OPM Disability Retirement: SSDI, FERS & Persuasive Impact

As part of the process in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, one must file for Social Security Disability benefits (SSDI) — if the Federal or Postal worker filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is under the FERS programs (CSRS employees are exempted because it is not tied to the Social Security component as part of the retirement system).

A small percentage of cases actually get approved by Social Security prior to a decision being made by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  When that happens (and yes, it is fairly rare, if only because most Federal and Postal employees filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits do so with a recognition that (A) they cannot do a particular kind of job, and (B) with a view towards working at another job, career, vocation, etc., whether part-time or full-time), then the question becomes:  What does one do with an SSDI approval letter?  Trevan v. OPM and subsequent cases, of course, comprise the rule on the matter; but such court cases essentially state that the decision of the Social Security Administration, as well as other Federal entities, are merely persuasive, as opposed to determinative.  But how persuasive?  Persuasive is a relative term.

To an unsuspecting innocent bystander, a person of reprehensible intensions may “persuade” quite easily; to the cynic and man of suspicious nature, “persuasion” may take the full effort of a team of con artists.  For the OPM Case Manager in the OPM Disability, Reconsideration & Appeals division, a decision by the Social Security Administration will take a 3-legged approach to have any impact at all:  (A)  the decision itself, (B) the case-law which makes the Federal Agency’s decision relevant to an OPM Disability Retirement case, and (C) accompanying medical evidence.  And, of course, the 4th component in all of this would be the methodological argumentation by the Applicant or the Federal Disability Attorney who argues effectively the previously-cited 3 components.

Persuasion is a “relative” term — indeed, relatives tend to be more familiar and therefore easily persuaded; strangers to the process need not apply.

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