OPM Disability Retirement: Horns & Whistles

Acoustic signaling devices and technological innovations in repackaging information can convey a sense of “newness” and a refreshing sort of alternate sensory perception; however, ultimately, the substantive information which must be presented will require tackling the hard elements of a case.

In presenting a Federal Disability Retirement case to the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is important to distinguish between the foundation of the case, as opposed to the “extras” which one may add.  It is like the analogy of the great and master chef who thinks so highly of his or her own skills, that the preparation of the main meal of a course is done without the primary ingredient.  Even the most unrefined and coarse connoisseur can recognize when the steak is missing from a steak dinner.

Thus, in a FERS or CSRS Disability Retirement case, while one’s statement of disability may be persuasive; while “other evidence” by the agency, coworkers, etc. may establish a perspective of medical disability, the foundation of the nexus between one’s medical condition and the positional duties required must be established by the substantive essence of the case — the medical evidence itself.

Don’t mistake the periphery for the center; don’t be fooled by horns and whistles; much noise does not make up for the central requirement in any endeavor.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Continuation of Work

There is often the question of whether, during the process of submitting a Federal Disability Retirement application with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, can/should one continue to work, and will such a status reflect negatively or adversely upon one’s Federal Disability Retirement application?

The question is a logical one, stemming from the seemingly self-contradictory nature of the dual assertion — one which is explicit (the Federal Disability Retirement application itself, where the Federal or Postal employee asserts that he or she can no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job), and the other which is implied (by continuing to work, does not one undermine the previous assertion?).

What complicates, confuses and muddles the issue further is the fact that, for FERS employees, the Federal Disability Retirement applicant must also file for Social Security Disability benefits (SSDI), and in order to do so, the requirement of being in a non-working status in order to qualify, only further confounds the issue.

But careful analysis will reveal that such apparent contradictions are merely superficial ones.  Hint:  Federal Disability Retirement merely requires a legal standard whereby one cannot perform all of the essential elements of one’s job; continuation in one’s employment capacity does not necessarily mean that one can perform all of the essential elements of one’s positional duties; rather, it means merely that there are certain elements which cannot be performed.

Further, with respect to the intersecting issue of SSDI, there is a distinction to be made between qualifying and filing.  Life’s contradictions are often merely surface-intersections between technical word-games.  Once the verbiage confusion is resolved, the conflict itself dissolves.

It is sort of like the difference between reading about a man falling off of a cliff, and actually being a tourist at the Grand Canyon and being the subject of a news story the next day.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: The Historical Problem

Ultimately, before the Federal or Postal Worker considers filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, a number of factors need to be considered, including (but not limited to) the following:  Can I last until regular retirement?  Will continuation in the job result in further deterioration of my health?  Will my absenteeism or subpar performance result in adverse actions being initiated, including imposition of leave restrictions, a PIP, further disciplinary measures such as a suspension, or ultimately a removal?  Is waiting going to make things any better?  Do I have a doctor who will support my Federal Disability Retirement application sufficiently?

The history of most applicants who are filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, is replete with unanswered questions and issues ignored or unaddressed.  But when the convergence of a medical condition with a Federal agency or the U.S. Postal Service comes to fruition, the clash and collision between appearance and performance will often force the questions to be answered.

Waiting for things to occur will normally not solve the historical problem; being proactive, directly confronting undesirable questions, and taking the necessary steps to secure one’s future — these are the foundational steps necessary for a successful Federal Disability Retirement application, and the key to age-old questions which harken back to the problem of history, so that history may not repeat itself.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Questions Abound

Questions abound when first encountering the possibility of needing to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and that is a natural course of events.  It is tantamount to the proverbial admissions that one’s “mouth speaks faster than one can think,” because of the sudden flood of concerns, potential problems, future-oriented probabilities and the anxieties associated with the unknown.

It is thus often important to systematically categorize the questions and concerns into that which needs to be done immediately; that which can be accomplished within the next 30 – 60 days; and that which must be considered for the long-term.

Such time-imposed trifurcation of tasks, questions, concerns, etc. to place into neat segments will help in managing the daunting task of preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application, especially when one considers that attending to the care and treatment of one’s medical condition requires time and attention as a priority.  By categorizing and pigeonholing questions into their appropriate time-slots, it will help to manage the onset of natural anxieties which are always felt by encountering the new, the complex, and the unknown.

Questions will always abound; how and when to answer them is the key to maintaining a sense of calm and competence while retaining an aura of peace.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Attorney

Early Medical Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: The Bad Question

As children, we were encouraged to “ask questions“, and often with such niceties as, “Now, remember, there is no such thing as a ‘dumb question'” (despite all of us, even in tender years, knowing the untruth of such an assertion as we witnessed the facial expressions of horrified teachers, parents and neighbors — and of course, the smug, sidelong glances of those older siblings).

But the problem with taking such childhood experiences long into adulthood, is that it ignores the obvious:  the character and essence of a question determines the outcome of the answer.  Sometimes, a bad question leads to a bad answer.  In such an event, one must consider reformulating the question, or ignoring it altogether.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the Federal and Postal employee encounters multiple ‘bad questions’ — first in the form of the Standard government forms (SF 3107, with Schedules A, B & C for the FERS employee; SF 2801, with Schedules A, B & C for the CSRS employee; and SF 3112 series for both FERS and CSRS employees) and the questions posed in such forms — especially on SF 3112A (Applicant’s Statement of Disability); then, in a denial at the Reconsideration Stage of the process (for, in such a denial are contained inherent questions of what allegedly one ‘must’ do in order to meet the standards of OPM); then, finally, the questions which must be answered in order to satisfy an Administrative Judge at the MSPB.

But questions are funny vehicles of communication; often, it reflects more upon the questioner rather than upon the one who answers, and in the case of an OPM Case Worker, and of certain particular persons, this is all the more so.  Lest we forget another adage we learned in grade school (more on the playground among bullies, tough guys and the ‘cool’ set):  Don’t ask a question you don’t already know the answer to.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

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: The 31-day Rule

Once a Federal Disability Retirement application has been prepared and formulated, the next step in the equation is to determine the proper destination for filing.

For all Federal and Postal employees, whether under FERS or CSRS, if one is still on the rolls of the agency, whether on Sick Leave, Annual Leave, receiving donated leave, or on LWOP, if separation from service has not occurred, then the Disability Retirement packet must go through either the local or district Human Resources Office of the Agency for further processing.  The Office of Personnel Management will not accept a Federal Disability Retirement application directly from the applicant, if the Federal or Postal worker filing for such benefits has not yet been separated from Federal Service.

For Postal employees, a further caveat concerning “separation” should be taken into account:  Often, the U.S. Postal Service will continue to retain workers on the rolls, even after proposing to remove them, and often even after issuing a decision letter on a removal.  A good indicator as to whether a Postal Worker is still on the rolls of the U.S. Postal Service is if the individual is still receiving “0” balance pay stubs.  This likely means that the person is still officially “on the rolls” of the U.S. Postal Service.

Further, while many Federal (non-postal) workers continue to have the benefit of a local Human Resources Office, or an assigned district H.R. Office, for the U.S. Postal Service employee, all Federal Disability Retirement applications must be processed through the H.R. Shared Services Center in Greensboro, N.C.

If a person has been separated from Federal Service for more than thirty one (31) days, then the former Federal or Postal Worker must file his or her Federal Disability Retirement application directly with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Thus, the first priority is to prepare and formulate a Federal Disability Retirement application; next, to ensure compliance with the 1-year statute of limitations; and finally, to file it via the proper channels.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

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

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: How Long Before…

When a Federal or Postal employee begins to contemplate — or initiate — the process of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the questions which begin to accompany the process are multiple, complex, non-sequential, and often wedded to legitimate concerns surrounding the actions and reactions of one’s Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service.

The facts and circumstances of each Federal Disability Retirement case are unique and person-specific.  However, Federal Agencies and the U.S. Postal Service are entities which are fairly predictable, if only because they are comprised by an aggregate of human beings whose natures are fairly set in their ways.

How long before an Agency begins its process of separating me?  How long will they let me stay on LWOP?  How long before they send me home?  How long before…

Often, the length of time in which an Agency responds or fails to respond, depends upon who has been apprised of the issue.  It is interesting how an Agency will be silent on a matter, and allow things to continue for an extended period of time — then, one day, the “right” person takes notice of the fact that a Federal employee has been on LWOP for 5 months, and that there is a pending Federal Disability Retirement application with the Office of Personnel Management.  Suddenly, it is an emergency — an urgency which cannot wait any longer, and a Letter of Proposed Removal is issued that same day.

It is the same with being on Worker’s Comp — How long will they let me stay on OWCP before they try to move me off?  It often depends upon “who” has your OWCP file, as opposed to the legitimacy of one’s chronic medical condition.

In both instances (the issue of the Federal Agency and the one concerning OWCP), it is best to prepare, formulate and file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management sooner, rather than later, if only to have a “back-up system” in place in the event that either the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service begins to react, or that OWCP decides that you have been on their compensation payroll for too long.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: To Be or …

Often, the question is asked whether or not it is advisable to “just resign” from one’s Federal or Postal employment, and whether such resignation would impact one’s ability to file for, and obtain, Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS.

Such a question actually contains multiple sub-questions, which often need to be extrapolated, dissected and bifurcated, then answered independently.  Then, upon answering such questions separately, they can be reconstituted to provide a greater picture.  In answering any or all such questions, however, the proper context of each case — for each case is unique in their facts, circumstances, and potential impact upon future decision-making processes — must be revealed, identified, analyzed and properly addressed.  

Whether the Agency is making any “noise” of proposing to remove the Federal or Postal employee, and the basis of such removal; whether they are open to suggestions or negotiations pertaining to the basis of the removal; whether the Federal or Postal employee has already secured a doctor, a medical narrative report, and proper substantiating medical documentation which shows that, prior to such removal or resignation, the Federal or Postal employee could no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, etc. — all of these, and many more besides, are questions which must be considered before one takes the finality of the leap which determines whether to be, or not to be, a Federal or Postal employee as of a date certain, and its impact upon one’s ability to secure the benefit known as “Federal Disability Retirement” benefits under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire