CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: OPM & SSDI

In filing an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS (Federal Employees Retirement System), the applicant must file for Social Security disability benefits (SSDI) sometime prior to the approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  This is because the “system” of FERS is tied to the Social Security System, and the Federal Government wants to see whether or not a FERS disability retirement applicant is concurrently eligible and entitled to Social Security Disability benefits.  Those Federal or Postal Workers who are still under the “old system” (CSRS — Civil Service Retirement System) — and you are getting rarer and fewer each year — need not apply.  Those who are of a “hybrid” nature (CSRS offset, etc.) also should apply.

 There is an inconsistency in the way the Office of Personnel Management “requires” the filing for SSDI.  Sometimes, OPM will insist that a FERS Federal Disability Retirement applicant file for SSDI and obtain a receipt only after he or she has been unemployed or separated from the Federal Agency; other times, OPM will be fully satisfied with a receipt of an SSDI filing obtained even while employed by the agency, even though it would mean that an SSDI denial was based upon employment, and not upon whether a person was disabled or not.  In any event, an applicant who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS should comply with the requirement by filing for SSDI, and getting a receipt showing that one has filed.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Doctor

Doctors hate administrative duties.  They went to medical school, and they want to practice medicine, not law.  If they wanted to engage in vast amounts of paperwork, they would perhaps have gone to law school.  As such, paperwork, writing medical narrative reports for their patients, providing medical opinions in a report — they are part and parcel of the dreaded “paperwork” — somewhat like filling out all of the forms for medicare, medicaid, insurance, etc. to get paid. Such paperwork is often left to the “administrative staff”, and therefore doctors are only sporadically required to actually prepare any paperwork.

This presents a peculiar problem for a potential disability retirement applicant, because in order to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, an applicant must have a doctor’s narrative report which delineates certain issues, addresses certain issues, and renders certain opinions.

Thus, the crucial question becomes: How does one approach a doctor and convince him or her that preparing a proper medical report is an integral aspect of treating the patient? The answer: It must be done with diplomacy, sensitivity, caution, guidance, and understanding, all bundled into one. Above all, it begins with a relationship — a patient-doctor relationship that has been formed over many, many years. And, indeed, that is the requirement under the case-laws at the Merit Systems Protection Board governing disability retirements — that those opinions rendered by treating doctors of long duration are accorded greater credibility than single-examination doctors. And it all makes sense.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Filing II

People often come to me at the 2nd (Reconsideration) Stage, or the 3rd (Merit Systems Protection Board) Stage, and ask that I correct the mistakes made in the initial filing. Most mistakes can be corrected. Of course, it would have been better if the Applicant had done it properly the first time, for once the Office of Personnel Management views something which should not have been submitted, it cannot be easily retracted — only further explained.

There are, moreover, certain mistakes which cannot be “explained away” — such as deliberate omissions or deceptions. Thus, if the Office of Personnel Management gets the idea that there is an element of deceptiveness in a disability retirement application — either through omission or deliberate avoidance of an issue — then it becomes a difficult case to win. Honesty is always the best policy, and no Disability Retirement applicant should ever engage in any act of covering up any information. This is conceptually different from emphasizing the elements in a disability retirement application which favor an approval, as opposed to de-emphasizing those elements which tend to obscure the primary elements of an application. Such artful emphasis/de-emphasis should always be a part of every disability retirement application, coordinating the Applicant’s Statement of Disability with supporting medical documentation, to convey a consistent “whole” to the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal OPM Disability Retirement: Notifying the Agency

Fervent loyalty by the Federal and Postal Employee to want to work for as long as possible, and to do the best job possible, is often taken for granted; what is not as common, however, is a “bilateral loyalty” — meaning, loyalty shown by the Agency back to the Federal or Postal employee, especially when such loyalty is needed, during the long process of filing for, and obtaining, disability retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management.

In representing a client, I am often asked whether or not the Agency should be notified of our intentions immediately, and my response always is: It depends. If there is a strong and positive relationship between the employee and supervisor, where there are strong indicators that the Agency will be supportive during the lengthy process, then I will often advise informing them fairly quickly. More often, however, the Agency has had a long history of acting in a “less than sympathetic” manner — and that is in most cases. In such cases, I normally advise to wait until the disability retirement packet has been prepared and finalized, and it is ready to be submitted to the Personnel or District H.R. Office. Each case must be looked at independently, and there are never any easy answers. Agencies are comprised of individuals; individuals are complex beings, with the potential for compassion and empathy, but just as well with a potential for cold disregard for the plight of an individual. So long as Agencies are comprised of individuals, Agencies themselves act as individuals, and each case must be viewed in that light.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Reminder: Statue of Limitations on Filing for FERS & CSRS Federal Disability Retirement

At various times, in various forums, I have noted some confusion on the issue of when an individual can/must file for disability retirement, so I want to clarify some of the issues.

Confusion #1: Do you have to wait 1 year in order to file for Federal dislability retirement? The answer is “No” — the “1-year requirement” is merely that your medical condition is expected to last for at least a year. Thus, if you have a medical condition that impacts your ability to perform the essential elements of your job, your doctor will certainly be able to tell you whether he/she thinks it will last for at least a year. Thus, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you actually have to wait for a year with your medical condition before you can file for federal disability retirement; it merely means that your condition is expected to last at least 1 year, and doctors can normally provide a prognosis of the expected amount of time.

Confusion #2: You have 1 year from the time of your injury to file for disability retirement. The answer: “No” — you have 1 year from the date you are separated from Federal Service to file for disability retirement. If you do not file prior to the expiration of that 1 year statute of limitations, you lose your right forever. Some confuse the 1-year requirement with thinking that it is within 1 year of being on Leave Without Pay, or 1 year from being away from the job, etc. The 1-year requirement is 1 year from the day you have been separated from Federal Service.

Finally, remember that disability retirement can take anywhere from 6 months to a year to obtain, because of the bureaucratic maze which one must go through in the process of filing; thus, it is often a good idea to file sooner, rather than later. Once you realize that you are no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of your Federal job, and once you have the support of your doctor, it is time to file.

Hope this clears up any confusions

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Attorney