Early Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: Where to Begin

One is often asked the question, “Where do I begin”?  It is the question of pervasive immediacy, combining both exasperation at a process too complicated to comprehend and requiring a sense of urgency because of the importance attached to the successful outcome, precisely because it may well determine one’s future financial security, and the present ability to continue to attend to one’s medical conditions.  Such a question, however, often needs to be reordered in order to prepare a case properly, in retrospective fashion.

Thus, to reorganize the priority of questions:  Where do I want to end up? (With an approval from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management)  Who approves a Federal Disability Retirement application?  (Not one’s agency, but the Office of Personnel Management and, as such, be careful of promises made and statements asserted by one’s own agency)  How does one obtain an approval from OPM (By satisfying the legal criteria as applied by OPM)  What does one need to do to obtain such an approval?  (Two-part answer:  File the proper forms; complete the forms effectively)  When should I begin the process?  (Since filing for, and obtaining, Federal Disability Retirement benefits can be a long, arduous process, it is wise to file as soon as one has the support of one’s doctor)  Where does the application need to be filed?  (If one is still with one’s agency, then it must be filed through one’s agency; if one has been separated from the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service for more than 31 days, then it must be filed directly with the Office of Personnel Management).

The question of “why”, of course, need not be asked or answered, because it is a self-evident one.  It is the “who”, “what”, “when”, “where”, and “how” which require one’s attention.  For, in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the Federal and Postal employee already knows the “why” of filing.  The medical condition itself provides that answer.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Early Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: When Should the Agency Be Informed?

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the question is often asked whether and when an Agency should be informed of the impending Federal Disability Retirement application.  

Such a question & answer is almost always a discretionary one, and there is not a “right” answer — only one which can result from the tailored responses of specific and individual circumstances.  For, on the one hand, the Agency will often already suspect that filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, and therefore the automatic loss of the applicant/employee, is an inevitable future certainty, and therefore such notification is merely a formality.  

The Agency is often anxious to have the backlog of work created by the employee’s non-attendance or sporadic attendance resulting from the chronic medical conditions, to be abated at some point, and therefore hiring a replacement is something which the Agency wants accomplished as soon as possible — and one might argue that informing the Agency is the “right thing” to do.  

But in representing a Federal or Postal employee in a Federal Disability Retirement case, the “right thing” always is looking after the best interests of the client, and informing the agency prior to filing is not always in the best interests of the client.  For, on the other hand, informing the Agency too soon will often result in unintended consequences — of reactions and initiated actions upon being informed of the very intention of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  

While unfortunate and even perhaps “retaliatory” in nature, Agencies often act/react only upon official notification of an intention.  In other words, the proverbial “elephant in the room” is only noticed when the elephant actually stomps its feet (or is it “hooves”?).  Whether and when is a discretionary decision by the Federal or Postal employee.  

Ultimately, of course, when the Federal Disability Retirement application is filed through the Agency for further processing before being forwarded to the Office of Personnel Management, the Agency will be fully informed.  But as to “pre-informing” the Agency — that all depends upon the individual circumstances of the Federal or Postal employee, taking into account first and foremost the best interests of the client when represented by an OPM Disability Retirement attorney.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Sometimes, It is the Wrong Question

If the question is asked, “Is it difficult to get Federal Disability Retirement benefits based upon a Stress Claim?” — within the context of the poorly-worded question, you may get a wrong answer.  This is because it is the wrong question to begin with.  

The concept and term “stress claim” is more appropriately formulated in the context of an OWCP claim.  It implies that one is claiming for compensation based upon a situation — a hostile work environment, a harassing supervisor, etc. — because the origin and inception of the medical condition generically characterized as “stress” implies that it is the workplace which is the originating responsibility for the very medical condition claimed.  

Such a question would thus imply a multitude of irrelevant considerations for purposes of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, such as the causality of the claim, whether the cause is merely situational (is it the supervisor causing the stress?  If so, if a Federal or Postal worker moved to another office or agency, could he or she work in the same job?), or contained within the context of the workplace. The problem with using the term “stress” in a question is that, whether as a noun or a verb, it implies too much while revealing too little.  If expanded upon (e.g., while stress may be the origin, is the medical condition Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, etc.), then the entire question takes on a new form.  Sometimes, the problem begins with the question asked which is poorly worded; and to a poorly worded question, a wrong answer might be given.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: OWCP Intersections

To the question relevant to filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, as in, “What are your medical conditions?”  — the potential applicant will often state the following:  “Well, it is an OWCP-accepted case…”  Such an answer may or may not be relevant.

OWCP under FECA (“Worker’s Comp”) is on a different benefit track from Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, as approved or denied by the Office of Personnel Management.  In many ways, the different processes are completely separate and apart.  One cannot receive both benefits concurrently. One must choose between one or the other.  Theoretically, one can switch from one to the other, then back again, but in practical terms, it is difficult because of the headaches involved in stopping one and starting the other.  One can, however, pursue both tracks of benefits concurrently; it is just that one must choose between the two if both are accepted.  

Now, this doesn’t mean, however, that one cannot “use” certain medical documentation to the advantage of the other process.  Thus, for instance, I have often used OWCP “Second Opinion” or “Independent Medical Examination” reports in helping to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  What an irony — because we all know how “independent” second-opinion doctors are; yet, when such an “independent” doctor provides an opinion in the client’s favor, there is nothing wrong with using it to the client’s advantage when filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire