FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: OWCP Dilemma

Benefits received through FECA (Federal Employees’ Compensation Act), administered through the Department of Labor and otherwise known under the acronym of OWCP, provide for temporary total disability compensation during the time that a Federal or Postal employee is injured and is unable to go back to one’s former job.

It pays well.  The problem, often, however, is that it pays well enough just to maintain a person to prevent him or her from drowning.  This dilemma is highlighted by the fact that a Federal or Postal employee who is receiving OWCP benefits (scheduled awards excepted) is unable to work at a job (with some exceptions regarding a person who had already been employed at a second job when injured at his primary vocation) or receive additional earned income.

Federal Disability Retirement benefits, on the other hand, whether under FERS or CSRS, allows for earned income up to 80% of what one’s former position currently pays.

While the Federal or Postal worker is allowed to concurrently file for, and get approved, both Federal OWCP benefits as well as FERS or CSRS Disability Retirement benefits, if both are approved, you must choose between one or the other approved benefit, and allow the unchosen one to remain inactive.

While FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement benefits, filed and obtained through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, pays less than OWCP benefits, it is the added advantage of being able to work at another vocation which makes it more attractive.

It is like the difference between a shipwrecked victim who can hang onto a small floating device as opposed to a raft with oars; while the former allows for survival, it is the latter which will ultimately take one to the destination of final fruition.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Continuation of Work

There is often the question of whether, during the process of submitting a Federal Disability Retirement application with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, can/should one continue to work, and will such a status reflect negatively or adversely upon one’s Federal Disability Retirement application?

The question is a logical one, stemming from the seemingly self-contradictory nature of the dual assertion — one which is explicit (the Federal Disability Retirement application itself, where the Federal or Postal employee asserts that he or she can no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job), and the other which is implied (by continuing to work, does not one undermine the previous assertion?).

What complicates, confuses and muddles the issue further is the fact that, for FERS employees, the Federal Disability Retirement applicant must also file for Social Security Disability benefits (SSDI), and in order to do so, the requirement of being in a non-working status in order to qualify, only further confounds the issue.

But careful analysis will reveal that such apparent contradictions are merely superficial ones.  Hint:  Federal Disability Retirement merely requires a legal standard whereby one cannot perform all of the essential elements of one’s job; continuation in one’s employment capacity does not necessarily mean that one can perform all of the essential elements of one’s positional duties; rather, it means merely that there are certain elements which cannot be performed.

Further, with respect to the intersecting issue of SSDI, there is a distinction to be made between qualifying and filing.  Life’s contradictions are often merely surface-intersections between technical word-games.  Once the verbiage confusion is resolved, the conflict itself dissolves.

It is sort of like the difference between reading about a man falling off of a cliff, and actually being a tourist at the Grand Canyon and being the subject of a news story the next day.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Life after Disability Retirement

The focus upon the “now”, of course, can not be avoided; for the “now” constitutes the present circumstances, the period of preparing, formulating or filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management; where the medical condition impacts and prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; where the severity, chronicity and extent of the persistent pain, the overwhelming psychiatric infringement upon one’s ability to focus, concentrate, etc.; or where the ability to have the sustained stamina and daily energy has been depleted to such an experiential phenomena that the very “now” is all that one can focus upon.

There is, however, indeed a life after Federal Disability Retirement, and as much of the administrative process of obtaining the benefit is a long and arduous waiting period, it is beneficial to consider what will happen, what one will do, can do, etc., once an approval is obtained from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  Remember, in being approved for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, one can go out and earn up to 80% of what one’s former salary pays currently.

Further, this is not OWCP — where, if one is receiving temporary total disability compensation, you cannot work at all (there are some minor exceptions under FECA/OWCP rules, such as if you were working at another part-time position of a different nature prior to the accepted date of injury, you may be allowed to continue to work that “other” job, etc.).  Nor is this SSDI, where there is a severe cap on the limit of what one may earn (although, if one is getting FERS Disability Retirement concurrently with SSDI, then there is an offset between the two).

The period of waiting can be a fertile time of preparation for life after an approval.  Or, such future plans can be placed on temporary hold for purposes of using the time for recuperative rest.  In any event, the “now” is merely a passing time of fleeting moments, as a cherry blossom withering in the early morning dew as the sun begins to rise.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: 80% Rule

Around this time of year, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management sends out their Disability Earnings Survey to all Federal and Postal Disability Retirement Annuitants, to determine what earned income was obtained by the Federal or Postal Annuitant.  It is a simple form and should be completed and returned, and will not impact one’s Federal Disability Retirement benefit so long as one has remained under the 80% cap.

Now, as to determining how the Office of Personnel Management determines what is the “true” 80% cap, is another matter.  There have been wide discrepancies between OPM’s determination and the Federal or Postal annuitant’s assertion as to what the “current pay” of a former position is, or should be.  That is entirely a different area of law which the undersigned writer does not become involved in.

However, the wisest thing to do, unless one desires to become engaged in a continuing, protracted battle with the Office of Personnel Management, is to calculate the amount as conservatively as possible, and to take the lower amount and remain well under 80% of what one’s former position currently pays.  While this is sometimes difficult, remember that the benefits of retaining one’s Federal Disability Retirement annuity — of continuing Health Insurance Benefits, to name one — makes it worthwhile.  For, ultimately, one is potentially making 120% of what one was making before (80% of what one’s former position currently pays, plus the 40% of annuity).

Stay close to making 100%, if possible, and that will avoid future headaches.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: The 80% Rule and Other Considerations

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is always the future which one must plan for — the short-term future of obtaining Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management; the intermediate future of adjusting to the monetary reduction; the longer-term future of planning for another career, to supplement the income from one’s Federal Disability Retirement annuity.

As to the last factor, the “80%” rule must always be adhered to — that while FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement allows for a person to work in the private sector and make up to 80% of what one’s former position currently pays, the greater question often involves:  Doing what?  Federal and Postal workers who have worked in the Federal Sector have done so to perfect all of the skills and knowledge for a particular career path.  As such, as with most individuals, to become “disabled” from being able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job is devastating not only financially, but moreover, the impact is upon one’s “life work” in so many other ways — upon one’s identity, which is bundled up so intimately in one’s career and work.

Can an injured or partially disabled Federal Employee who has been approved for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS go out and obtain a State, County or City job, or one in the private sector, which is similar to one’s former Federal job?  The general answer is “yes” — so long as one adheres to the 80% rule, and so long as the “essential elements” which you could not do, are not required in the new job.  The trick is to differentiate and justify the distinction, and such differentiation and justification can involve both medical and legal issues which should be addressed prior to acceptance of the new non-Federal job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Agency, FMLA and LWOP

Because filing for Federal Disability Retirement is a process which may take 6 – 8 months, and sometimes longer, there is always the question of what the Agency will do during this time.  Of course, a Federal or Postal employee will often continue to work for as long as possible, and for as many days during each enduring week as possible, in order to survive economically during the process of preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  The medical condition itself, however, will often dictate the feasibility of attempting to continue to work. 

During this period, a Federal or Postal employee may have limited options — especially when Sick Leave and Annual Leave have been exhausted.  Protection by filing under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) will accord temporary protection and a buffer against a demanding agency.  A further request to be placed on LWOP beyond the 12 weeks which FMLA will allow for, will often be granted at the discretion of the Agency. 

If an agency places one in AWOL status, such an action by the Agency should be countered with documentation from one’s doctor which justifies the continued absence of the Federal or Postal employee.  Unfortunately, there is often no clear answer to the question, “What if my agency fails to cooperate while I am filing for Federal Disability Retirement?”  There are only responsive steps to take in order to protect the ultimate goal — that of obtaining an approval from the Office of Personnel Management.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The 80% Rule — Earned Income

As we reach the end of the year, Federal and Postal employees who are receiving Disability Retirement benefits, and who are working in the private sector, should remember the 80% earned income rule.  Be aware that a Federal or Postal employee who is under FERS or CSRS, and who is receiving a Federal Disability Retirement annuity, is allowed to make up to 80% of what one’s former position currently pays.  

While it is sometimes difficult to ascertain what the current pay scale is (and the Office of Personnel Management is often completely unhelpful, whether deliberately or inadvertently), it is best to always estimate “down”, so that one is never in danger of exceeding the cap.  Further, if the Federal or Postal employee in any given year exceeds the cap, then reinstatement of the Federal Disability Retirement annuity is allowable if in any succeeding year, he or she goes back under the 80% ceiling.  It is important to keep an eye on one’s earned income if one is to continue to maintain a Federal Disability Retirement annuity.  Planning is the key to the entire process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire