OPM Disability Retirement: OWCP & the Deception of Temptation

It has happened many times before; is continuing to occur today; and will continue to entice unwary Federal and Postal employees throughout the country, throughout the year, and coalesce into a tragedy of errors — without any comedic value involved.

For Federal and Postal employees who become comfortably ensconced in the higher rate of compensation received from the Office of Worker’s Compensation Program, administered through the Department of Labor, under the Federal Employees Compensation Act, the notification (or not) of one’s separation from the agency’s rolls may come at a time when the Federal or Postal employee is distracted with more important issues at hand: personal matters; medical complications; perhaps just trying to get through each day within the traumatic universe of chronic pain or severe depression.

From the Agency’s viewpoint, the notification of separation from Federal Service, or termination of employment from the U.S. Postal Service, is merely another administrative detail to close out a personnel file — a mere name to be deleted, with future expectations of a replacement for a particular position.

From the Federal or Postal employee’s standpoint, it represents one’s life, career, end of a vocation which one worked so hard for — and, quite possibly, the foregoing of an important benefit if the Federal or Postal employee is unaware, or not made clearly aware, that the Federal or Postal employee only has one year from the date of separation from service, whether you are on OWCP rolls or not, to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Compensation from OWCP can be tempting and lull one into a false sense of security.  But the day may come when the Department of Labor terminates such payments; at that point, if the 12-month period has passed, you have no option to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  The deceptive temptation of OWCP may have some irreversible consequences.  Be aware of them.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Deception of Being on OWCP

“But I am on OWCP,” the caller insists.  “But that wasn’t the question.  The question is, are you still on the rolls of the agency?”  “But OWCP has been paying me for the last 2 years and…”

The deceptiveness of being on OWCP and receiving payment from Worker’s Comp results in a feeling of security and lulls one into a sense of comfort.  But receiving OWCP/FECA benefits does not mean that one cannot be separated from Federal Service.  Indeed, many people continue to remain on OWCP rolls, receive the non-taxable benefit, and believe that, because they are on OWCP, this somehow means that they have not be separated from Federal Service.  Beware.  Be aware.  While on OWCP, if the agency moves to separate you, that means that you have one (1) year from the date of separation to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS.

Being “on” the rolls of OWCP does not stop, prevent, or otherwise interfere with the agency’s determination or right to separate the Federal or Postal employee in order to fill that position.  Then, of course, once a person is separated, and over a year passes, one can no longer file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, if over a year passes by, because under the law (what is called the “Statute of Limitations“), a Federal or Postal employee must file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits within one (1) year of being separated from Federal Service.

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

OWCP versus OPM Disability Retirement

I still get periodic telephone calls with much misinformation, mixing terms applied to FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement with “Department of Labor Retirement” or Worker’s Comp retirement.  While there are indeed people who remain on OWCP temporary total disability for years and years, OWCP/DOL is ultimately NOT a retirement system.  It is a system meant to pay for injured Federal and Postal workers while he or she is recuperating from an on-the-job injury.

The Department of Labor thus does everything in its power to get the injured worker back to work, by various means:  assigning a nurse to “oversee” the treatment and “progress” of the worker; by sending the injured worker to second opinion doctors to see if there is a medical opinion different from one’s treating doctor; and other means which have nothing to do with the patient’s best medical interests.

I don’t handle OWCP issues; however, because many individuals who file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS have intersecting OWCP issues, also, I have some “on the job” knowledge of such issues.  Ultimately, a worker must decide between the two systems, although one can file for both benefits concurrently, one can only receive from one or the other — not both at the same time.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Last Minute Filing

Too often, I receive calls from Federal and Postal employees (or rather, formerly thereof) who have waited until the very last conceivable moment to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS.  Yes, I realize that time erodes away slowly, almost imperceptibly, and all of a sudden it is an emergency.  Can a case be put together within a couple of weeks?  Yes.  Is it best to wait until the very last minute?  No.  Remember that all Federal and Postal employees only have up until one (1) year from being separated from Federal Service, to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  But life happens; time slips away; what was once 6 months is now only 30 days, or perhaps 2 weeks. 

I may have told this story before, but here goes:  On the desk of a civil clerk in a local County Courthouse, is a sign which reads:  “The fact that you procrastinated does not make your filing my emergency”.  That is essentially true; however, whenever I get calls by panicked individuals who have failed to use the 1-year Statute of Limitations wisely, in most cases, I have been able to properly put the case together, and file it on an emergency basis.  In such circumstances, adaptation is the key:  some things need to be filed later, but the essential forms to meet the deadline must be immediately filed.  There are very few true emergencies in life, and most cases can meet the deadline — no matter how much the Federal or Postal Employee has procrastinated.  However, it is better not to wait until tomorrow, that which can be done today. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire