Federal Employee Disability Retirement: An Expectation of Disaster

Most lives are lived with an expectation of unease; if things are going smoothly, we look with suspicion at what will come from around the corner; if calm and quietude prevails, we consider it merely a precursor to a major storm; and if good fortune comes our way, there is a leeriness as to the strings attached.

Perhaps distrust is based upon justifiable historical events; or, as news is merely the compilation of tragic events gathered into a compendium of daily interests, so our skewed perspective of the world merely reinforces what our childhoods entertained.  With a foundation of such natural tendencies to see the world with suspicion, when a medical condition impacts a person, the expectation of crisis is only exponentially magnified.

Suddenly, everyone becomes the enemy, and not just the few who are known to lack heart; and actions which were previously normative, becomes a basis for paranoia.  Chronic pain diminishes tolerance for human folly; depression merely enhances the despair when others engage in actions betraying empathy; and the disaster which was suspected to be just around the corner, closes in on us when pain medications fail to palliatively alleviate.

For Federal employees and U.S. Postal workers who suffer from a medical condition, such that the medical condition begins to prevent one from performing all of the essential elements of one’s job, the bifurcation between the personal and the professional, between play and work, often comes crumbling down upon us, and signs of potential trouble portend to indicate to us that it may be time to “move on”.  That impending sense of doom?  It may be upon us.  That calm before the storm?  The reality of what the agency is contemplating may prove you right. And the potential loss of good fortune?

Agencies are not known for their patience.  For the Federal or Postal employee who is no longer one of the “good old boys” of the network of productive employees because of a medical condition which is beginning to impact one’s ability to maintain a daily work schedule, or perform at the level prior to the onset of a medical condition, consideration should be given to preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether one is under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset.

Time is often of the essence, and while most expectations of impending disasters are unfounded, the behavior of Federal agencies and the U.S. Postal Service can never be relied upon, any more than the weather can be predicted a day in advance.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire


Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: The Suspect

Newspaper stories are replete with articles involving scams, dishonesty and crimes of financial improprieties; that is not surprising, given the nature of what constitutes “newsworthiness”.  Fraudulent claims involving disability applications are trumpeted loudly to reveal the disintegration of a system requiring structural integrity.  Of course, no one makes the distinction that such claims of fraud almost always involves the “other” disability system, and not the option available to Federal and Postal employees through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS.

Just as all politicians are lumped together, so the aggregation and broad-painted brushing of anyone receiving a “disability” annuity is to be expected.  But Federal Disability Retirement is a different animal from the “other” disability system, and with good cause:

First, Federal and Postal employees do not file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits until and unless it becomes a necessary option to take.  The general public cannot have it both ways: on the one hand, they complain that Federal and Postal employees have it “easy” with their Federal or Postal jobs; on the other hand, they grumble that receipt of Federal Disability Retirement benefits is taken advantage of by unscrupulous Federal and Postal employees. But if the employment itself is so easy, why would the Federal or Postal Worker take a lesser income by filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits?  The fact is that most Federal and Postal employees work hard, and well beyond their rate of compensation, in furthering the mission of their agency or department; and filing for Federal Disability Retirement is the furthest thing from the mindset of a Federal or Postal employee.

Second, because of the reduction of income accorded by an approved Federal Disability Retirement, many Federal and Postal employees must go out and seek employment in the private sector.  Yes, they can continue to receive the disability annuity so long as they remain under 80% of what the former Federal or Postal position currently pays; and yes, the combination of both the annuity and the employment income can aggregately comprise more than what the former Federal or Postal position was paying; but that is the very attractiveness and intelligence of the incentivized system. It encourages the Federal and Postal Worker to remain productive, and to “pay back” into the system. In essence, it is a self-paying enterprise.

And, Third, because Federal Disability Retirement recognizes that the disability is tied to a particular kind of job, there is very little room for abuse within the system.  One is encouraged to remain productive, and such an incentive allows for the system to remain economically viable.

In these difficult economic times, people are often afraid of considering filing for “disability” benefits; but for Federal and Postal employees who have given their time, life and (often) health in the pursuance of an agency’s mission, being treated like a “suspect” in a broadly-painted indictment is not only unfair, but reprehensible.  The Federal and Postal Worker has nothing to be ashamed about, and the fact that the general public may harbor some hidden resentments during these trying economic times, is merely a reflection upon the often petty nature of humanity, and not a true gauge of the work ethic of Federal and Postal employees throughout the country.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire


Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Future Reviews

I have had a number of inquiries concerning events which may or may not occur post-approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application, including a Medical Questionnaire or the extent to which Federal authorities may inspect or otherwise monitor a Federal Disability Retirement annuitant.  

First, let me state the obvious:  one should never engage in fraud.  That being said, remember that the benefit of a Federal Disability Retirement annuity under FERS or CSRS overtly encourages that one should remain productive and engaged in the workforce.  Disability Retirement under FERS & CSRS is designed to compensate an individual because of a specific disability from a specific type of job.  It pays less than other forms of compensation (i.e., Worker’s Comp) precisely because it encourages you to go out and find another job in another field, one which may be part-time (and therefore would qualify you because you could not perform a similar job on a full-time basis), or one which may utilize a different set of physical requirements; or one which may be “less intense” than your former Federal or Postal work.  

Sensational stories about Federal or Postal workers who have been arrested because of video-taped evidence of engaging in high-impact sports and recreational activities, or of individuals seen performing physical exertions beyond their “stated medical limitations“, almost always involve OWCP/Worker’s Comp violations.  Under OWCP rules, an individual is receiving “temporary total disability” benefits — and the emphasis must be focused upon the middle word — “Total” — as opposed to a FERS or CSRS Federal Disability Retirement annuitant, who is receiving a retirement benefit based upon his or her medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, and is encouraged and allowed to go out and get another job making up to 80% of what one’s former Federal or Postal Job paid.  There is a vast difference between the two.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OWCP & OPM Future Reviews

There are horror stories:  of people on “disability” who are watched and video-taped, and after having 500 hours of taping, it is edited to show that, within a 2-minute period, it is revealed that you can indeed perform physical feats which your medical disability should restrict.

As an attorney who receives daily inquiries concerning Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, people relate such fears to me.  However, I am quick to remind such callers on two (2) matters:  First, such stories relate almost exclusively to Federal OWCP cases, which have nothing to do with Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS, and Second, the people I represent have legitimate medical conditions which impact and prevent one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.

There is also an additional Third element in the issue, Federal Disability Retirement annuitants are allowed, under the law, to go out and get another job, and to work and make up to 80% of what his or her former position currently pays.

Now, obviously, any such job should be essentially different, in many ways, from the former job.  But the point is that the medical disability under FERS or CSRS is intimately wedded to a particular job, and the inability to perform the essential elements of that particular job.  That is where the difference lies between Federal Disability Retirement rules under FERS & CSRS and OWCP cases — the former allows one to continue to remain productive in the workplace; the other does not.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The OWCP Paradigm

One may choose OWCP benefits because, financially, it pays more (75% non-taxed for an individual with dependents; 66 2/3% for a single individual) than a Federal Disability Retirement annuity.  It is a pragmatic paradigm to rely upon for the immediate time-frame; however, it is not a practical paradigm for the future.  Obviously, one should obtain an approval from the Office of Personnel Management for one’s disability retirement, concurrently with receiving OWCP temporary total disability payments.  However, upon an approval from OPM, you need to elect between the two — because you cannot be paid by both concurrently.  Many people (rightly) choose to remain on OWCP and keep the OPM Disability Retirement annuity in “limbo or annuity purgatory” — again, because OWCP pays more.

However, as a paradigm for the future, it should not be relied upon forever.  This, because OWCP is not a retirement system.  Instead, it is a system of allowing for payment during a time of occupational disease or injury, for a person to be able to recover from such an injury.  While on OWCP benefits, however, you cannot work at another job (unlike under FERS & CSRS disability retirement); in fact, if you engage in too many physical activities similar to those which you might do at work, you may find that you will be criminally charged for “fraud”.  This has happened to many people, and it should frighten anyone who is on OWCP.  In such cases, you will often find that you have been videotaped over hundreds of hours — but the “edited” version upon which OWCP investigators charge you with, will be a video clip of about 5 minutes.  Next:  Why OWCP is not a good paradigm for one’s future.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire