Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: The Circle of Questions and Answers

The tragedies befall frequently enough to make some correlative conclusions; of the athlete who fell short of the finish line; of the one who wanted to just make it one last time, only to become severely injured prior to completing the task; and others who become debilitated within the last 50 yards, or within the parameters of being “within reach” of the end.  This is likened to the Federal or Postal employee who has only a couple of years before full retirement.

Inasmuch as Federal Disability Retirement takes on average 8 – 10 months to obtain (from the start of the process of gathering the medical reports, records, etc., until a decision from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management), the question often becomes whether it is worthwhile filing for Federal Disability Retirement when one has come so close to the finish line.

Each case must be assessed and evaluated with the particular facts peculiar and unique to it; but questions of intelligent assessment should be applied, in order to reach an algorithm of rational conclusions:  When I reach the end (or, “if I…”), will my health be preserved enough such that I can enjoy retirement?  Is the reason why I am contemplating Federal Disability Retirement now, because I have in fact already reached the crucial flashpoint where I am no longer able to continue performing the essential elements of my job?  Is there a possibility that I will not in fact be able to endure the remaining X-number of years left before I reach full retirement?

Questions prompt answers; answers, even if preliminary and tentative, begin the process of further questioning; and so the circle of questions and answers begin to guide and resolve the issues which trouble the soul.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Time

Attempting to order life in accordance with a schedule which one has manufactured is often an impossible task to perform; when dealing with a Federal bureaucracy, it is moreover an unwise thing to attempt.  

Preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS necessarily and inherently takes time.  In addition to time, it requires foresight into possible delays, both predictable as well as unintended.  While a general timeline of 8 – 10 months from the start of the process (meaning, the initial gather of the medical documentation and narrative reports, compiling the evidentiary documentation necessary to prepare a case; formulation of the Applicant’s Statement of Disability, etc.) to the time when an approval letter is issued by the Office of Personnel Management in response to the First or Initial Stage of the Process, is a realistic assessment of the time involved, there are multiple events, issues and intervening pitfalls which can interrupt and disrupt such a generalization.  

A cushion of time should always be considered.  More than that, however, the Federal or Postal employee who becomes frustrated with the lengthy process avoids thinking about the months and months of delay and procrastination which was engaged in at the “front end” of the entire process — where, for months and months, the Federal or Postal employee kept putting off starting the process to begin with.  

Remember that preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is a process involving a Federal bureaucracy and, as such, the inevitable virtue of patience must be stored in plentiful quantities, to be harvested during the waiting time.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Delays

Often, the answer to a question posed depends upon how accurately the question is presented.  Such are the tools of the trade of an attorney, and it is often necessary to rephrase, reassemble and rearrange a question in order to suit an answer.  

In a Federal Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management, the question posed is:  How long does the process take?  This all depends upon a number of factors — how quickly the treating doctor will respond; how long will the Agency take in completing their portion; what is the “wait time” at the Office of Personnel Management.

Unspoken within the original question, however, is how many months of delay has already occurred on the part of the potential applicant prior to coming to a point of determining that filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is a necessary event.  Unfortunately, the very emergency nature of having to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS results quite often because the Federal or Postal worker has continued to delay for months and months — and sometimes years — prior to coming to a decision that filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is a necessity.  

Such delays and procrastination are often part of the medical condition itself, and cannot be helped.  But during such delays, it is important to make an assessment as to whether the procrastination has a detrimental effect, or is it for positive reasons?  If it is irrefutable that one’s medical condition is progressively and irreversibly deteriorating; if delaying is simply dwindling finances needed to endure the long administrative process of waiting for an approval from the Office of Personnel Management; if putting off the inevitable is simply a result of not wanting to face the event; such reasons for delay constitute a self-defeating action.  If, on the other hand, delaying has meant securing one’s financial future, or because it has had positive psychological benefits, then that is a different matter entirely.  

To delay is not necessarily a negative decision, but each individual must bear the personal responsibility of his or her part in such an act, by making a forthright assessment of the underlying reasons and justifications.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: Time to File

When should I file?  This is a question which is asked often; it is a telling, revealing question, because it is often a rhetorical question.  It is as if the question begs to be answered with an unequivocal, “You must file now”.  Aside from the time it takes, which is generally between 6 – 8 months from the time the entire process begins until the time the Office of Personnel Management approves an OPM Disability Retirement application at the First Stage of the process (and certainly this general time-frame needs to be taken into account because of financial circumstances, accrued sick and annual leave which may be used, and multiple other factors for consideration), the Federal or Postal worker who is contemplating when to file an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits generally knows the answer to the question.  As a general rule, if one asks the question, then the answer is already known.  If one is expecting a PIP, comes home each day dreading and exhausted, living with the anxiety that the Agency is waiting for an excuse to get rid of the employee; if each night and weekends are spent just recuperating in order to make it into the office for another day, then to ask the question, “When should I file?” becomes merely a tautology.  To arrive at that point is to make it into an emergency; it is better to project into the future; as a football coach once said, “The future is now.”

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: All Things Equal

Of course, in life, all things are NOT equal. Some cases get approved within a couple of weeks; others, seemingly for months sit on an OPM Representative’s desk, with not even a glance or a reason for the extensive delay. As night approaches, and this area gleams with the white of snow, a virtual dreamland of snow piled feet upon feet; whether Washington, D.C. will even open this week, or enter the week with the “liberal leave” policy; and, yes, of course there is tele-commuting, but the effectiveness of that is also based upon people ultimately coming in for files, additional information, etc. This week, all things are not equal; Washington, D.C. is frozen in time, in weather, and in a beauty of sheer whiteness; in the quietude of nightfall, only the dreams of children and the shrills and shrieks of sleds and snowballs matter; for those who have Federal Disability Retirement applications waiting to be approved by the Office of Personnel Management, patience must still remain a virtue to be sought after.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Developing a Case

In most cases, the normal process of disability retirement for the First Stage of the process is anywhere from 6 – 8 months; some fall towards the 6-month range; some take longer than the 8-month range.  The difficulty in most cases is that the potential disability applicant/annuitant obviously wants to get through the process as quickly as possible, most often in order to get a sense of security for the future, that he or she will have the certainty of the Federal Disability Retirement annuity.  All of this is understandable. 

The process — of preparing; of submitting; of waiting as it winds through the various Agency channels and finally to Boyers, PA and then to OPM in D.C. — is a process of high anxiety and anticipation.  Sometimes, however, cases must be patiently developed.  By “developed”, I merely mean that, at times, the doctor is not ready to provide the proper medical narrative report, or to state in explicit terms that a person is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of his or her job, and that the medical condition will last for at least one (1) year.  Patience with the doctor as different modalities of treatments are applied, is often crucial in the development of a case.  My involvement in a case, even before it is fully developed, is preferred, only if to guide the client as the medical case develops, or — as is often the case — on issues involving how to respond to an Agency which is just as anxious for the whole process to begin and end, as is the client.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: When to File

I still get calls by people who state that (A) they are waiting for a year before they are going to file for FERS or CSRS disability retirement, (B)  It hasn’t been a year since they have been on LWOP, but it almost will be, or (C) They are waiting to be terminated so that their year will begin.  Quiz:  Which of the above (A, B or C) is the correct basis upon which to decide to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits?  Answer:  None of the Above. 

Since OPM disability retirement can take anywhere from 6 – 8, sometimes 10 months to get (beginning the time-sequence from the time a doctor is contacted to provide a medical report, to putting the entire packet together, to getting it to the Agency Human Resources Personnel, to getting it to Boyers, PA, to getting it to Washington, D.C., to getting an initial approval, etc.), it is:  A.  Not a good idea to “wait a year” because there is no reason to wait; B. You don’t need to wait a year on LWOP to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, and:  C.  You don’t need to get terminated, or separated from Federal Service, in order to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits. 

Let me re-emphasize:  The “1-year rule” has to do with the following:  A.  You have one (1) year from the date you are separated from Federal Service to file for disability retirement — but you can file at any time, whether separated or not, as long as it is not after 1 year after being separated from service.  B. Your medical condition must be expected to last for a minimum of 12 months — but your treating doctor should be able to tell quite easily whether or not the medical condition for which you are being treated will last that long — normally within a couple of months of treatment. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire