Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Continuation of the Offset Issue

As noted previously, the issue of whether or not OPM needs to recalculate one’s FERS Disability Retirement annuity upon losing one’s SSDI benefits should now be resolved.  

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management has been arguing for years, if not decades, that despite losing SSDI payments because the recipient has engaged in substantial gainful activity, that no recalculation is in order because the annuitant is still technically “entitled” to the benefits.  

The argument which the undersigned writer made before a 3-Judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, however, is the following:  How can one “offset” something with nothing?  As King Lear said to his daughter Cordelia when she refused to shower him with flowery praises of love, “Nothing comes from nothing”.  

Whatever word-games one may engage in, one cannot offset an amount of zero against another amount.  Further, since the FERS (and CSRS) Disability Retirement annuitant is allowed to make up to 80% of what one’s former position pays, it made absolutely no sense to penalize the individual who was receiving SSDI but loses it for making too much money, to not place him/her in the same position as one who never received SSDI.  

Common sense seems to have prevailed.  

The security of knowing that, in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the Courts will actually reverse a nonsensical position of a government agency, is indeed something to smile about.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: SSDI & OPM Disability Retirement

Until the economy begins to significantly expand in order to allow for a greater increase of the workforce, those who are on FERS or CSRS Disability Retirement often consider aggressively pursuing Social Security Disability benefits.

While the standard of proof is higher, where the concept of “total disability” is much more applicable (pragmatic interpretation:  the medical condition presents a quantifying impact upon a greater area of one’s life activities, and not merely upon the essential elements of one’s job), the problem with SSDI benefits is that it limits the Federal and Postal employee from making outside income beyond about a thousand dollars per month.

Without SSDI, of course, a former Federal or Postal worker who is receiving Disability Retirement benefits through the Office of Personnel Management, can earn up to 80% of what one’s former (Postal or non-Postal Federal) job currently pays.  And, with the ability to retain one’s health insurance benefits, life insurance, etc., the Federal Disability Retirement annuitant can be an attractive labor force for companies who are trying to contain costs and expenses.

This is a highly competitive economy, with companies being proactively selective and discriminating in their hiring practices.  For the Federal or Postal employee preparing, formulating, and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, many options remain open, and advantages to be taken. Yes, the medical condition itself is a “negative” which forces one to leave the Federal workforce; but once FERS or CSRS disability retirement benefits are approved, there are many positive decisions to make.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Interactions

Preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is a necessary step for a Federal or Postal employee who finds that he or she can no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job because of a medical condition.  

In doing so, there are obviously potential interactive processes which one must consider.  If the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS, then you must file for SSDI (Social Security Disability benefits), because that is what the law requires.  

Further, one must determine how aggressively, to what extent, and to what end and purpose one needs to file in pursuing SSDI concurrently — for, if one is planning on working at another, separate job while receiving a Federal Disability Retirement annuity, then the cap imposed by SSDI as opposed to the 80% allowance for FERS Disability Retirement without SSDI, needs to be taken into consideration.  Such future planning will then determine the course of one’s actions, as to how hard one will try and obtain SSDI benefits.  

Additionally, if the medical condition arose from a work-related injury, then obviously filing a claim concurrently with the Department of Labor, Office of Workers Compensation under FECA should be contemplated.  

Then, there are those who, whether by accident or wisdom and foresight, obtained and paid for throughout the intervening years, a private disability insurance policy.  Such private disability insurance policies are essentially contracts — and whether there is an offset with Federal Disability Retirement benefits, Social Security, or OWCP depends upon the “fine print” of the contract.  

One minor note as to private disability policies:  The time to read the fine print is when the insurance agent is trying to sell you a policy — not when you need to apply for the benefits.  Private policies can be negotiated, and the terms can be amended.  

Finding a negative consequence after the fact is a costly error in judgment which can easily be mitigated by spending a few moments at the outset.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Erroneous Information and Its Impact

A number of recent telephone calls clearly reveal that the abundance of erroneous information “out there” or disseminated by Union officials, Human Resource personnel, agency personnel, supervisors, coworkers, etc., continues unabated.  Ultimately, of course, the responsibility for acting upon information gathered — erroneous or not — is placed upon the individual who seeks out such information.  

The problem, as always, is that reliance upon erroneous information can result in irreversible consequences.  For example:  In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS (CSRS is exempted from this particular “requirement”), must one receive a denial from the Social Security Administration before one can file a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS?  Must a Federal or Postal employee be separated from Federal Service for at least 6 months before filing for SSDI benefits?  Must SSDI be approved by the Social Security Administration prior to filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS?  The common thread and answer to all three of the questions posed:  No.  

The consequences of relying upon a “yes” answer, or information which either explicitly or implicitly implies that there is a precondition requirement of filing for SSDI before the Office of Personnel Management will accept and consider a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS?  Delaying of preparing and filing for FERS Disability Retirement until a week before the 1-year Statute of Limitations was about the expire.  

The fact is that the Office of Personnel Management doesn’t much care about whether or not a FERS Federal Disability Retirement applicant filed for SSDI or not, until the time of approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  For, the only issue between FERS Disability Retirement and SSDI is a monetary one — whether an offset will occur between the two sources of annuities.

One other point:  When a caller argues, stating:  “But that’s not what X said…”  You can believe whomever you wish; just check out the source, consider the reliability of the source, and determine the consequences of such reliance.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Difficulty of Accommodation

For Federal and Postal employees filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the issue of accommodation must be addressed at some point, and one often wonders why a Federal agency is either unwilling or unable to accommodate the medical disabilities of a Federal or Postal employee.  

The line between “unwilling” and “unable” is often a complex one, because Agencies must contend with an obligation to attempt to accommodate the medical disability, but remember that such an attempt and obligation is merely one of “reasonable” accommodation.  This means that an implicit cost-benefits analysis is quickly engaged in, where the effort, likely success, extent of any workplace adjustments, whether in the end the essential and core elements of the job functions can be accomplished even with the reasonable accommodations, etc., can successfully be implemented.

An appearance of attempting to accommodate is often all that is indulged, and so the reality is that the Agency seems more unwilling than unable. Further, the simple fact is that, many medical conditions — e.g., those which are psychiatric in nature, are simply medical conditions which are termed “non-accommodatable“.  For, regardless of what workplace adjustments are made, a Federal or Postal worker suffering from Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, delusory thought processes, etc., where symptoms upon one’s focus, concentration, ability to have a reasoned perspective, etc., are all impacted, and therefore is inconsistent with any cognitive-intensive work.  As such, the medical condition becomes “inconsistent” with the particular duties of the job, and therefore it is an unreasonable and unattainable goal to consider any accommodations.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Disability Retirement: The Agency & the Individual

The National Reassessment Program (NRP) now implemented in full force, along with the Voluntary Early Retirement, the cash incentives (many have called to ask whether or not, if one is not eligible or offered the early retirement, but the cash incentive with a resignation is still being offered, should you take it?), and the Postal Service’s ultimate goal of shedding its payroll of anyone and everyone who is not “fully productive” by doing away with all “light duty” or “modified duty” slots (there actually is no “slot”, but rather merely an ad hoc set of duties “made up” on a piece of paper, which is what I have been arguing for years and years, and as the Bracey Decision by the Federal Circuit Court addressed) — all of these developments are merely a large-scale, macrocosmic level of what happens every day on an individual, singular basis. 

This is merely a reflection of an Agency, and how it acts, reacts and responds to injured workers, workers who have medical conditions which impact one’s ability to perform one’s job, and worker’s who are not “fully productive”.  It is merely that which happens every day to individual workers, but on a larger scale.  Think about it:  A Federal or Postal employee who develops a medical condition, and cannot perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; job performance soon begins to suffer, although perhaps imperceptibly at first; and the question becomes:  How will the agency, via its representative, the “Supervisor”, treat such an employee?  Sadly, more often than not, in a rough-shod, unsympathetic, and often cruel manner.  The Postal Service is simply doing it on a larger scale; but be fully aware, that every day, a Federal or Postal employee who is suffering from a medical condition, encounters such behavior and treatment — only, on a microcosmic, individual scale.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Disability Retirement: OWCP, SSD, NRP, Etc.

Nothing works in a vacuum.  Issues surround medical disabilities, the Federal and Postal workforce, Social Security Disability benefits, and Federal Disability Retirement benefits, as well as temporary total disability benefits received from the Department of Labor, Office of Worker’s Compensation Programs — they all intersect in one way or another, and the intersection of all of the issues create a maze of confusion which is often difficult for the Federal or Postal worker to successfully maneuver through the multiple landmines, dead-ends and potential traps. 

Such intersecting difficulties also arise in what the Postal Service has initiated in the last few years — the “National Reassessment Program” — a euphemism for a massive attempt to get rid of anyone and anyone who is not fully productive.  Under this program, the Postal Service is essentially getting rid of all light-duty assignments; and, of course, such a program intersects with Federal Worker’s Comp, because many light-duty or “modified duty” employees are under the umbrella of OWCP-offered work assignments and modified positions and duties.  People are sent home with the reason given that there is no longer any “light duty” jobs; they are then instructed or forced into filing for OWCP benefits; whether Worker’s Comp will actually pay for temporary total disability is a big question mark. 

Ultimately, I believe that the answer will be found in filing for OPM Federal Disability Retirement benefits. The NRP (National Reassessment Program) is simply a macrocosmic approach of a large agency (the U.S. Postal Service), mirroring a microcosmic approach (the approach of most agencies towards individual Federal or Postal employees who have a medical condition which prevents him or her from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job) in dealing with “less than fully productive” Federal or Postal employees.  Then, of course, there is the intersecting issue of filing for Social Security Disability benefits, which you have to do anyway, under FERS — but whether one actually gets it, is another issue.  All of these issues intersect; rarely are these issues isolated; the consequential impact of all of these issues need to be viewed in a macro manner.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Paradigms for the Future

In attempting to decide to file for Federal Disability Retirement Benefits, it is often the case that Social Security disability benefits must be considered (not just “considered”, obviously, for FERS employees, because it is a requirement to file for it), and how seriously and vigorously; and further, whether to pursue, or to continue on, OWCP temporary total disability benefits.  These are “paradigms” that must be considered for the future.  By “paradigm”, I mean that they represent “models” of how a person wants his or her future to be based upon. 

For instance, let’s take the paradigm of Social Security disability benefits.  Because FERS employees who file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits must also file for Social Security disability benefits (to see if they qualify; and, if qualified, the offsetting features will apply), one must take into consideration whether or not a Federal or Postal employee will actually want Social Security disability benefits.  This question arises because Social Security has a “cap” in which a person who receives Social Security disability benefits can make ancillary earned income (roughly no more than $10,000 per year).  Because of this, one must think of the future paradigm of one’s life:  If a person on FERS disability retirement wants to go out and get a part-time job, or start on a path for another career, where he or she makes 15, 20, 25,000 per year or more (because remember, a person can make up to 80% of what a person’s former Federal or Postal job currently pays), then he or she may not want to get Social Security disability benefits.  Most people who are on Federal disability retirement are simply disabled from performing one or more of the essential elements of the particular job; they are not “totally disabled”, and therefore are able to go out and start a second career.  This is the “paradigm” for the future which must be considered, and such a model for the future must be carefully thought through.  Next:  the OWCP paradigm.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire