CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: A Form and Its Impact

The completion of the multiple forms in a Federal Disability Retirement application can seemingly be a simple matter, upon first encounter.  The questions are fairly innocuous and straightforward.  A distinction must be immediately made, however, between the Standard Forms which merely ask for factual/personal information (SF 3107 series for FERS employees; SF 2801 series for CSRS employees), requesting name, address, agency information, date of birth, etc.

Then, there is the SF 3112 series (both for FERS as well as for CSRS employees), and specifically SF 3112A, the Applicant’s Statement of Disability, which goes to the very heart of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  For, how the questions are stated; the content which is provided; the listing of the diagnosed medical conditions; the description provided of the impact of one’s medical conditions upon the positional description of the Federal or Postal employee — these will determine the future course of the Federal Disability Retirement application, its success or failure, and the potentiality for any future inquiry requested from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in the form of a Medical Questionnaire, requesting an update on the medical status and disability of the Federal or Postal annuitant.

Ultimately, the preparation of a standard government form may, at first appearance, look like a simple matter.  Those things in life which “look” simple, often present the greatest of complexities.  But of course, that is the very question which Plato and Aristotle, and the entire history of Western Philosophy wrestled with:  the distinction between appearance and reality.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Letting Go

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS, it is often normal to have concurrent “cases” filed — an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board in response to an adverse action or termination by the Agency; an EEOC case proceeding against the Agency; and other judicial and quasi-judicial forums.

At some critical point, however, there comes a time when a decision must be made — a bifurcation, an “either/or”:  Either one wants to continue litigating to get one’s job back, or the preparation of the Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, as an admission that one is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, must proceed.  But not both.  

For the most part, concurrent judicial proceedings can continue without a conflict between the two.  Lawyers can talk out of both sides of the mouth, and beyond — sometimes out of three or four sides of the mouth.  It is well that an attorney’s mouth is circular and not triangular, thereby failing to restrict and contain how many sides there are.  

Given that, however, there often comes a time when a Federal or Postal employee cannot credibly state that the Agency had no right to terminate one’s employment, yet claim with the Office of Personnel Management that one can no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  

Indeed, as a practical matter, it is often a good negotiating point — of persuading the agency that the Federal or Postal employee will be willing to drop the adversarial proceedings in return for the Agency restating the basis of the removal, based upon one’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job.  Furthermore, it is often a pragmatic “health reason” — to let go of the adversarial proceedings, and allow for a Federal Disability Retirement application to get approved, so that one may begin the process of recuperating one’s health.  Just some thoughts.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: OPM Disability & OWCP Disability (Continuing…)

A person who is on OWCP Disability payments — 3/4 of one’s gross pay if married or with dependents, or 2/3 of one’s gross pay if single without dependents – may well find the comfort of such payments and the security of such income to be relatively “safe”.  The old adage that one does not read the fine print during times of smooth sailing, and only begins to worry about issues when things go awry, is something to be kept in mind.  If a Federal or Postal employee is receiving OWCP Disability payments, and as such, one’s financial stability is somewhat assured because of it, that is precisely the time to be considering one’s future.  

OWCP Disability payments have a formal designation — it is called “Temporary Total Disability“.  The focus should be upon the first of the three terms — temporary.  It is not meant to be a permanent feature; OWCP is not a retirement system.  If placed on OWCP for over a year, the Federal Agency or the Postal Service will often separate and remove a Federal or Postal employee from the employment rolls of the Agency.  Once removed, the Federal or Postal employee has only up to one (1) year to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  Once that year passes, you cannot file.  Years later, when OWCP & the Department of Labor stop those “Disability payments” for whatever reason, you cannot then start thinking about filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS. You will be reminded that TTD stands for just that — Temporary Total Disability. It will then be too late.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Denial at the First Stage

Many individuals who have tried to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under CSRS or FERS get the disability retirement application denied at the Initial Stage of the process.  Would I rather have had that person come to me at the First Stage and have me prepare & file it?  Yes.  Are the mistakes made by the unrepresented Federal or Postal Worker irreversible?  No.  Would the disability retirement application been approved at the First Stage had it been prepared and filed by me?  Probably.  This is not to say, however, that all of my cases get passed through at the First Stage.  However, many of the mistakes which I see over and over, made by unrepresented individuals, could — and should — have been avoided. 

Further, many people who call me after getting the initial denial are surprised to hear me tell them that I don’t care what the OPM denial letter states.  While making for interesting bedside reading, the fact of the matter is that once you have read one such denial letter, you’ve essentially “read them all”.  Rarely is there anything new in an OPM denial letter.  OPM representatives use a template, and fill in dates and references to various medical reports and doctor’s records; but the conclusion of the denial letters are fairly identical:  the medical evidence is considered “insufficient” to meet the legal criteria to be eligible for disability retirement benefits.  It is the job of the attorney to go back to the doctors, get the proper medical documentation, then argue the law to the Office of Personnel Management.  The Second (Reconsideration) Stage of the process is a critical stage — for, if it is denied at this level, the next level takes it a “notch” higher — before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire