Federal Disability Retirement: Wait-time Extended

The time which takes from the assignment of a case number in Boyers, PA, to a decision rendered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in Washington, D.C., has been extended.

Recent articles regarding this issue have been slow to reveal the underpinnings of this growing problem, but the coalescence of multiple factors is making for a mini “perfect storm” of sorts, including:  Budget cuts which have forced disallowance of overtime and further hiring of additional workers; slow response to a progressively impending problem in the past couple of years; the threat of furloughs which restricts options available for OPM to respond; internal moving of offices within the same building at OPM.

Service is the essence of the function of government; when the essential function of government begins to disintegrate, it becomes a reflection on a growing, greater problem.  For Federal and Postal workers who have worked tirelessly towards their day of retirement, and for those Federal and Postal Workers who have been hit with a medical condition such that Federal Disability Retirement benefits is an option which must be relied upon, any extension of time in processing the application for disability retirement is an added burden which places great financial and emotional pressure upon an already-dire circumstance.

Fair or not, the reality of an administrative nightmare is steadily growing.

The good news is that there is such an option as Federal Disability Retirement benefits, and one which is a progressive paradigm for a society which understands that medical conditions may impact the Federal or Postal Worker, but that such medical conditions need not mean that a person is totally disabled — merely that there is an inconsistency between one’s position and one’s medical condition.

The bad news is that the wait-time to obtain such benefits has been somewhat extended.  The solution?  Only that filing sooner than later will place one in the proverbial line of the bureaucratic turmoil, only to slowly march forward towards the desired end.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: The Continuing Life

Snow.  Events such as a major snowstorm tend to have a myopic effect upon individuals, towns, cities, etc.; for, as the focus is narrowly placed upon the event itself, the beauty of nature’s blanketing is lost upon the urgency of what is announced.

Language has such an effect.  One becomes more comfortable reading about an event, rather than experiencing it.  Thus, one may google about a natural occurrence in one’s own neighborhood, when all that should be needed is to open the back door and look outside.

A corollary effect occurs in a Federal Disability Retirement case.  The “event” of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits becomes the singular focus for the Federal Disability Retirement applicant, and this is understandable, because the necessity of securing one’s future often depends upon obtaining the foundational economic and financial benefit.  But other aspects of one’s continuing life must concurrently progress in a linear fashion. For, the problem with waiting upon another, is that the “other” rarely notices or even cares.

OPM’s shutdown because of the snow will have the reverberating impact of slowing things down for another day, which will echo down the line for hundreds, if now thousands.  The ones who are impacted will be the Federal and Postal employees who have a dire need to have their Federal Disability Retirement cases decided.

From the “other’s” perspective, however, this is a snow-day.  Driveways to be cleared; kids to be attended to.  The continuing life.  If only that were so for everyone, including the Federal or Postal Worker who is awaiting a decision.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Unresponsive Agency

The complaints abound, and continue to exponentially increase; the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is way behind on its evaluation, review and decision-making process for all characters of retirements, disability retirements included.

It is a given that filing for Federal or Postal Disability Retirement, whether under FERS or CSRS, with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, must necessarily have an expectation of a time-consuming administrative process, precisely because of the encounter with a Federal bureaucracy.  But it seems that each year — nay, each month and week — the delays continue to expand.

At each step of the way, OPM has become more and more unresponsive, and with new cases coming in, the length of time at every stage, and “between” stages, has been extended.  The process itself contains inherent milestones of delay: from filing the entire disability retirement application to a facility in Boyers, Pennsylvania, which merely annotates the receipt of the case and inputs the case into the computer system; to thereafter sending the disability retirement application, with all of its evidentiary submissions and attachments down to Washington, D.C., where it must first await assignment to a caseworker; then, upon assignment, for the caseworker to even get to the applicant’s submission for review and evaluation.  Then, of course, there is the possibility that the entire packet will be selected to be sent out for review by a contract doctor.

The delays are beyond the control of the applicant, his or her OPM Disability attorney, or the agency for whom the applicant worked.  It is, ultimately, an administrative process which can be tedious, time-consuming, and fraught with delays and extended periods of silence.

Patience may well be a virtue, but the unresponsive manner in which the U.S. Office of Personnel Management has handled the delays, fails to engender much confidence in a system which should be most responsive to those in greater need.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Patience & Frustration

Stories now abound concerning the backlog at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management; and as has been often stated by the undersigned attorney, if the old adage that “patience is a virtue” is truly a truism, then Federal and Postal employees must indeed be the most virtuous of individuals in any given society, because the long wait in order to obtain a decision — favorable or otherwise (and, if the latter, then at least the Federal or Postal worker can assert his or his reconsideration or appeal rights in the matter) — on a Federal Disability Retirement application certainly tests the outer limits of one’s moral character.

The inverse emotional reaction to the moral character of virtue, is the expression of frustration.  Such an expression is the release of irritation, anger, and an overwhelming sense of angst at a system and administrative procedure which follows no rules, acknowledges no time lines, and concedes no boundaries of what a “reasonable” length of time would be defined as.

Then, of course, one always hears of “stories” about individual X who filed and got a decision within a month of a case being assigned; or that individual Y went into bankruptcy while waiting for OPM to make a decision.  It is best to refrain from comparative analyses; such stories, in whatever form and to what extent of truth is contained, will only increase the level of frustration, and further test the moral fibre of virtue.

While there is no single answer to the long waiting period which OPM has imposed upon the process, this much is true:  Approvals are being issued; decisions are being made on a daily basis; it is simply a matter of time.  In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, this period of waiting must be “factored in”.  But when such factoring has occurred, the actual period of waiting is indeed a frustrating part of the administrative process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Unfortunately, like a Toothache

Preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is analogous to having a toothache — a gnawing sense of foreboding during the entire process, especially during the long period of waiting for a decision from the Office of Personnel Management.  Then, like the extracted tooth which cures all ills, an approval from the Office of Personnel Management solves many of the problems, clears up much uncertainty for the future, and allows for a good night’s sleep for the first time in many months.

The difference between filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits and having a toothache, however, is that while the latter can have a solution fairly immediately, the former will linger for many months, and it is precisely the longevity of the process which is the most disconcerting.

Further, the fact that one’s own Federal agency, or the U.S. Postal Service, and specifically the Human Resources office of many agencies (there are, of course, exceptions to the general rule, though such exceptions are rare and delightful when found — sort of like coming upon a near-extinct species and recognizing the aberration of the moment) will deliberately and with purposive intent attempt to obfuscate and create unnecessary obstacles (isn’t that precisely why such euphemistic designations like, “The Office of Human Capital” is applied?) is itself disturbing, puzzling, and infuriating.  But like the toothache, all that can be done during the long administrative process is to wait for that moment of extraction — or approval, as the case may be.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: OPM, Patience & Frustration

After one’s Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS has left one’s agency (or, in the case of a Federal or Postal employee who has been separated from Federal Service for more than thirty one (31) days, filed directly to the Office of Personnel Management in Boyers, PA), it then goes to Boyers, PA for the intake processing part of the process.  

Thereafter, a CSA Number (if one is under FERS, the 7-digit number will begin with an “8”, and under CSRS it will begin with a “4”, with the eighth and somewhat irrelevant digit being a “0”), which is the case identifier for all Federal and Postal Disability Retirement applications, is assigned in order to be able to easily reference a case for purposes of discussion, adding or supplementing additional information, checking on the status, etc.  

Once it arrives in Washington, D.C., then the “real” waiting part of the process begins — first, waiting for it to get “assigned” to a Case Worker in the OPM Disability, Reconsideration & Appeals Division; then, once assigned, to have OPM review it.  Sometimes, a piece of information is found lacking or missing, and a letter apprising the Federal or Postal employee of such lack is sent out, allowing for the Federal or Postal employee to obtain such information within thirty (30) days of the date of the letter.  

OPM’s general policy is to try and make a decision on a case within 90 – 120 days of a case being assigned to a Case Worker, but that timeline is a malleable one.  One can easily add another 30 – 60 days to that block of time. What occurs during this block of time?  It is a mystery, remains a mystery, and retains the aura of secrecy and mystery.  

As frustration is the flip-side of the virtue of patience, as an emotional expression, it has little benefit or worth to the human soul.  Expression of frustration should be accomplished in constructive ways, and calling OPM in an angry outburst is not considered one of them.  Constrain the frustration; exhibit the virtue of patience; understand that time is a projection of an expectation of hope in one’s mind, quantified exponentially in a mire of frustration when one does not occupy the void and vacuity of time with other things to do.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Working while Waiting

Because of economic necessity, it is often advisable for Federal and Postal employees who are filing or have filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS to continue to work, to the extent possible, without damaging one’s health.  

Often, agencies will “accommodate” a Federal or Postal employee during the waiting process — utilizing the term “accommodation” in a loose sense of the word, and not in compliance with what the law requires in terms of the concept of “accommodation” for purposes of Federal Disability Retirement.  Thus, in the loose sense of the term, an Agency may temporarily accommodate a Federal or Postal employee with light duty work, suspension of one or more of the critical elements of one’s position (such as traveling, lifting certain heavy things, standing for extended periods of time, etc.), and that would be helpful to allow for the income to the Federal or Postal employee during the long administrative process.  

However, one should also be aware that, upon an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application from the Office of Personnel Management, any back pay will be awarded only to the last day of pay — whether it is for a full week’s wages or for a dollar.  

Thus, since back pay for the first year will be at a rate of 60% of the average of one’s highest three consecutive years, it is wise to calculate and see whether the amount of work one is performing falls below the 60% mark.  If it does, then it might be prudent to go out on LWOP.  On the other hand, it may well be that economic necessity will dictate one’s decision and force the issue, and that would be fine — so long as one makes a decision on matters impacting Federal Disability Retirement benefits based upon full knowledge and comprehension of all of the relevant facts.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire