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

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Basic Steps

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is often helpful to know the basic, physical procedural steps of filing.  It is the Office of Personnel Management which has the statutory mandate to make a decision of approval or denial on a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is located in Washington, D.C., with its intake office in Boyers, PA.  Thus, while the latter location is the central processing point where all Federal Disability Retirement applications are forwarded to by the various Agencies across the country, it is the former location which makes the decision of approval or denial on all Federal Disability Retirement applications.  

The various agencies themselves, from all across the United States, must process the applications by all current Federal and Postal employees by filling out certain portions of the application — the Supervisor’s Statement, Agency’s Efforts for Reassignment and Accommodation, Certificate of Service, Disability Retirement checklist, etc.  For Postal employees, the central H.R. Office is located in Greensboro, N.C.  

Once it is processed and routed through the National Finance Office, then it arrives in Boyers, PA where the initial processing of the Federal Disability Retirement packet begins.  From there, it is assigned a CSA Number (for FERS, the number begins with an “8”; for CSRS, it begins with a “4”), and sent down to Washington, D.C.  

For Federal or Postal employees who have been separated from Federal service for 31 days or more, the Federal Disability Retirement application must be filed directly with OPM in Boyers, PA, bypassing one’s former agency.

Some Agencies will have more localized Human Resources departments which comprise varying degrees of helpfulness and assistance; others have centralized H.R. offices with (again) varying degrees of efficiency and effectiveness.  As with all administrative processes in life, it is best to make “human” contact at each stage of the process, wherever possible.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Developing a Case

In most cases, the normal process of disability retirement for the First Stage of the process is anywhere from 6 – 8 months; some fall towards the 6-month range; some take longer than the 8-month range.  The difficulty in most cases is that the potential disability applicant/annuitant obviously wants to get through the process as quickly as possible, most often in order to get a sense of security for the future, that he or she will have the certainty of the Federal Disability Retirement annuity.  All of this is understandable. 

The process — of preparing; of submitting; of waiting as it winds through the various Agency channels and finally to Boyers, PA and then to OPM in D.C. — is a process of high anxiety and anticipation.  Sometimes, however, cases must be patiently developed.  By “developed”, I merely mean that, at times, the doctor is not ready to provide the proper medical narrative report, or to state in explicit terms that a person is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of his or her job, and that the medical condition will last for at least one (1) year.  Patience with the doctor as different modalities of treatments are applied, is often crucial in the development of a case.  My involvement in a case, even before it is fully developed, is preferred, only if to guide the client as the medical case develops, or — as is often the case — on issues involving how to respond to an Agency which is just as anxious for the whole process to begin and end, as is the client.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Client

Waiting for the approval/disapproval, the determination, the decision,etc., when the Federal Disability Retirement packet is sitting on OPM’s desk, is a passive modality of existence.  Up to that point, however, it is often a good idea to be actively involved in the process.

Whether having an Federal Disability Attorney or not, it is good to “flag” interim dates, to keep on top of how long it has been since the initial letters have been sent out to the doctors, to call the doctors and (diplomatically) ask for a reasonable time-frame within which to have the medical narrative reports written; to ask whether or not a fee is required to prepare the narrative report, and if so, how much, and if prepayment will expedite the report.

Then, once it arrives at the Agency H.R. people (or, in the case of the Postal Worker, the H.R. Shared Services Center in Greensboro, North Carolina), it is a good idea to periodically call (about every two weeks) to see what stage in the process your application is at.  Thereafter, once it is forwarded to the finance office, then on to Boyers, PA, it is a matter of waiting for the CSA number to be assigned, and then the long, arduous wait.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire
Federal Disability Lawyer

 

OPM Disability Retirement: The Long View

What I find when individuals have attempted to file on their own, and get it rejected, is the lack of preparing for the “long view.” Many people hear stories about how “such and such” obtained a disability retirement approval for “far less than the medical conditions I have.” Fair enough. Those stories may be true (I never engage in a discussion about the validity or truth of such stories; they are what they are — stories); nevertheless, there are multiple factors which are considered at each stage of the process of filing for disability retirement: Who the OPM Specialist is that will be reviewing an application; the subjective application of which criteria are applied in a given case; the personal and professional differences that arise between different bureaucrats at the Office of Personnel Management (no, don’t believe in the story that there is an “objective” methodology of applying the law when reviewing each disability retirement application); and multiple other factors, including whether or not your particular disability retirement packet was reviewed by someone at the Office of Personnel Management when he or she had a “bad day”.

To counter all of the multiple factors over which we don’t have any control, one must always take the “long view” — the view that it may take two denials, and end up before a Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board. At that point, it is important for the Judge to see how well-documented the case has been prepared; that legal arguments have already shown that OPM was unreasonable in its initial decision and its Reconsideration Denial; and how, despite additional attempts at fulfilling OPM’s requests for additional medical documentation, that OPM continued to be unreasonable. By preparing for the “long view”, a disability retirement packet not only has the best chance of getting it approved in the “short run”, but also at the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Process & the Office of Personnel Management

The “British Rule” is that “good manners will always get you through any and every form of trouble.”  The process at the Office of Personnel Management is a long and arduous one.  When the disability retirement packet finally arrives at Boyers, PA, it will often sit for approximately thirty (30) days, before it is finally assigned a CSA number (for CSRS employees, it will begin with the number “4”; for FERS employees, it will begin with the number “8”).  The Applicant will receive a form letter from OPM in Boyers, PA, informing you that you have been assigned a CSA number, and that it has been forwarded to the OPM office in Washington, D.C.  This is when patience and good manners must come to the fore.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with calling OPM and inquring about the status of your case.  However, always remember to be courteous; inquire as to the time-frame that the adjudicating disability specialist is expecting; and ask if it would be okay to call periodically, and to let him/her know that if any further documentation is needed, to give you a call — or, if you are represented, to call your attorney.  Whatever you do, do not get angry, and keep it professional — and courteous.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Process & Time

Time is also part of the entire process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement; time factors involve multiple issues from multiple aspects and perspectives:  The Statute of Limitations of filing a Federal Disability Retirement within one (1) year of being separated from federal service; the fact that the 1-year mark begins from the date of actual separation, not from the date of disability, or the date of one’s inability to perform one’s job (although those dates may, on occasion, coincide); the fact that the medical condition must last for at least 1 year (while, at the same time, recognizing that one normally should not wait for the year to pass before filing for Federal Disability Retirement, because most doctors can provide an opinion, within reasonable medical certainty, that the medical condition impacting one’s inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job will last for at least a year, normally quite early on in the process); the time it takes for the doctor to prepare a proper medical narrative report; the time it takes for the Agency to prepare and attach to the disability retirement packets its required forms; the time it takes for Boyers, PA to process the case and assign a CSA Number to it (which begins with a “4” for CSRS employees, and an “8” for FERS employees); the time it takes to get the case assigned once it is sent down to Washington, D.C.; the time it takes, once assigned, for an Initial Approval or Denial.  And, of course, all the while, during this entire “process” of time, issues as to whether the applicant should, could, or will continue to work, either at the Agency, in some light duty capacity, or in some other job.  These are all “time/process” issues which an attorney can guide and assist a client with, in the complex “process” of filing for Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire