OPM FERS/CSRS Disability Retirement: Part-time Work

Federal and Postal employees who are contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, face a formidable task both in terms of legal hurdles and administrative, bureaucratic glitches — not the least of which is in facing the daily battle with the medical condition itself.

Aside from requesting an accommodation from the agency, then being granted some cosmetic work refinements which probably do not constitute a legally viable (or even practically defensible) responsiveness; or of being offered an alternative part-time position which, if taken, will have dire calculation consequences in determining the average of one’s highest-3 consecutive years of service for annuity computation purposes; or more to the point — remaining in the full-time position but working only part-time and taking LWOP the remainder of the time, such decisions can be pragmatic ones which may be arrived at by the Federal Disability Retirement applicant as merely a choice which cannot be avoided, but one which should be embraced with full knowledge of the consequences.

For example, the problem with working one day a week is that such work constitutes only 20% of pay for the Federal or Postal employee who has filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Yet, at the time of an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, OPM will pay back-pay for the first year of annuity, at 60%.  But if one has been working part-time during the entire process, no back-pay will be forthcoming precisely because such back-pay is paid only to the “last day of pay” — which would have been the previous week for that part-timer.

Further, the difference between what was part-time work-paid (20%) and what Federal Disability Retirement back-pay will give (60% for the first year) is one of 40% lost forever.

In practical terms, it may well be that working part-time throughout the Federal Disability Retirement process and the long bureaucratic wait was a necessity which could not be avoided; but it is nevertheless something which should be done with full disclosure and knowledge, so that there are no surprises in the end.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Wait-time Extended

The time which takes from the assignment of a case number in Boyers, PA, to a decision rendered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in Washington, D.C., has been extended.

Recent articles regarding this issue have been slow to reveal the underpinnings of this growing problem, but the coalescence of multiple factors is making for a mini “perfect storm” of sorts, including:  Budget cuts which have forced disallowance of overtime and further hiring of additional workers; slow response to a progressively impending problem in the past couple of years; the threat of furloughs which restricts options available for OPM to respond; internal moving of offices within the same building at OPM.

Service is the essence of the function of government; when the essential function of government begins to disintegrate, it becomes a reflection on a growing, greater problem.  For Federal and Postal workers who have worked tirelessly towards their day of retirement, and for those Federal and Postal Workers who have been hit with a medical condition such that Federal Disability Retirement benefits is an option which must be relied upon, any extension of time in processing the application for disability retirement is an added burden which places great financial and emotional pressure upon an already-dire circumstance.

Fair or not, the reality of an administrative nightmare is steadily growing.

The good news is that there is such an option as Federal Disability Retirement benefits, and one which is a progressive paradigm for a society which understands that medical conditions may impact the Federal or Postal Worker, but that such medical conditions need not mean that a person is totally disabled — merely that there is an inconsistency between one’s position and one’s medical condition.

The bad news is that the wait-time to obtain such benefits has been somewhat extended.  The solution?  Only that filing sooner than later will place one in the proverbial line of the bureaucratic turmoil, only to slowly march forward towards the desired end.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Working while Waiting

During the process of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the question is sometimes asked as to whether a Federal or Postal employee who is filing, or has filed, can either (a) continue to work in the Federal or Postal job he or she is occupying, or (b) work at another, private-sector job, during the process.

Because Federal Disability Retirement is not a disability annuity based upon “total disability” (unlike Social Security Disability), but in fact encourages Federal and Postal workers to remain productive in the workforce, the fact of continuation of work during the process should not generally have an impact upon a decision rendered by the Office of Personnel Management.

The key, operative word, of course, is “should”.  The Office of Personnel Management will sometimes bring the issue up, and make certain assumptions — as to the similarity between positional duties of one’s Federal/Postal position and the private sector job, or that the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service has “accommodated” the Federal or Postal worker, and therefore that is the reason why continuation in the position has been possible.

Such assumptions obviously need to be addressed, but they are often based upon a presumption founded in error — for, “light duty” or “temporary” duties do not constitute a legally viable “accommodation”, but that is something which OPM has a difficult time understanding.  The fact that the Federal Agency which makes the legal determination on the viability of a Federal Disability Retirement application, has a lack of understanding of “the law” governing the legal criteria, is rather astounding, but true.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire