FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: The 31-day Rule

Once a Federal Disability Retirement application has been prepared and formulated, the next step in the equation is to determine the proper destination for filing.

For all Federal and Postal employees, whether under FERS or CSRS, if one is still on the rolls of the agency, whether on Sick Leave, Annual Leave, receiving donated leave, or on LWOP, if separation from service has not occurred, then the Disability Retirement packet must go through either the local or district Human Resources Office of the Agency for further processing.  The Office of Personnel Management will not accept a Federal Disability Retirement application directly from the applicant, if the Federal or Postal worker filing for such benefits has not yet been separated from Federal Service.

For Postal employees, a further caveat concerning “separation” should be taken into account:  Often, the U.S. Postal Service will continue to retain workers on the rolls, even after proposing to remove them, and often even after issuing a decision letter on a removal.  A good indicator as to whether a Postal Worker is still on the rolls of the U.S. Postal Service is if the individual is still receiving “0” balance pay stubs.  This likely means that the person is still officially “on the rolls” of the U.S. Postal Service.

Further, while many Federal (non-postal) workers continue to have the benefit of a local Human Resources Office, or an assigned district H.R. Office, for the U.S. Postal Service employee, all Federal Disability Retirement applications must be processed through the H.R. Shared Services Center in Greensboro, N.C.

If a person has been separated from Federal Service for more than thirty one (31) days, then the former Federal or Postal Worker must file his or her Federal Disability Retirement application directly with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Thus, the first priority is to prepare and formulate a Federal Disability Retirement application; next, to ensure compliance with the 1-year statute of limitations; and finally, to file it via the proper channels.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Necessary Doctor

Ultimately, the doctor who is necessary is the one who will be supportive.  Whenever the question is asked of me whether it is “necessary” to have the support of this or that doctor, my answer is generic in nature:  It is better to have one excellent narrative report in support of one’s Disability Retirement Application, than to have 5 mediocre or lukewarm reports.  Excellence in a Federal Disability Retirement application is encapsulated by the level of passion and support by the treating doctor.  The character and texture of a medical report is not just a set of factual listings of medical conditions and a dry statement of an opinion; rather, the underlying sense of a doctor’s firm and passionate belief in a patient is often evident in the intangible underpinnings of a good report.  There are simply some reports written by a doctor where one knows that it is improbable that the Office of Personnel Management will want to entangle themselves in; the unequivocal voice, tone and tenor of such a report can make the difference between getting an initial approval of an Application for Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS, or a denial, resulting in the necessity of going to another stage of the process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Agency Supervisors

Federal Agencies, and the Postal Service, can act as little fiefdoms, with minimal oversight in the use of power. There is no school which teaches the proper use of power; power is something which is too often misused, misapplied, and abused. And, those who possess power, often exponentially apply it when the focus of such power has become vulnerable. Federal and Postal workers who suffer from a medical condition, who are in the vulnerable position of necessarily filing for disability retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS because of the imposition of an unwanted medical condition which impacts and impedes his or her ability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, are especially in a sensitive position, precisely because they are at the complete mercy of the Supervisor. Supervisors need to understand and appreciate the great power which he or she possesses. The powerful need not misuse such power in order to show how powerful he or she is; indeed, it is in the very act of kindness, empathy, and the ability to show sensitivity and “human-ness” which is the true showing of the powerful. Supervisors should “bend over backwards” to show what it means to truly be a Supervisor — one who recognizes and appreciates the long years of loyal service the disabled employee has shown; empathy for the vulnerable situation the employee now finds him/herself in; kindness in the treatment of the employee. Such kind treatment will go a long way towards encouraging a sense of community and family within an agency, and will foster the other employees in the department, office, and greater agency to work that much harder, knowing that it is not “just a job” — but a career worthy of greater devotion.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability: Perennial Issues

Like perennial plants, some issues continue to repeatedly crop up; once planted, they keep showing up in various question-forms.  The one which needs to be addressed, again, is the “1-year” issue:  there are actually two (2) questions which keep resurrecting themselves: A.  Filing a disability retirement application within 1 year of separation from service, and B. A medical condition which must last for a minimum of one year. 

As to the former:  The statute of limitations begins to toll when a person has been officially separated from Federal Service.  This means that the Agency must take you off of the Federal rolls.  If you continue to receive a paycheck, you are likely not separated (unless, of course, it is some form of a severance paycheck); if you receive a paycheck with “0-balances”, you are still not likely separated. If you are injured and you haven’t worked for a year, but you have not received notification that you have been separated from Federal Service, the 1-year mark has likely not begun.  On the other hand, if your SF-50 or PS Form 50 states that you are separated, then you are separated.  At that point, you have one (1) year to file your Federal Disability Retirement application. 

As to the latter (Issue “B” herein):  In most cases, it is a prospective issue.  It doesn’t mean that you must “have been” medically unable to work for a year; it doesn’t mean that you have to wait around for a year, out of work and penniless, for a year; it doesn’t mean that you must be on OWCP or on LWOP or on sick leave for a year — instead, it means that your medical condition must last for at least a year.  In other words, as is the case with most medical conditions, after a couple of months, your doctor should have an opinion — a “prognosis” — of how long your medical condition which impacts your ability to perform the essential elements of your job, will likely last, within reasonable medical certainty.  Indeed, since the Federal Disability Retirement process often takes from 8 – 10 months (from start to finish) to obtain an approval, by the end of the process, the full year will likely have occurred anyway.  In other words, you don’t need to wait around for a year to show that you can’t perform the essential elements of your job; indeed, that would be foolish. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Lawless Supervisor

Every now and then (or perhaps more often than we like to think) a Supervisor will fill out the SF 3112B (Supervisor’s Statement) with such venom and innuendo and half-truths, as to make the disability retirement applicant out to be John Gotti’s half-brother and reincarnate of the conceptual paradigm of the greatest incompetent the Federal Government has ever seen (next to the Supervisor himself, of course). Or, it will state that the applicant has been “under investigation”, or that he/she has “mislead” the Agency, or other such half-truth, unsubstantiated allegation. The problem in addressing such a Supervisor’s Statement with the Office of Personnel Management (if, in fact, one has the opportunity to address the issue before it gets to OPM or, as is more often the case, if the disability retirement application is denied, and the Supervisor’s Statement is referenced in the initial decision of denial), is the following: If you address it too forcefully, or emphasize it, then you are in danger of focusing the “fight” on the truth or falsity of what the Supervisor has said. In other words, you have essentially allowed the Supervisor to win the fight by shifting your focus upon the venom of the Supervisor. It is more likely the wiser course of action to grant minimal attention to the Supervisor’s Statement; give it the due response it deserves, addressing the falsity of the statement, and how it is entirely unsubstantiated; and, sometimes, express outrage that OPM would have even considered such scandalous charges when it has been unverified; then focus most of the attention upon the validity and force of the Medical Narrative Report that accompanies the disability retirement application. For, after all, always remember that this is a “Medical Disability Retirement Application” — with the emphasis upon “medical”, and not “Supervisor”.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Psychology of the Process

There is, of course, the “psychology” of the process of filing for disability retirement benefits. The term itself (psychology, psychological) is all too often misused. All that is meant in this context is that, at each stage of the process (the initial application stage; the Second, Reconsideration Stage; the Third, Merit Systems Protection Board Stage; the fourth & fifth stages of an appeal, either for a Petition for Full Review or an appeal to the Federal Circuit, or sequentially), the applicant should have a general idea of the level of people the Applicant is dealing with. Thus, for example, at the initial stage of the process, one should not expect the OPM Representative to be fully conversant in the law; whereas, if the case gets to the Merit Systems Protection Board Stage, the OPM representative is fairly well-versed in multiple aspects of the laws governing disability retirement. Additionally, the level of medical knowledge varies from one OPM representative to the next. This is not to say that each stage of the process requires a greater level of intellectual input or information; nor does it mean that each stage should be “tailored” based upon the expected level of competence. Rather, an awareness of what to expect, how to respond, and what level of intellectual responsiveness are all necessary ingredients in preparing and filing a successful disability retirement application. In short, it is important to know the “psychology” of it all.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire