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

Language is the vehicle by which self-justification is established.  Think about it; if we assume that there is a conceptual void in the mind of other animals, that the consciousness of a squirrel, a raccoon, an owl, etc., is devoid of language as we employ it, then how can procrastination or delay occur?  It is precisely language and the tools of conceptual constructs which provide for an “excuse” for response to a stimuli, and allows for human action to be prevented.

The will to act or refrain from acting is often considered the hallmark of higher intelligence; but intelligence itself can be a detrimental quality, allowing for self-destructive actions resulting from a string of illogical but persuasive reasonings.  Where lack of intelligence provides for the immediacy of response to a presented encounter, so the presence of it in elevated forms will allow for justifying delays to such responses, even if it means a magnified danger to one’s own survival.

Excuses and self-justifying declarative sentences allow us to maintain a false sense of security by providing foundations for continuing on a path of self-destruction.  That is precisely why the Federal and Postal employee who suffers from a progressively deteriorating medical condition can maintain a semblance of normalcy despite physical and cognitive indicators to the contrary, sometimes for months, and even for years.  But pain and cognitive dysfunctions have a funny way of reminding the body and mind of danger signals.  Brain synapses communicate the growing danger, and they continue to alert until the time comes when no more linguistic justifications will maintain that false sense of security.

When that time comes, the Federal or Postal worker must consider the option of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

There is always time for being excused, and sometimes it is well-justified; then, there are other times when the exhaustion of excuses comes to a crisis point, and one must consider a different path.  That “different” path is the need to have a restorative period of recuperation in order to attend to one’s impending medical condition.  Federal Disability Retirement, under FERS or CSRS, is just that allowance for recuperation, and is a path of difference for many Federal and Postal employees.

There are excusable considerations, which last for a time; but time is a linear movement of bodies, and on the universal scale of progression, there comes a point when both time and excuses run out their course of self-justifying efficacy.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: The Magnifying Event

The notable characteristic of a medical condition is that they rarely go away via wishful thinking and, moreover, while rest may provide a restorative period of relief, the return to performing activities which further exacerbate one’s condition further magnifies not only the chronicity and severity of the condition, but the need for additional restorative periods of relief.

That is why, in a Federal Disability Retirement case, the focus is upon the nexus between one’s medical condition and the essential elements of one’s job.  For the former, the nexus pinpoints the type of medical condition by focusing upon the primary aspects of the work; for the latter, that very connection between the former and latter magnifies the impact of the medical condition and why it is that Federal Disability Retirement benefits are needed and justified.

Whether a person is on furlough during this temporary period of insanity, or whether one has previously taken an extraordinary amount of Sick Leave, Annual Leave, or Leave without Pay, is an irrelevant issue in the end; for, the very need to take such excessive time off, as well as the inverse issue of growing work performance questions, both are magnifying events of the same revelation:  the medical condition is further exacerbated by the continuation of certain activities, and the activities are progressively prevented by the medical conditions.

Preparing the steps to formulating an effective Federal Disability Retirement application with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, begins with the recognition that the ultimate answer lies not in the temporary and palliative nature of a week’s time off, but in the realization that one is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, for the long term.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: The Long-term Plan

Federal Disability Retirement is best anticipated and implemented within the larger context of a long term plan.  For, with the reduction of immediate income, replaced by an annuity which is fixed, but with a future potential to earn additional earned income in another (or even similar) vocation, it is best seen not just for the present circumstances, but as a base from which to build a greater future.

Future considerations may need to be entertained.  For example, how aggressively should Social Security Disability (SSDI) be pursued? If the Federal or Postal employee attempting to become eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits will not be immediately seeking to work at another, private-sector job, and there is a good chance for qualifying for SSDI, then you may want to consider seriously attempting to qualify for SSDI.

For most people, the FERS requirement of filing for SSDI is a mere formality. For those who intend upon using the immediacy of the annuity for a recuperative period in order to attend to medical needs, then perhaps a minimal effort in applying for SSDI would be appropriate.

With the recent case of Stephenson v. OPM now firmly in the “win” column, any issue about future recalculation once a Federal or Postal employee loses his or her entitlement to SSDI benefits, has now been resolved, and the Federal or Postal annuitant need not worry about the issue.  Of course, there is a wide chasm between what “the law” says, and how quickly OPM will do what they are now mandated to do.  But in the end, OPM will have to recalculate and reinstate any amounts which were offset, once a Federal or Postal employee loses his or her SSDI benefits.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: The Holidays

The “holidays” — or any respite from the daily treadmill of the repetitive reality of daily living — brings about realizations and gestalt moments of insight, precisely because such moments provide for opportunities of thoughtful reflection.

The modern approach of engaging in conversations and discussion for purposes of “value clarifications” became necessary when a tension occurred within society; where new ideas began to question and challenge the old; when habitual engagements of societal values, ethics and mores began to be undermined by revolutionary approaches, technological advances, and unrestrained actions by youthful movements of protestations and revolts.  Similarly, when time and opportunity allows for reflection and contemplation, certain realizations begin to surface.

For Federal and Postal employees who have been suffering from various medical conditions, whether chronic physical pain which limits movement, flexion and unsustainable capabilities of endurance; or psychiatric conditions which impact focus, concentration, and the ability to engage in cognitive-intensive work; the time of the “holidays” can be a challenge, where it provides for an opportunity to take some time off to rest those tired bones; but also a time of reflection to recognize and realize that one cannot remain on the same treadmill forever.

Federal Disability Retirement is an option which needs to be considered, precisely because it is not an “opting out of life”.  Rather, it is a means of downsizing, recognizing that one’s medical condition is preventing one from performing the essential elements of one’s job, and to seek a change of venue for the future.

The “holidays” are indeed a time for reflection; but reflection, if allowed without subsequent action, is an impotent moment of self-realization.  Be a rebel; grab the opportunity if presented.  That is what the holidays are ultimately for — to reflect and change course.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: OWCP & the Deception of Temptation

It has happened many times before; is continuing to occur today; and will continue to entice unwary Federal and Postal employees throughout the country, throughout the year, and coalesce into a tragedy of errors — without any comedic value involved.

For Federal and Postal employees who become comfortably ensconced in the higher rate of compensation received from the Office of Worker’s Compensation Program, administered through the Department of Labor, under the Federal Employees Compensation Act, the notification (or not) of one’s separation from the agency’s rolls may come at a time when the Federal or Postal employee is distracted with more important issues at hand: personal matters; medical complications; perhaps just trying to get through each day within the traumatic universe of chronic pain or severe depression.

From the Agency’s viewpoint, the notification of separation from Federal Service, or termination of employment from the U.S. Postal Service, is merely another administrative detail to close out a personnel file — a mere name to be deleted, with future expectations of a replacement for a particular position.

From the Federal or Postal employee’s standpoint, it represents one’s life, career, end of a vocation which one worked so hard for — and, quite possibly, the foregoing of an important benefit if the Federal or Postal employee is unaware, or not made clearly aware, that the Federal or Postal employee only has one year from the date of separation from service, whether you are on OWCP rolls or not, to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Compensation from OWCP can be tempting and lull one into a false sense of security.  But the day may come when the Department of Labor terminates such payments; at that point, if the 12-month period has passed, you have no option to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  The deceptive temptation of OWCP may have some irreversible consequences.  Be aware of them.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: It Is a Retirement

Federal Disability Retirement is a retirement; it is not a temporary method of compensation, and unlike OWCP under the Federal Employee’s Compensation Act (FECA), one is actually separated from Federal Service shortly after receiving an approval from the Office of Personnel Management.

Once the Federal or Postal employee obtains a Federal Disability Retirement approval, there is no “turning back” for employment or position rights; one does not have a preemptive or superior right to go back to one’s agency, anymore than a person who applies for a Federal or Postal job as a new hire.

That is why, as part of the administrative process and requirement in the filing of Standard Forms, one must include SF 3107 (for FERS disability retirement applicants) or SF 2801 (for CSRS disability retirement applicants) — the “Immediate Application for Retirement”, where much personal information is requested, including information on one’s spouse, data on health insurance, life insurance, past military service, etc.

While it is true that the Federal Disability Retirement annuity becomes recalculated and re-characterized as “regular retirement” at age 62, based upon the number of years of total Federal Service — including those years on Federal Disability Retirement (which is why switching from OWCP to OPM Disability Retirement can be beneficial in the long run, as opposed to the lesser monetary amount for the short term) — it is nevertheless a retirement in every sense of the word:  one is separated from Federal Service; one receives an annuity; there is no future expectation of rehabilitation and return to work, etc.

It is not a short-term process of rehabilitation and compensation, and therefore when the Federal or Postal employee begins to prepare, formulate, and file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, one should be fully aware that in the very term, “Federal Disability Retirement”, it is a compensatory benefit based upon three (3) factors:  It is for Federal/Postal employees; it is based upon a medical condition or disability; and it is a retirement.  As the age-old adage goes:  If it walks and acts like a duck, then it must be one.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: OPM Disability & OWCP Disability (Continuing…)

A person who is on OWCP Disability payments — 3/4 of one’s gross pay if married or with dependents, or 2/3 of one’s gross pay if single without dependents – may well find the comfort of such payments and the security of such income to be relatively “safe”.  The old adage that one does not read the fine print during times of smooth sailing, and only begins to worry about issues when things go awry, is something to be kept in mind.  If a Federal or Postal employee is receiving OWCP Disability payments, and as such, one’s financial stability is somewhat assured because of it, that is precisely the time to be considering one’s future.  

OWCP Disability payments have a formal designation — it is called “Temporary Total Disability“.  The focus should be upon the first of the three terms — temporary.  It is not meant to be a permanent feature; OWCP is not a retirement system.  If placed on OWCP for over a year, the Federal Agency or the Postal Service will often separate and remove a Federal or Postal employee from the employment rolls of the Agency.  Once removed, the Federal or Postal employee has only up to one (1) year to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  Once that year passes, you cannot file.  Years later, when OWCP & the Department of Labor stop those “Disability payments” for whatever reason, you cannot then start thinking about filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS. You will be reminded that TTD stands for just that — Temporary Total Disability. It will then be too late.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Affirmative Approach

The road which leads to one’s future financial security is irreversibly tied to the extent of how affirmatively one takes one’s future into one’s own hand (now, that was indeed a mouthful).  By this, I mean merely that, in preparing an application for Federal Disability Retirement, there are going to be all sorts of “outside forces” which pull you towards every different direction.  Friends will tell you one thing; your Agency will tell you something else; your coworkers will give you stories (both good and bad); your Human Resources Department may give you advice; ultimately, you must take an affirmative approach and make sure that your application is coherent, logically structured, and medically supported. 

By way of example, an Agency’s Human Resources Department will often insist that the Physician’s Statement, SF 3112C, is a “required” form.  It is not.  They will often give you the form with the return address of the Agency stamped in the upper blank box, for the medical report and records to be returned to the H.R. Department.  Upon receipt, the H.R. Department simply includes the medical documentation (without review or determination that it is helpful to your case), and forwards the packet to the Office of Personnel Management.  This would be the “non-affirmative” approach of doing things. 

To take the affirmative approach would be:  Make sure that the medical documentation you submit to OPM is the extent, type, and quality that you want to submit.  Remember:  the applicant has the burden of proof, by a preponderance of the evidence, to show that you are entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Don’t let third parties (i.e., friends, coworkers, Agency, H.R. Department personnel, etc.) make the decisions for you.  Take the affirmative approach — either by yourself, or through your attorney.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Interaction with Upcoming Postal VER

High pressure sales always need to be met with a pause, a breath, and a moment of reflection.  This is not to attempt to splash any cold water upon the impending Voluntary Early Retirement packets which will be “in the mail” shortly (April 6 – 10, 2009 is the projected date of mailing out VER offer packets to all VER eligible employees).  For some employees, this may be the best and most rewarding route.  My concern is a simple one, with a long history of truth from the great source of all truths:  “If it is too good to be true, then…”   The short window of opportunity within which a decision must be made (all VER eligible employees must decide whether to apply for retirement during the period of April 10 -May 15, 2009; the actual required documents to apply for the VER must be postmarked by May 15, 2009) is short; this is a serious decision, and must be considered carefully.  Some people will decide that the comparison to disability retirement benefits is great enough to consider filing for VER first, obtaining it, then filing for disability retirement benefits within 1 year therafter.  That would be fine, but there are certain steps (creating a “paper trail”) which should be taken if this 1 – 2 – Step is going to be considered.  In any event, the bottom-line consideration must always be:  Is it in the best interest of my future?  Is it the most I can get?  Is it comparable to disability retirement benefits?  Will I think it was the best decision to make 10, 15, 20 years from now (for example, remember that the years in which a person is on disability retirement counts as years in service for recalculation purposes at age 62).  All in all, any decision that has such a small window of consideration must be scrutinized carefully.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: OPM Disability Retirement & Postal Service Voluntary Early Retirement (VER)

For multiple reasons, early retirement — if eligible; if offered; if … — is an option which must be considered by a Federal or Postal employee.  In the coming months, Voluntary Early Retirement will be offered to Postal Employees; each year, Federal employees who become eligible for some form of early retirement must make hard financial decisions.  In light of the present state of the economy (not good), an offer of early retirement (some not so bad) may have to be considered by the Federal or Postal employee.  In each case of such an offer, the details of any such offer must be carefully reviewed and considered — especially if, concurrently, a Federal or Postal employee is considering filing for disability retirement.  A Federal or Postal employee can only collect one or the other:  you can either receive an early retirement annuity, or a disability retirement annuity, but not both.  You can, however, consider filing for early retirement (in order to continue to have some income), then file for disability retirement within one year of being separated from Federal Service. 

If you take this route of filing for early retirement, then filing for disability retirement, you must be careful.  For instance, if a lump-sum payment is part of an early retirement package, will it have to be paid back if you file for, and are approved for, disability retirement?  Further, remember that the years that you are on disability retirement counts toward your total number of years of Federal Service, when it is recalculated at age 62.  This is an important point.  The short-term benefit of retiring early may not seem like such a good idea 10 years later when inflation eats into the annuity.  A cost-benefits analysis should look to all of the factors involved:  the annuity amount and difference between disability retirement and early retirement today; the difference of the annuity when disability retirement is recalculated, and those years while on disability retirement count towards your regular retirement; and the dollar difference calculated out to the life expectancy.  These are all considerations which must be looked at carefully — not just upon one’s short-term benefit of an early retirement (which may seem great), but more than that, for the long-term security of the Federal and Postal employee.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire