OPM Disability Retirement: The Recognition of Time

Time is a factor in all of our lives; we are conditioned to it; we respond to the constraints, and procrastinate because of its allowance.  Both time and timing may be factors in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

For the Federal or Postal worker who is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, the fact that it is the “end of the year” should not be the motivating factor, nor that in a week or so it will be the “beginning of a New Year”.  Rather, the issue of time and timing should be governed by the extent and severity of one’s medical condition, and its impact upon one’s inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job.

As recognition and utilization of time is always an indicator of proper planning, so it is with the Federal and Postal Worker who must prepare, formulate and file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

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

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

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: Don’t Rely Upon the Waiver Statute to Be Able To File

If an individual fails to file for Federal disability retirement within one (1) year of being separated from Federal Service, he/she loses the right to file forever, unless the individual is able to show mental incompetency – and that is indeed a very high standard to meet. The relevant statutory provision is found at 5 U.S.C. Section 8453; to wit:

A claim may be allowed under this subchapter only if application is filed with [OPM] before the employee or Member is separated from the service or within 1 year thereafter. This time limitation may be waived by [OPM] for an employee or Member who, at the time of separation from service or within 1 year thereafter, is mentally incompetent if the application is filed with [OPM] within 1 year from the date of restoration of the employee or Member to competency or the appointment of a fiduciary, whichever is earlier.

Note the heavy burden of relying upon this statute if you failed to file for disability retirement within the 1-year statutory timeframe: First, note the discretionary nature of the statute – that even if incompetency is found, the time limit “may be” waived – not a certainty, but discretionary (now, it is true that as the Board in Barton v. OPM, DC-844E-03-0366-I-1, 2004 decision, stated, the Board will review a decision by OPM “to see if OPM abused its discretion or if its decision was wholly unwarranted” – but again, no one should want to rely upon such a review to be able to file for disability retirement).

Second, you would need to have strong medical evidence that you were “mentally incompetent” within the 1-year timeframe after separation from Federal Service. Third, even if you were found to be mentally incompetent, the 1-year statutory timeframe to file begins to run either when a fiduciary is appointed, or when the person is found to be competent, whichever comes first.

Don’t rely upon the waiver provision. Once a FERS or CSRS member finds that he/she cannot perform one or more of the essential elements of the job, it is time to file.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire