The Social Security Factor on the FERS Disability Retirement Claim

For the FERS employee, whether as a Federal, non-Postal employee, or as a Postal worker, who intends to file for Federal Disability Retirements benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the administrative process of filing for Social Security Disability benefits (SSDI) is a bureaucratic involvement and, by some accounts from Human Resource Offices of various Federal agencies, there is the view that the Federal Retirement application cannot be process by OPM unless and until SSDI is also filed.  This is not true.

While SSDI must be filed, and a receipt of such filing shown to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the purpose of such filing from the standpoint of OPM is not to compare or evaluate the enhanced eligibility status of a FERS disability retirement applicant by seeing whether or not the Social Security Administration will approve or disapprove one’s claim (that would be too logical, inasmuch as there is a higher legal standard of essentially “total disability” under SSDI, and so an approval by Social Security Disability standards should then automatically invite approval by OPM) — although, under Trevan v. OPM, there is certainly a basis to invite such a legal analysis.

No; the only reason why OPM wants to see a receipt of an SSDI filing, is merely for purposes of cross-checking whether or not a monetary offset should be applied if both SSDI and FERS Disability Retirement annuities are concurrently paid.  And, even then, it is often the case that the 100% offset in the concurrent receipt of payments from an OPM Disability annuity and SSDI in the first year, and the subsequent years of 60% offset of payments, will not be applied, and OPM will come back years later demanding the refund of the overpayments resulting from the failure of OPM applying the offset.

Most Federal employees and Postal workers who file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits will continue to either work to a limited extent, or at least remain on the rolls of their Federal agency or the U.S. Postal Service during the long waiting time during the process of filing for Federal Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and, as such, there will be an automatic denial from the Social Security Administration because of income considerations for the year in question, etc.

The simplest solution to Human Resource Offices demanding and insisting that SSDI must be filed for before an OPM Disability Retirement application is processed and forwarded to Boyers, PA, is to file online, get a receipt, and be done with it. Then, if OPM requests that the applicant file again at a later date to determine if a denial from SSDI was truly based upon one’s disability (or lack thereof), or because of income considerations, then that can be done with greater effort after one has received a Medical Disability approval from OPM.

This is a world of bureaucracies, and the rules, however lacking of a rational foundation, needs to be adhered to and complied with.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: The SSDI Filing Requirement

As part of the filing for Federal Disability Retirement from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the Federal or Postal employee who is under FERS (CSRS is exempted from this procedural requirement) must file for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

How aggressively should one file for SSDI, and when should it be filed?  The latter question will be taken up first: as a practical matter, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management does not need to see a receipt showing that one has filed for SSDI until the date of an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application.

However, most agencies are under the mis-impression that, procedurally, it must be accomplished prior to submission of a Federal Disability Retirement application, and some agencies actually misinform Federal and Postal employees by insisting that one must receive a “decision” from the Social Security Administration prior to submitting a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS, with OPM.  That is simply untrue.  All that OPM requires is a mere receipt showing that you filed.  This can be completed and a receipt printed out, by filing online.

As for the extent of one’s efforts in filing for SSDI?  In order to answer that, multiple questions should be asked of one’s self:  Will I be working at another job in the private sector while on FERS disability annuity?  Do I plan to make more than the low threshold ceiling of allowable earned income which Social Security allows for?  How likely will it be to qualify for the higher standard of being unable to engage in “substantial gainful activity” under SSDI rules?

These are all questions which should be asked in the course of filing for SSDI under the FERS program of applying for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Remember, it is the question which narrowly focuses the answer; without the former, it is unlikely that one will arrive with accuracy unto the latter.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Continuation of the Offset Issue

As noted previously, the issue of whether or not OPM needs to recalculate one’s FERS Disability Retirement annuity upon losing one’s SSDI benefits should now be resolved.  

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management has been arguing for years, if not decades, that despite losing SSDI payments because the recipient has engaged in substantial gainful activity, that no recalculation is in order because the annuitant is still technically “entitled” to the benefits.  

The argument which the undersigned writer made before a 3-Judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, however, is the following:  How can one “offset” something with nothing?  As King Lear said to his daughter Cordelia when she refused to shower him with flowery praises of love, “Nothing comes from nothing”.  

Whatever word-games one may engage in, one cannot offset an amount of zero against another amount.  Further, since the FERS (and CSRS) Disability Retirement annuitant is allowed to make up to 80% of what one’s former position pays, it made absolutely no sense to penalize the individual who was receiving SSDI but loses it for making too much money, to not place him/her in the same position as one who never received SSDI.  

Common sense seems to have prevailed.  

The security of knowing that, in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the Courts will actually reverse a nonsensical position of a government agency, is indeed something to smile about.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: SSDI & OPM Disability Retirement

Until the economy begins to significantly expand in order to allow for a greater increase of the workforce, those who are on FERS or CSRS Disability Retirement often consider aggressively pursuing Social Security Disability benefits.

While the standard of proof is higher, where the concept of “total disability” is much more applicable (pragmatic interpretation:  the medical condition presents a quantifying impact upon a greater area of one’s life activities, and not merely upon the essential elements of one’s job), the problem with SSDI benefits is that it limits the Federal and Postal employee from making outside income beyond about a thousand dollars per month.

Without SSDI, of course, a former Federal or Postal worker who is receiving Disability Retirement benefits through the Office of Personnel Management, can earn up to 80% of what one’s former (Postal or non-Postal Federal) job currently pays.  And, with the ability to retain one’s health insurance benefits, life insurance, etc., the Federal Disability Retirement annuitant can be an attractive labor force for companies who are trying to contain costs and expenses.

This is a highly competitive economy, with companies being proactively selective and discriminating in their hiring practices.  For the Federal or Postal employee preparing, formulating, and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, many options remain open, and advantages to be taken. Yes, the medical condition itself is a “negative” which forces one to leave the Federal workforce; but once FERS or CSRS disability retirement benefits are approved, there are many positive decisions to make.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: SSDI and the Pursuance Thereof

How aggressively one should pursue SSDI concurrently as one is preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is a question which one is often confronted with during the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

If one is under CSRS, then the question is a moot point, because CSRS employees do not have a requirement of filing for SSDI benefits.

For FERS employees, however, who make up the vast majority of Federal and Postal employees who file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, there is a requirement of filing concurrently for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.  For purposes of satisfying the requirement of OPM, one needs to only show a receipt that one has filed.  Further, while many Human Resources personnel offices, both for Federal agencies and the U.S. Postal Service (the latter being comprised of the central office known as the H.R. Shared Services Center located in Greensboro, N.C.), misinform and misinterpret the statutory requirement of filing for SSDI, by telling people either that one must file and get a decision from the Social Security Administration prior to filing for FERS Disability Retirement benefits (wrong), or that you cannot file for FERS Disability Retirement unless and until you file for SSDI (also wrong) — the fact is, the only time OPM requires a showing of having filed for SSDI is at the time of an approval of a FERS Disability Retirement application.

As for how actively or aggressively one should pursue SSDI?  That depends, in most cases, on whether you will be attempting to work in a private sector job while on Federal Disability Retirement.  Because SSDI has stringent limits on what you can make in earned income, while OPM Disability Retirement allows for you to make up to 80% of what your former position currently pays, on top of the disability retirement annuity one receives, it becomes a pragmatic calculation.

Pragmatism is the guiding light to determine one’s self-interest, and that which is in the best interest of one’s future.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Process Argument and Legal Conclusions

Legal conclusions are extraordinary conceptual constructs:  without knowing the process of how one arrived at the conclusion, lawyers and others can utilize it to their flexible extreme without any contextual regard and argue with it on either side of a fence or, if there are more than two sides to a fence, those as well.

That is why, for instance, in a Federal Disability Retirement case before the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, one cannot simply provide the Office of Personnel Management with an approval letter from the Social Security Administration showing that SSDI has been approved.

Such evidence, while in and of itself certainly shows that one is “disabled” from gainful employment — does not “prove” that one is eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  Why?  One would think that a higher level of disability determination would necessarily constitute a showing of all lesser eligibility criteria, but there can be the rare exception, and it is that rare exception which the law allows for in refusing to accept the legal conclusion as evidence and in place of the “process” evidence.

First, it could be that SSDI was filed for based upon different medical conditions than that filed for in the Federal Disability Retirement application.  Or, it could be that the particular kind of job, with all of its essential elements, from which the Federal or Postal worker is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, is the one rare and exceptional work which can be performed, despite being totally disabled from all other jobs in the universe of employment.  As such, the context and “process” of how one got to Point B from Point A is a necessary component in a Federal Disability Retirement application.

One must still submit the medical evidence which shows that the Federal or Postal employee is disabled from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  While the conclusion of the journey is important, the process of how one got there is still relevant.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: SSDI Impact

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS (CSRS individuals are exempted for this particular issue), the Federal or Postal employee who is contemplating filing for the benefit must at some point in the process file for Social Security Disability benefits (SSDI).  This is because the law is set up for an off-setting feature between the two “pockets” of benefits — where, in the first year, there is a 100% offset between FERS & SSDI, and a 60% offset every year thereafter.  

In some rare instances, Social Security will approve a person’s disability application before the Office of Personnel Management has approved a FERS Disability Retirement application.  In that instance, one can use the SSDI approval as “persuasive” evidence to the Office of Personnel Management.  It is not determinative evidence, but there are legal arguments to be made which essentially state that, since a person has been found to be “totally disabled” by the Social Security Administration, based upon the same or identical medical evidence and documentation, that the Office of Personnel Management should grant a FERS Disability Retirement application based upon the same or identical medical evidence.  

Is the reverse true?  If a FERS Disability Retirement application is approved, can such an approval be used as evidence — persuasive or determinative — for an SSDI application?  That would be a weaker argument, precisely because OPM Disability Retirement does not make a determination of total disability, but rather, a decision that the Federal or Postal employee cannot perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s particular kind of job.  Moreover, the Social Security Administration might also argue that inasmuch as SSDI does allow for some earned income (about $1,000 per month) from a job, such allowance shows that approval of a FERS Disability Retirement, which recognizes that one is merely disabled from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s particular kind of job, should not be determinative of a Social Security criteria which requires a higher standard of disability.

Knowing what impact each aspect or element of a process will have upon another is an important step in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application. As knowledge is the source of success, utilization of such knowledge is the pathway to an approval in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS and CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire