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: OWCP Acceptance & Federal Disability Retirement

Case acceptance by the Department of Labor, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (DOL/OWCP) makes it easier for the Agency to make a determination on issues of accommodation, which is one of the elements which must be established in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  

On the one hand, when a Federal employee has been deemed to be “permanent and stationary”, the issue as to whether or not the Agency can reassign the Federal employee, or accommodate him such that the employee can continue to perform all of the essential elements of his or her job, can be easily established, in conjunction with and through the cooperation of a case manager from OWCP.  But even a modified job does not preclude an employee from filing for, and being eligible for, Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, precisely because such a modified or “light duty” job is not a permanent position, but rather an ad hoc set of duties as described in the prevailing case of Bracey v. OPM.

On the other hand, when a Federal or Postal employee has been accepted by OWCP and placed on “temporary total disability” — even if the “temporary” nature of such compensation continues on and on for many years — then it makes it easy for the Agency to simply forget about the employee and not even search to see if accommodating the individual is even possible.  

Thus, being placed on OWCP often makes it a simple administrative matter for the Agency.  No accommodations need to be searched for, and the Agency can move on, leaving the Federal or Postal employee in perpetual limbo.  

Concomitantly, however, for the Federal or Postal employee, the fact that one’s medical condition has been accepted by OWCP/DOL can be used as one element to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, to show that being on OWCP has some evidentiary weight that (A) the Agency is unable to accommodate the Federal or Postal worker, and (B) that there is persuasive evidence that another Federal Agency has determined that the Federal or Postal employee is disabled, and (C) that receiving temporary total disability is an indicator that one is unable to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  

Nevertheless, beyond the proof of acceptance by OWCP, the Federal or Postal employee must still affirmatively prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the medical evidence proves that one is unable to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job. Being on OWCP may have some minimal persuasive impact; it is still up to the Federal or Postal employee who is preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application that he or she is eligible for the benefit.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Problem with OWCP

Agencies which have employees who cannot perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job will often encourage him or her to file for Department of Labor, Office of Workers’ Compensation Program benefits (DOL/OWCP), if the injury or medical condition occurred as a result of an on-the-job incident, or can be shown to have an occupational cause.

That is fine, so far as it goes.  For, OWCP is set up with the intent of addressing those medical conditions and issues which are work-related.  However, when agencies begin to use OWCP as the dumping ground for workers they don’t believe are fully productive, it becomes a problem because OWCP is not intended for long-term compensation, but merely a venue in order to compensate a Federal or Postal employee for a temporary time in order for the worker to recuperate from his or her medical condition or injury, then to return to full duty.  It is not meant to be a retirement system.

Further, it only compensates for those injuries which are causally related to the workplace.  As a dumping ground, it makes it easier for the Federal agency or Postal Service to deny the ability to accommodate the Federal or Postal Worker, or to reassign the individual, and instead to provide the proper forms to file for Workers’ Compensation benefits.  This doesn’t mean, however, that OWCP will accept the claim, either as an original claim or as a recurrence.  OWCP is not a retirement system.  

On the other hand, OPM Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS is meant to compensate Federal or Postal employees who have a long-term medical condition.  If the agency cannot accommodate the disabled Federal or Postal Worker, that is an option to be considered.  If you are “unwanted” — and the agency shows every inclination of that — it may be time to consider the option of Federal Disability Retirement.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Doctor's Opinion

As an attorney who represents Federal and Postal employees to “obtain” Federal Disability Retirement benefits, it is important to make distinctions within the process of securing the Federal benefit:  while it is important to solicit and secure the medical opinion of the treating doctor, the resistance from such doctors — if in fact there is any resistance at all — most often comes about because the doctor doesn’t understand the “process”. 

Doctors are medical providers.  They are in the practice of medicine because they believe in applying the science of medicine to help their patients get better.  Helping someone obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is not part of “practicing medicine”.  Yet, in many ways, it is.  It is part of practicing medicine because, to allow the patient to continue to work in a job which he or she cannot perform, will only exacerbate and worsen the medical condition. 

Further, doctors never like to “disable” their patients.  To counter this medical opinion, it is important to clearly inform the doctor what the process of Federal disability retirement is and is not.  It is the job of the attorney hired to represent a Federal or Postal worker to obtain disability retirement benefits, to clearly and cogently explain the entire process to the treating doctor.  That is what I do, at the very start, in representing my clients.

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