Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: To File or Not to File

The famous Shakespearean refrain is from Hamlet’s soliloquy, and concerns the choices of one’s life, of comparative analysis of meaning, value and purpose; but ultimately it is a question of choices — akin to Camus’ evocative essay in The Myth of Sisyphus.  Choices are what confront us daily; and some, unless we opt to proactively pursue the right path, are lost forever.

For the Federal or Postal Worker who has been separated from Federal Service, the angst of filing often prevents them from choosing.  But with a legal Statute of Limitations barring the Federal or Postal worker from filing after one (1) year of being separated from Federal Service, it is at a minimum important to file, than not to, in order to preserve the right to potential eligibility of benefits.

Not to file within the deadline bars the Federal and Postal employee from ever making an argument, ever seeing whether one is eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS; by filing within the deadline of one (1) year, one can always likely supplement one’s case, make further arguments, reinforce one’s case after the deadline; but if one fails to file within the statutory deadline, then one is silenced forever.

The choice of Hamlet is indeed a stark one, and one which Camus reiterated as one of “why” in facing the existential reality of survival; for Federal and Postal workers who face a statutorily-imposed potential for being barred forever, a similar encounter with reality must be faced:  to file or not to file.  Only the former choice makes sense, while the latter option propels one into the great void of nothingness and nihilism — a state of non-existence which one should never choose.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: The Last-Minute Application

If one fails to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (i.e., the Statute of Limitations for all Federal and Postal employees in filing a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, is 1-year from the time of separation from Federal Service) within the time prescribed, then one cannot make any legal arguments or supplement one’s case — precisely because the Federal or Postal (former) employee has failed to meet the minimum statutory deadline.

However, once filed, the case can be supplemented and “added to”; additional evidentiary documentation may be submitted; but amendment to the Federal Disability Retirement application will be severely limited, because you cannot withdraw the application in order to change it — if the withdrawal is effectuated after the 1-year Statute of Limitations passes.  This is because the Federal or Postal Disability Retirement applicant is restricted by the rules governing SF 3112A, where one cannot “add to” the list of diagnosed medical conditions once it is received by OPM (although there are ways to characterize such identified conditions to somewhat circumvent the restrictions).

Sometimes, because of the medical condition itself, or for unforeseen circumstances which are beyond the physical, emotional or cognitive control of the potential applicant for Federal Disability Retirement, such procrastination is simply a fact which must be dealt with.  Whether the day before the 1-year cut-off, or 10 months before, once filed, at least the Federal or Postal employee will have the opportunity to make legal arguments, and for the most part, the ability to supplement his or her case.

It is only if it is NOT filed on a timely basis, that such additional activity will then be precluded.  Thus, the obvious rule:  File before the deadline.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Misinformation Leading to Self-defeating Actions

The “I was told” phenomenon is pervasive in our society, where information is plentiful, and more dangerously, where the dissemination of such information, at no cost to the recipient (except for detrimental consequences resulting from reliance upon the purveyor of such vast knowledge of unsolicited tidbits), is promulgated without discretion or discriminating tastes.

It is the one aspect, of course, in which George Orwell was perhaps mistaken; for, in his book, 1984, Orwell conveys the notion that it is the societal limitation of words which will lead to restriction of knowledge.  In the modern world, however, it has become the unfettered expansion of any and all information, which has had the collateral effect upon society of engendering dangerous ignorance.

In preparing, formulating, and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is important to first obtain accurate information, then to determine the relevance and applicability of such information, then to act upon it.

The “I was told” phenomena should be ignored, as such nebulous sources of information, unless verifiable, should never be relied upon.  For example:  Having an active EEO matter does not extend the Statute of Limitations in being required to file a Federal Disability Retirement application within one (1) year of being separated from Federal Service.  And another: One does not need to, and should not, wait for Social Security to make a determination in order to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits for OPM.

Remember always that the 1-year Statute of Limitations is a “hard” limitation; there are only a limited number of exceptional circumstances which can climb over that obstacle, and one should not try to test the strength or height of that wall.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Meaning of Separation from Service

The 1-year rule, or more properly, the Statute of Limitations, continues to be confused at various levels.  The beginning point in understanding the rule must always be to first clarify what constitutes the trigger-point; for, if one does not know what represents the first day of the year, how can one calculate the remaining 364 days?

First, in negative form:  Being on LWOP, Sick Leave, or any time of leave, does not constitute a separation from service.  Indeed, logically, if one reflects upon it for a moment, the very fact that one is on some type of leave would imply that one is on leave “from” an agency, thereby inferring that no separation from service has yet occurred.  Thus, separation from Federal Service is an event which occurs when a Federal or Postal employee affirmatively resigns; is issued a termination or separation letter; or is issued a personnel action on an SF Form 50 or PS Form 50, showing that Federal or Postal employment has been terminated.

For Postal employees, if you continue to receive a “0”-balance pay stub, it likely means that you have not yet been separated.

Obviously, for Federal Disability Retirement purposes, whether under FERS or CSRS, knowing whether or not you are separated from Federal Service is important, because the Office of Personnel Management will not make a determination on the substantive basis of a Federal Disability Retirement application if it has been filed in an untimely manner (i.e., after a year has passed from the date of separation).

Then, of course, there is also the “other” 1-year rule, of showing that one’s medical condition will last for a minimum of 12 months.  But let us not get ahead of ourselves and confuse and conflate the two.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

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

OPM Disability Retirement: Recurring Particular Issues

Issues in life often recur repetitively without rhyme or reason; as a rule of life, it becomes true “all the more” with mistakes in life.  Thus, particular issues in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, seem to resurface regardless (I would enjoy writing “irregardless” just to irritate those who are alert enough to recognize the nonsensical nature of such a term, but I refrain) of the number of times such issues are addressed or corrected.

Three such issues are:  A.  Filing for SSDI.  Yes, it does need to be filed.  No, it does not technically need to be filed in sequence; moreover, while many Human Resources (one agency calls it “Human Capital”, which is viewed as a self-contradiction and an inside joke) offices misinform Federal and Postal workers that you have to wait for a decision of approval before filing for Federal Disability Retirement, the Federal or Postal Worker should refuse to listen to such misguided misinformation.  Technically, the only time OPM needs a receipt showing that one has filed for SSDI is at the time of an OPM approval.  However — yes, just to get it over with, you should just go ahead and file online, and print out a receipt showing that you filed, and attach it with the Federal Disability Retirement application.  B.  Time of filing:  within 1 year of being separated from Federal Service.  No, LWOP or being on sick leave does not begin to toll the 1-year Statute of Limitations.  C.  One’s medical condition must last for a minimum of 12 months.  No, you do not need to wait for 12 months and endure your medical condition.  Most doctors can provide a prognosis of the extent of your medical condition early in the process.

Don’t let the irony of life rule one’s actions.  Mistakes and misinformation abounds, but how one responds is the key to successful living.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: “Soft” Deadlines and Opportunities

It is exasperating to observe how unilateral and “unfair” deadlines are treated for Federal Disability Retirement applications, whether under FERS or CSRS, for Federal and Postal employees.

There are, of course, the “hard” deadlines — of filing for a Request for Reconsideration (30 days — to be on the “safe” side, from the date of the letter of denial from the Office of Personnel Management); for filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (1 year from the date of separation from Federal Service); of filing an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (again, to be on the “safe” side, within 30 days from the date of the denial from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management); and similar hard deadlines.

Then, of course, there are the “softer” deadlines, of responding to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in substantive form — of submitting additional medical documentation within 30 days, and similar such “softer” deadlines. They are “soft” deadlines only because the U.S. Office of Personnel Management will not get to one’s file and begin the process of review, evaluation and analysis until well beyond the passing of the so-called deadline.

The frustrating part of it all, of course, is that while the Federal or Postal applicant is restricted by both hard and soft deadlines, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is oblivious and unaffected by any deadlines whatsoever. However, the optimistic viewpoint is to see the “soft” deadlines as opportunities to submit additional medical documentation, arguments, and relevant evidence, any time during the process — before, or even after, either a “soft” or a “hard” deadline comes about.

There is one exception, however: the Statute of Limitations. In that event, as the undersigned has repetitively stated, unless one meets that one particular deadline in form, there is no basis to make any substantive arguments, because the Statute of Limitations is the point of essence where form and substance coincide.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: OWCP, EEOC, Grievances & the Comfort Zone

Medical conditions are often accompanied by the necessity to engage in certain forums, to initiate particular legal actions, and to file for alternative means of compensation.  Actions of necessity often come in bundles, and this is natural, as a single event can spawn multiple avenues of legal relief, and reflect various responses by the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service.

Thus, a medical condition — whether work related or not — can result in Agency retaliation, persecution, adverse actions, subtle changes of attitudes, etc.

It is therefore not a surprise that a Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, also has parallel actions which may include the wide spectrum of a simple Grievance, to an EEO Complaint; a concurrent OWCP/Department of Labor case (for an application of compensation based upon a medical condition or injury resulting from an on-the-job incident or on an occupational disease claim, etc.); a claim of hostile work environment, retaliation; assertion of the whistleblower provision, etc.

As an attorney who specializes in obtaining Federal disability retirement benefits for Federal and Postal employees, one observes the following:  there is often a mistaken belief that being involved in parallel or alternative routes of litigation somehow delays the need — whether practically speaking, or in terms of the 1-year Statute of Limitations — for filing of Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management.

This mistaken belief often stems from a “comfort zone” that arises — whether because OWCP is paying on a regular and monthly basis, and so the financial concern is not presently and immediately existent; or because one is continually engaged in some form of contact with the Federal Government through alternative litigation, that the 1-year requirement to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is automatically delayed.  The Statute of Limitations is not a sympathetic statute.

A personal comfort zone is not a basis to delay what the law requires.  Immediacy of an event should not be the basis of whether to file for a claim or not.  Planning for the future is the important basis to act, and preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is something which every Federal or Postal employee should be considering concurrently with all other forums and avenues of compensation.  A man can do more than one thing at a time, and preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits should be one of those multiple issues to be embraced.

Don’t let a present comfort zone deny you the right of a secured future.

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

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Statute of Limitations

In filing a Federal Disability Retirement application with the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, one must file within one (1) year of being “separated from service”.  That is what is often referred to as the “statute of limitations” — a limit placed upon the ability of a Federal or Postal worker to file for a claim, based upon pragmatic policies of making sure that a claim is “recent” enough to allow for evidence which is neither stale nor outdated.  

There is sometimes a level of confusion as to what it means to be “separated from service”, and it often appears that such confusion arises from mixing issues with other administrative claims.  Thus, OWCP/FECA has its own sets of rules; Social Security has its own set of rules, etc.  For Federal Disability Retirement applications under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management, to be “separated from service” and thus to trigger the 1-year timeframe, means that a Federal or Postal worker is terminated, taken off the rolls, and an SF 50 and PS Form 50 needs to be issued showing that a person has been effectively separated from Federal Service.  

For Postal Workers, a good indication that this action has been effectuated is when one stops received the “0”-balance paystubs.  Further, one must remember that, once separated from the Agency, after 31 days or more of such separation, any Federal Disability Retirement application must be filed directly with the Office of Personnel Management.  Filing with the Agency after the 31 day period and waiting for them to process the case, and relying upon them to forward it to OPM may result in a case simply sitting on someone’s desk…until the year has run out.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire