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

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: Federal Agencies

Why do some Federal Agencies (and the Postal Service) act in non-supportive, negative ways, while others go out of their way to support their employees?  The answer to such a question essentially is as complex (or simplistic) as individuals themselves; for agencies are made up of individuals, and the reaction of an agency is often a reflection of the individuals who lead the agencies. 

When it comes to an employee filing for Federal Disability Retirement, this is often important to understand, because while Agencies (i.e., supervisors) cannot ultimately block a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, they can sometimes make the process more difficult for the applicant, by engaging in certain tactics (e.g., placing a person on AWOL as opposed to LWOP; delaying the writing of a Supervisor’s Statement; the H.R. Department being obstructionist, etc.) 

In dealing with an Agency, it is important to remain courteous, but not weak; professional, but not a “pushover”.  Further, it is important, where possible, to have an attorney deal with the Supervisor or the H.R. Department as a “buffer” between the Applicant and the Agency, to de-personalize the process.  When Agency Supervisor’s take things personally, problems arise.  It is as if all of the pent-up angers of accumulated personal slights come roaring to the forefront.  One should always try and avoid such personalization of the process, and allow for the smooth transition of the employee to becoming a Federal Disability Retiree.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: The Right Time (Part 2)

How to determine when is the “right” time to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, and when is the right time — those are issues which are quite personal and peculiar to each individual case.  Unfortunately, it is the very inherent nature of medical conditions, medical disabilities, and the chronic & debilitating symptoms that accompany such conditions, combined with the strong sense of loyalty, commitment to duty, and the desire to continue to believe that a Federal or Postal worker will overcome the current condition of disability — that often prevents a person to come to the critical point of determining the “right time”.  And, to put it in its proper perspective, this is probably a good thing, insofar as being a reflection upon the character of most individuals. 

Most individuals have a strong sense of commitment and hard work, and most want to continue to believe that one’s condition of medical disability is merely a temporary state of affairs.  But when such loyalty and commitment comes at the price of one’s personal detriment, it becomes a negative thing.  The problem comes when all of the objective indicators are ignored — when sick and annual leave are being depleted; when excessive LWOP is taken; when performance at work clearly suffers; when each night and weekend are used to recuperate from the day’s work; when savings become depleted; when a sense of desperation sets in.  Then, when it comes time to make the decision, it becomes an emergency. At that point, while it is not too late to begin the process, it is probably less than the “right time” to have started the process.  While better late than never, it is a good thing to take affirmative control of one’s future, and not let events control it uncontrollably.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Indicators

If your weekends are spent for the purpose of recuperating just so that you can have the energy, strength, mental acuity, and sustained focus and attention to go back to work on Monday, then it is an indicator that you may need to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS; if, after each day of work, you are so profoundly fatigued that you end up spending each evening just resting, unable to have any significant recreational enjoyment or time for relaxation, time with family, etc., then it is an indicator that you may need to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS; if you must take sick leave, LWOP or annual leave every few days, or after a week of work, because you need the time off to recuperate, then that is a further indicator.  Ultimately, each individual must make his or her decision as to the timing and whether one has reached a critical point where filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is necessary.  Different reasons for different people; different factors at different times of one’s life. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Right Questions

Often, a person who is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS doesn’t know the “right question” to ask in order to make a proper decision.  Because a medical condition often leaves a person with daily and profound fatigue  (both physical and cognitive), it is enough just to get through the day, come home and attempt to recuperate and regain enough strength to try and make it back to work the next day.  Then, of course, there are the financial worries — whether or not the disability annuity will be enough to support a family; whether a person will be able to supplement his or her income with a part-time job in this tough economy; or whether Social Security Disability benefits can be approved and, even with the offset, allow for enough income for some semblence of financial security. 

All of these questions — or concerns — are clearly legitimate ones, and provide a good foundation for determining the viability for filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  But there are others, also:  What will happen if you don’t file for disability retirement benefits?  Will you be placed on a PIP?  Will you receive an unsatisfactory performance rating?  Will you last until retirement age?  If you last until retirement age, will you have the health necessary to enjoy your retirement?  Is it time to start a small business venture in this tough economy, and if so, when the economy begins to recover, will your small business grow with a growing economy?  Will your supervisor support your extended absences or over-use of sick leave for much longer?  Is the work that is getting backed up placing more pressure on you, such that it is exacerbating your medical condition further?  Think through the questions seriously.  It may be time to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Service Disability Retirement: Experience & the Medical Condition

Often, when a client receives the finalized disability retirement packet, I receive a response that goes something like:  “I didn’t realize I was so bad off, until I read through the prepared packet.”  While I have not personally experienced the medical conditions of my many clients over the years, I have the experience of having spoken to them, and have learned about the symptoms, the words which best describe the pain, the impact, and the symptoms which are experienced on a daily basis. 

That is why it is an absurdity for the Office of Personnel Management, for example, to continually and redundantly refer to Fibromyalgia cases as ones with symptoms which “wax and wane”.  Or, with severe Major Depression, Anxiety and panic attacks, the Office of Personnel Management will systematically deny many such claims by stating that there is no “objective medical evidence” to show that the individual is unable to continue to provide efficient service in a cognitive-intensive job.  It is the job of the attorney, in a Federal Disability Retirement case, to be the one who projects the experience of the disabled Federal or Postal employee.  The attorney does not have to personally experience the medical condition in order to properly and descriptively convey the impact of the symptoms and debilitating conditions; however, it is helpful if the attorney has had a wide range of experience — by having spoken to multiple individuals over the years who have personally experienced such conditions.  In this way, the attorney can obtain the experience to express the medical experience of the applicant.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire