Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Misinformation

The problem with a society which provides unlimited information is that the traditional controls and mechanisms known for verification and validation of accuracy become diluted or altogether abandoned.  Plagiarism has become a pervasive problem; as vastness of information exponentially explodes, so the chances of being identified for unauthorized copying becomes infinitely lesser, while those who “play the odds” increase in boldness and in sheer volume.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is a procedural requirement that — sometime during the process of filing with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) — the Federal or Postal employee must show that he or she has filed for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) with the Social Security Administration.  But it is the “when” which have become enveloped within a convoluted complexity of misinformation.

Various Human Resource Offices are insisting (in error) that SSDI must be filed before an application to OPM can be submitted.  Such misinformation may preclude a Federal or Postal employee contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement to meet the 1-year Statute of Limitations in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits (after separation from Federal Service), or for other Federal or Postal employees who are still employed, if only because the process of SSDI can be an equally, if not more so, of a daunting administrative process as filing for Federal Disability Retirement.  Further, in attempting to file online for SSDI, there is the question as to whether one is still employed, and if so, SSDI will not allow the online applicant to proceed any further, precisely because such an applicant would be immediately disqualified, anyway.

The fact and correct information is as follows:  At some point in the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the Federal or Postal employee needs to file for SSDI, and show OPM proof of such filing.  From OPM’s perspective, upon an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application, they need to make sure that the Federal or Postal Retirement annuitant is or is not eligible for SSDI, for offset-provisions of benefits between SSDI and FERS.  Thus, it is ultimately merely a payment/compensation issue.  Filing for SSDI is not in reality a prerequisite for filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, but merely a check upon a coordination of payment benefits if both are approved.

In this vast universe of information, one must expect a correlative dissemination of misinformation; like the black hole in the greater universe of thriving galaxies and dying planetary systems, one can be sucked into the void of ignorance and suffer irreparable consequences as a result.  That is why Captain Kirk needed to be periodically beamed up — if only to make sure that the molecular reconstitution was properly performed in order to continue on in life.

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

FERS Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: The Long-term Plan

Federal Disability Retirement is best anticipated and implemented within the larger context of a long term plan.  For, with the reduction of immediate income, replaced by an annuity which is fixed, but with a future potential to earn additional earned income in another (or even similar) vocation, it is best seen not just for the present circumstances, but as a base from which to build a greater future.

Future considerations may need to be entertained.  For example, how aggressively should Social Security Disability (SSDI) be pursued? If the Federal or Postal employee attempting to become eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits will not be immediately seeking to work at another, private-sector job, and there is a good chance for qualifying for SSDI, then you may want to consider seriously attempting to qualify for SSDI.

For most people, the FERS requirement of filing for SSDI is a mere formality. For those who intend upon using the immediacy of the annuity for a recuperative period in order to attend to medical needs, then perhaps a minimal effort in applying for SSDI would be appropriate.

With the recent case of Stephenson v. OPM now firmly in the “win” column, any issue about future recalculation once a Federal or Postal employee loses his or her entitlement to SSDI benefits, has now been resolved, and the Federal or Postal annuitant need not worry about the issue.  Of course, there is a wide chasm between what “the law” says, and how quickly OPM will do what they are now mandated to do.  But in the end, OPM will have to recalculate and reinstate any amounts which were offset, once a Federal or Postal employee loses his or her SSDI benefits.

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

OPM Medical Retirement and the Interplay with SSDI

Some stream of consciousness thoughts:  First, there is still the prevailing problem of Federal or Postal workers being lead to believe that there is some sort of sequential requirement in filing for Social Security Disability benefits (SSDI) and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

While the sequence of filing for SSDI would be logically coherent — i.e., since at the time of an approval of a FERS Disability Retirement Application, the Office of Personnel Management requests to see a receipt of filing from the Social Security Administration — many people in fact go this route.  But the problem arises when Federal and Postal employees somehow get the misinformation that they must wait until they receive an approval from SSDI, which can take years.

During the wait, the 1-year statute of limitations may come and go.

The solution:  Go ahead and file for SSDI, get a receipt, etc.  But never allow the 1-year Statute of Limitations to pass in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  Again, for OPM purposes, all that is required is a mere showing of a receipt that you filed; no determination needs to be made and, moreover, OPM only requests to see the receipt at the time of an approval.

Second, if SSDI approves your Social Security Disability Case at any time during the process of filing for OPM disability retirement benefits, it can have a persuasive impact, but not a determinative one.  This merely means that OPM will consider it in the totality of the medical evidence you submit.  But to have a persuasive impact, you need to make the “legal” argument — i.e., you need to try and persuade.

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

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Periodic Clarifications

Periodically, despite multiple prior blogs addressing certain issues, it becomes clear that confusions continue to abound, and a clarification is in order.

In many ways, such necessity for periodic clarifications only emphasizes the inherent complexities in Federal Disability Retirement law, despite the foundational simplicity of what needs to be proven.

Indeed, while the substantive law requires the primary basis of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, the nexus between one’s official positional duties, and the medical conditions which prevent one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; nevertheless, there are numerous procedural issues and hurdles which must concurrently be met in order to qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Thus, for instance:  the Federal or Postal employee must file an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits within one (1) year of being separated from Federal Service — not 1 year from the date of being placed on LWOP, or from the “date of injury”, etc.

Further, SSDI must be filed by FERS employees, but of course Social Security will not even consider a filing for purposes of evaluating eligibility until a person has stopped working — nevertheless, for FERS Disability Retirement purposes, all that is necessary is a receipt showing that one has filed for Social Security Disability benefits.

And one more:  never wait for one’s agency to act in a Disability Retirement case; such waiting merely constitutes an act of futility, and one which almost always results with an adverse effect upon the Federal or Postal employee.

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

OPM Disability Retirement: Recurring Particular Issues

Issues in life often recur repetitively without rhyme or reason; as a rule of life, it becomes true “all the more” with mistakes in life.  Thus, particular issues in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, seem to resurface regardless (I would enjoy writing “irregardless” just to irritate those who are alert enough to recognize the nonsensical nature of such a term, but I refrain) of the number of times such issues are addressed or corrected.

Three such issues are:  A.  Filing for SSDI.  Yes, it does need to be filed.  No, it does not technically need to be filed in sequence; moreover, while many Human Resources (one agency calls it “Human Capital”, which is viewed as a self-contradiction and an inside joke) offices misinform Federal and Postal workers that you have to wait for a decision of approval before filing for Federal Disability Retirement, the Federal or Postal Worker should refuse to listen to such misguided misinformation.  Technically, the only time OPM needs a receipt showing that one has filed for SSDI is at the time of an OPM approval.  However — yes, just to get it over with, you should just go ahead and file online, and print out a receipt showing that you filed, and attach it with the Federal Disability Retirement application.  B.  Time of filing:  within 1 year of being separated from Federal Service.  No, LWOP or being on sick leave does not begin to toll the 1-year Statute of Limitations.  C.  One’s medical condition must last for a minimum of 12 months.  No, you do not need to wait for 12 months and endure your medical condition.  Most doctors can provide a prognosis of the extent of your medical condition early in the process.

Don’t let the irony of life rule one’s actions.  Mistakes and misinformation abounds, but how one responds is the key to successful living.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire