OPM FERS/CSRS Disability Retirement: Until Sickness, Death or Getting Fat

It was once that marriage vows were viewed as sacrosanct; inviolable promises made, endured through hardship, bilaterally seen as a partnership made in heaven.

Then, of course, “no fault” divorces became the fashion; fashion itself (or lack thereof) was a grounds for de-coupling or un-coupling (it is difficult to keep up with the modern vernacular and introduction of new-age language); and so people began to “drift apart” and expunge from such eternal vows undesirable concepts such as “death” or “sickness” (for, as marriage ceremonies are supposed to be “happy” occasions, why insert such negative vibes into the mix?), but implicitly left in the ultimate ground and justification: getting fat (or old, or ugly).

A parallel approach is often taken in the employment arena: your loyalty is expected, but if you fail to produce, you can be terminated.  Whether such pervasive attitudes become commonplace because of the “throw-away” nature of goods purchased and items sold in the universe of commerce, is for social anthropologists to debate; the fact is, the issue can be viewed from both sides: from the employer’s perspective, too many employees jump ship soon after being trained and invested, seeking other opportunities and offers.

But that leaves us in the state of our being and choosing: both in family life and in careers, the fickle and unsteady nature of either reflects the very society in which we participate.

Businesses are rarely run like families — or, perhaps a truer statement these days is that, yes, they are run exactly like families, and quick divorces for the most spurious of reasons are sought and attained.  For the Federal and Postal Worker who finds him/herself with a medical condition, such that the medical condition prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, there is a price to pay for being a part of such a fickle system.

Federal employment is merely a microcosm of the greater system of employment encompassing Federal, State and private-sector economies; loyalty is no more precious in one sector than another.

From the Federal or Postal employee’s perspective, Federal Disability Retirement benefits must be an option which should be considered when a medical condition begins to impact one’s ability to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job.  From the Federal agency’s perspective, Federal Disability Retirement should be viewed as part of the larger promise of Federal employment benefits contractually offered, and when one partakes of accessing the promise, there should not be any grumbling, complaining, or retribution and retaliatory measures invoked.

But somehow, reality rarely follows the path of rationality.  As such, just as in messy divorces and other venues of uncoupling, one should always be cautious in whom to confide in, what to say, and when to reveal.  Federal Disability Retirement is a benefit accorded to all Federal and Postal employees, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS or CSRS, and is sought and obtained through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

While not as sacrosanct as marriage vows of yore, it is also not as fickle or easy to get because one has gained a little weight over the years. As such, any such attempt to file for OPM Disability Retirement benefits should be taken seriously and with deliberate care; sort of like what one should do before heading off to Las Vegas for a quick coupling, or uncoupling, whichever the case may be.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Separation from Federal Service

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management under either FERS or CSRS, the “clock” begins to run on the ability to even file, once a Federal or Postal employee has been officially separated from Federal Service.  

By “officially separated”, does NOT mean the following:  Being on LWOP does not begin to toll the statute of limitations; the date of injury does not begin the “1-year timeline”; being away from the job does not start the clock.  What counts as the beginning of the 1-year statute of limitations is the effective date of being separated from Federal Service.  

Such separation is normally accomplished by the Federal Agency and the Postal Service by (a) resignation or (b) an initiation of a proposed removal, then a decision on the proposed removal.  In either event, the result of the action by either the Federal or Postal employee or the Agency, is the issuance of an SF 50, which reflects the personnel action performed by the Agency, effectively and officially separating the Federal or Postal employee from Federal Service.  

Recognizing and knowing the date of separation from Federal Service is important in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, precisely because you only have one (1) year from the date of separation to file for such benefits.  If you file after the date, unless you fall into a very specific and limited category of individuals, you will have forever lost your right to file for OPM Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  You will likely have a “deferred retirement”, but your ability to file will have been lost forever.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The 1-Year Rule

Periodically, I remind everyone of the various “1-year” rules which govern Federal Disability Retirement issues under FERS & CSRS.  Since there are multiple applications of the 1-year rule, there is often a confusion which is still prevalent and ongoing.  Thus, here are some clarifications:  You must file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS either while in the employment of a Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service, or within 1-year of being separated from Federal Service

There are a couple of exceptions to this 1-year rule:  If you are found to be incompetent, you may be able to get a waiver from the Office of Personnel Management, but this is extremely rare and difficult to obtain.  Another exception, however, is found in the U.S. Court of Appeals case of Johnston v. OPM, where the Court found that if a person was removed for apparent medical reasons, but was never notified by the Agency, then the 1-year rule may be waived (this often happens to Federal and Postal employees who have been on OWCP for many years, and are forgotten and never informed of an initiation of an SF 50 separating him or her from Federal or Postal Service). 

The 1-year rule should not be confused with:  One’s medical condition needs to last for a minimum of 1 year (but this does not mean that you need to wait a year before filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits; rather, it merely means that your doctor expects that your medical condition will last for a minimum of 12 months).  I hope that this clarfies any confusions, and further, that it serves as a reminder to anyone who is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Attorney

OPM Disability Retirement: The Right Timing

Timing the preparation and submission, and ultimate separation/retirement from Federal Service in getting Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is rarely a method of precision; it is closer to art than it is to science.  That is because there is the “human” element involved — of when does the medical condition reach its critical point where one cannot withstand the daily and chronic pain; is the doctor ready to support the Federal Disability Retirement application; is the Agency sympathetic or suspicious; can the reduced finances be worked out for a livable standard of living; will the future allow for all of the elements to coalesce? 

There are many, many such human elements which must come into play.  All too often, however, the “right time” for contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is simply determined by external circumstances, such as reaching a critical point in one’s medical condition such that there is simply no other choice left, as opposed to being able to rationally and calmly make an affirmative decision for one’s future.  Whatever may be the particular and peculiar circumstances of a given Federal or Postal employee, the time to consider preparing a Federal disability retirement application must be a decision made by each individual, based upon that individual’s unique circumstances.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire