirement is a process which will likely require multiple stages to obtain; it is certain that the Office of Personnel Management will scrutinize each Federal and Postal employee’s application and find it deficient or inadequate; it is certain that one’s agency will likely be two-faced and feign loyalty and support but act in ways which defy such declarative embracing of the Federal or Postal employee.  Conversely, one should never presume that one’s case is a “slam-dunk”; nor that OPM will make a decision sooner than later; nor that OPM will provide a rationally-based reasoning for denying a case.

Hume and Berkeley aside, we live in a world where cause-and-effect are relied upon, and where the world does not merely depend upon our perceiving it; but certainties should always be tempered with an understanding that Federal Disability Retirement is an administrative process which must be fought for, then protected, and presuming an easy path with any Federal agency is to defy the logic which both Hume and Berkeley took to the extreme.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Friendly Supervisor

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the Supervisor — and therefore the Agency itself — will be informed of one’s application for Federal Disability Retirement, because of the requirement of the SF 3112B.

Standard Form 3112B is the “Supervisor’s Statement”; it is a form which needs to be completed by a Supervisor of the Federal or Postal employee who is applying for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Because the form must be completed by a Supervisor of the applicant, it is therefore presumed that “others” at the agency will come to know that the Federal or Postal employee has filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Often, the question is asked as to “when” the Supervisor should be informed of the employee’s application.  It can be a touchy issue.  Because the Federal or Postal employee contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits often feels a certain sense of loyalty, especially if the Supervisor has been “good” to him or her, the instinctive sense is to inform the Supervisor sooner, rather than later.  But remember that loyalty in the Federal government is almost always a unilateral approach; it runs one way — from the individual to the agency; rarely is it bilateral, where it runs both ways.

Further, once a Federal or Postal employee contemplates filing for Federal Disability Retirement, the loyalty of the Supervisor is normally seen as connected to, and only to, the agency; and the very fact that an employee has mentioned the term “Federal Disability Retirement” is often the turning point of any connective loyalty.

Loyalty is what one is doing now and for the future, not what one has done in the past.  Such words may invoke a sad truth, but one which should be heeded.

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

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Preparing for the Future

The problem of a “good worker” is that they rarely prepare for a future in which he or she is not as productive as in the present time.  Good workers don’t think in terms of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, and instead plow ahead despite the medical condition(s) , the pain, discomfort, or other signs of impending future consequences.

Federal and Postal employees work hard on a daily basis; many continue to work through their medical conditions, despite signs that they should heed, and despite warnings and protestations from their treating doctors.  Yet, preparation and groundwork for a potential Federal Disability Retirement applicant is often helpful.

Some simple tips:  Don’t try and mask or hide the symptoms of a medical disability or condition from your doctor.  It is important for the doctor to annotate such complaints or symptoms which have manifested themselves, first for purposes of treatment, and secondarily for purposes of establishing a history of the condition.

Further, don’t think that hard work in and of itself will engender irreversible loyalty from your Agency.  If a future time comes when you need the support of your Agency in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, don’t expect the Agency to suddenly show an undying sense of loyalty for all of those years of work and sacrifice; more likely, an Agency will show an acute sense of selective amnesia.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Agency Tendency

A Federal or Postal Worker who has worked for any number of years, already knows (intuitively) what the Agency’s response is going to be when he or she files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS:  Self-protection, minimal cooperation, and a “know nothing” and “do nothing” approach.  This is merely the tendency of most agencies.  Every now and then, there is an exception to this general perception of how a Federal Agency will respond and react; normally, however, any such exception is merely a reflection upon an exceptional individual — a supervisor who is truly looking out both for the best interests of the agency, as well as for a Federal or Postal worker who deserves praise and cooperation as he or she enters into a difficult phase of life. 

Agencies tend to respond in a “self-protective” mode; of covering itself; of being uncooperative, thinking that an individual who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is (A) no longer of any use to the agency, (B) reflects badly upon the overall perception of the agency, or (C) is merely faking the disability.  The truth of the matter is that a Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits has probably exhausted all possible alternatives, and has killed him/herself in trying to continue to work.  However, sympathy and empathy are two emotions which Agencies sorely lack in, both qualitatively and quantitatively; and as with all tendencies, it is good to be aware of them, if only to be on guard.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Time, Terms & Conditions

Never wait upon a Federal Agency to determine the time, terms and conditions for filing an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  While there are rare instances in which a potential applicant for Federal Disability Retirement feels an utmost sense of loyalty, such that he or she absolutely must inform the Agency of the impending desire and intent to file an application for disability retirement, in most cases it will simply backfire. 

Yes, there are those rare instances when an Agency reciprocates the many years of loyalty given; but even in those rare instances, there is nothing that the Agency can do which is of such value in a Federal Disability Retirement case which would warrant or justify the anticipatory probability that the reaction to such information may be to have enough preparatory time to undermine such an application. 

Yes, the Supervisor’s Statement could be helpful — but won’t the supervisor likely be helpful anyway, if he or she already has such a reputation, whether or not a potential applicant informs the agency (via the supervisor) a month or two beforehand? 

It is the applicant who is always at the disadvantage; as such, the applicant who intends to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS should be the one who controls the time, terms and conditions of when the Agency will be informed of any potential disability retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: The Right Time (Part 2)

How to determine when is the “right” time to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, and when is the right time — those are issues which are quite personal and peculiar to each individual case.  Unfortunately, it is the very inherent nature of medical conditions, medical disabilities, and the chronic & debilitating symptoms that accompany such conditions, combined with the strong sense of loyalty, commitment to duty, and the desire to continue to believe that a Federal or Postal worker will overcome the current condition of disability — that often prevents a person to come to the critical point of determining the “right time”.  And, to put it in its proper perspective, this is probably a good thing, insofar as being a reflection upon the character of most individuals. 

Most individuals have a strong sense of commitment and hard work, and most want to continue to believe that one’s condition of medical disability is merely a temporary state of affairs.  But when such loyalty and commitment comes at the price of one’s personal detriment, it becomes a negative thing.  The problem comes when all of the objective indicators are ignored — when sick and annual leave are being depleted; when excessive LWOP is taken; when performance at work clearly suffers; when each night and weekend are used to recuperate from the day’s work; when savings become depleted; when a sense of desperation sets in.  Then, when it comes time to make the decision, it becomes an emergency. At that point, while it is not too late to begin the process, it is probably less than the “right time” to have started the process.  While better late than never, it is a good thing to take affirmative control of one’s future, and not let events control it uncontrollably.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Agency Loyalty

Many people who call me and tell me their narrative about the Agency, the medical conditions, the growing inability to perform the essential elements of the job, and the resulting need to file for disability retirement, often reveal an undertone of a common element:  after so many years of loyalty, how could the Agency show such callous lack of caring? 

I don’t have an answer to the question of lack of empathy on the part of an Agency; Agencies are made up of individuals; individuals show varying degrees of care, sympathy, and loyalty, but only up to a point:  if such care or empathy will somehow be perceived to harm the “mission of the Agency”, or if walking the proverbial “extra mile” for an individual who needs some temporary support is quite simply seen as “not worth the trouble,” then the individual will simply turn his or her back on the disabled individual.  When the individual turns his or her back on the employee filing for disability retirement, then the Agency turns its back on the person; for, again, Agencies are made up of individuals.  But what about the loyalty that was shown by the employee for all of those prior years?  How about the years of doing overtime, of doing extra work without complaint, etc. — doesn’t that account for some bilateral, reciprocal loyalty?  Unfortunately, it does not amount to much. Loyalty in today’s society is defined as:  What have you done for me today?  For the Federal and Postal Employee who needs to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, expect the worst; expect that your Agency will not be supportive during the 6 – 10 month administrative filing process.  Then, if by chance, a supervisor shows some empathy and support, you will have been pleasantly surprised.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Reaction of the Agency

I am often asked whether or not, at the beginning stages of the process of filing for disability retirement (when medical narrative reports, records, & other supporting information is initially being gathered), whether it is a good idea to notify the Supervisor and/or Agency of the intent to file for disability retirement benefits. That all depends upon multiple factors. Often, the employee still desires to work. Because of the medical disabilities, and the continuing impact of the employee’s medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of the job, there is often the potential danger of an adverse Agency reaction — of using the statement of the employee to restrict or send the employee home, using the employee’s declaration of intention as an excuse that it was the employee’s own admission which resulted in such Agency action.

On the other hand, there are Agencies and Supervisors who, acknowledging the employee’s long tenure of loyalty, will “work” with the employee to provide some sort of temporary duties and accommodating employment stipulations. Such temporary measures are rarely considered to be “legally sufficient accommodations” under disability retirement laws, and therefore would have no impact upon any “accommodation issues” when the time of filing actually occurs. In the end, the timing and manner of informing the Agency and the direct supervisor must have the input of the employee — who knows his/her agency, and the potential reactions therefrom.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Further Basics

In tough economic times, it is often difficult to find that “silver lining”. This is even truer for my clients who obtain disability retirement benefits from the Federal Government, as well as those contemplating it. For, ultimately, I always find (without exception) that Federal and Postal Workers who are contemplating filing for disability retirement don’t want to be in the position he/she finds him/herself in.

They have been loyal and hard working Federal employees.  They have shown such loyalty through years and years of committed service.  But, for whatever reasons, and for whatever circumstances and situations, a sudden medical condition, or a degenerative medical condition, has brought that loyal employee to a point where he or she is no longer a “good fit” for a particular kind of job.  Such an employee can often be placed on a PIP (“Performance Improvement Plan”), or be given a Letter of Warning, or be placed on Leave Restrictions, or be told that no more light duties are available — all indicators that the Federal Agency or the particular Post Office is no longer willing to engage in “bilateral loyalty” — in other words, your 20 years of Federal Service will be rewarded with a boot out the door.  But such Federal and Postal employees must always have a positive attitude:  disability retirement benefits are there for you when they are normally unavailable in the private sector; while it pays a flat amount which one may not be able to necessarily live on, it is nevertheless a “base annuity” that can be depended upon.  And, further, a recent New York Times article concerning the state of the present economy pointed out what I have noted in the past:  Private Companies are hiring more and more older workers who have their own health insurance benefits, and who can work part-time without benefits.  That accurately describes the disability retirement annuitant, who is able to make up to 80% of what his/her former position pays now, on top of the disability retirement annuity, and retain life & health insurance benefits.  Always look for the silver lining.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire