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

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Taking the Longer View

The converse viewpoint of the short-sale, or short-term view, is the obvious:  to look to one’s future with a long-term view, which often takes self-discipline in ignoring the short-term gain.  In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is often difficult to disregard the attraction of OWCP payments, and to instead plan for one’s future by opting for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from OPM.

Under FECA/DOL, OWCP pays 75% of one’s Federal or Postal salary tax free (if one has dependents), and 66 2/3% without dependents.  That is a sizable compensatory attraction.  However, with limited exceptions, when one is under the thumb of OWCP, you:  A.  Cannot work at another job, B.  Must do what OWCP says in order to continue the benefit, C.  Must be careful, as the watchful eye, especially in the form of a video camera, may be anywhere and everywhere, and D. Will likely be subjected to second and third opinion doctors, as well as a nursing case manager, to try and expedite your return to your job.

Ultimately, OWCP is not a retirement system, and the job of the Department of Labor is to get you back to your former job as quickly as possible.  OPM Disability Retirement, on the other hand, is a compensatory system whereby one is encouraged to go out and begin anew.  The long-term view is often the harder road to take; it is, however, meant to reward one for a lifetime, as opposed to a momentary and fleeting memory which will end soon enough.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: OWCP & the Short Sale

Americans are often looked upon as short-sighted.  Lacking historical longevity, both in terms of an enduring civilization as well as culture, the economic, mercantile (some would say ‘mercenary’), materialistic approach of the American Way lends itself to criticism for the emphasized focus upon short-term gain and profit.

For those questioning whether or not a Federal Disability Retirement annuity, in comparison with compensation received or being received through the Department of Labor, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (FECA), would be beneficial, may be suffering from the American-Way syndrome — of viewing the higher pay alone and in a vacuum, without considering the superior benefits of the longer view of life.

Indeed, under an annuity from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, one may continue to receive the Federal Disability Retirement annuity, and yet work and receive income on top of the Federal Disability Retirement annuity, up to 80% of what one’s former Federal or Postal job currently pays.  Under OWCP, of course, one cannot work while receiving temporary total disability payments.

Further, it is important to understand that the time that one is on Federal Disability Retirement counts towards the total number of years of Federal service, so that when it converts to regular retirement at age 62, all those years on Federal Disability Retirement are counted.

Short term sale or long term goals and benefits?

Whether lacking in culture, history or an enduring civilization, it is always beneficial to review the present, in order to plan for the future.  Short sales often sell one short, and that is something which the Federal and Postal employee must take into account in preparing, formulating, and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from OPM, whether under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The OWCP Black Hole

Many people rely upon the “generosity” of FECA (OWCP) payments during the period of temporary total disability, and indeed, being tax free and paying 75% of one’s salary (with dependents) or 66 2/3% without, one can easily become reliant upon such benefits. But being on OWCP does not protect the Federal or Postal Worker from being administratively separated from service for extended absences, or for one’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job, or “unavailability for duty” or other similar basis, to promote the efficiency of the Federal Service.  The agency needs someone to fill the position and do the job.

Normally, at a fairly early stage in one’s period of enduring and suffering from a medical condition or injury, one can assess the nature, extent and severity of the medical condition.  With that in mind, it is a good idea to begin thinking about filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  The security of OWCP benefits is attractive; however, OWCP is not a retirement address.  FECA will “cut off” the benefits at some point — unless you are somehow lost in the black hole of their payment roster, which happens periodically.  However, there are too many horror stories of a Federal employee who stayed on OWCP, was separated from Federal Service, never filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits within 1 year of being separated, and then one day received a fateful phone call…

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Interaction with OWCP/DOL

I receive calls periodically as to whether it is of greater advantage to remain on Worker’s Comp (Department of Labor, Office of Workers Compensation Program — “OWCP”) as opposed to going out on OPM Disability Retirement.  My answer remains the same:  OWCP is not a retirement system; OPM disability retirement is indeed that — it is a retirement, where one is separated from Federal Service, and you go out and do what you want to with your life.  Every decision has consequences; every act which we engage in has inherent residual effects, and we have to balance such effects and consequences.  Thus, while OWCP benefits pay a higher rate (75% tax free with a dependent; 66 2/3% tax free without a dependent), there are restrictions:  You must comply with any and all requests (or demands) of the Department of Labor; you cannot go out and get another job, or start another career — because you are deemed “disabled” and are being paid for it.  On the other hand, OPM disability retirement pays less (for FERS, 60% the first year, 40% every year thereafter), but you have the freedom of retirement — you may go out and start another career, and make up to 80% of what your former position currently pays, without losing your disability annuity.  These — and many other factors — are some things to consider when weighing the differences between OPM disability retirement, and receiving OWCP/DOL benefits.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS/CSRS Disability Retirement Compared To OWCP

OWCP vs. OPM Disability Retirement

The Department of Labor administers Federal Worker’s Compensation Benefits through the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP). Such benefits are non-taxable, and are paid for temporary total disability, for injuries or medical conditions which result from, or are caused by, a workplace injury. There are many tangential factors which may be added to this basic definition, but for purposes of distinguishing OWCP from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Disability Retirement, this definition will suffice. Additionally, generally speaking, OWCP/Federal Worker’s Compensation is not a “retirement system.”

OPM Disability retirement, on the other hand, is a retirement system. As a result of a medical condition which impacts one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job, a person is eligible to retire early, based upon a “medical disability.” A person on OPM Disability Retirement is separated from the Federal Agency, and he or she may “move on” in life, and perhaps start another career (with certain limitations as stated below).

When is it Time to File for FERS/CSRS Disability Retirement?

An individual must file for Federal Employees Retirement System/Civil Service Retirement System (FERS/CSRS) disability retirement benefits with the Office of Personnel Management within one (1) year of being separated from Federal Service – otherwise, the right to be eligible for disability retirement benefits is lost. Do not confuse this with being placed on Leave Without Pay (LWOP), or being out on OWCP for being injured. The clock begins ticking when you are actually separated from service. Most people, however, should not wait until they are separated to file for disability retirement benefits, but rather, should file whenever it becomes apparent that he or she can no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of the job.

Taxable vs NonTaxable Benefits

OWCP benefits are non-taxable. OPM Disability Retirement benefits, on the other hand, are taxed. While receiving disability retirement benefits, a person may undertake a job search, accept another position, and earn up to 80% of what his or her former position currently pays. Individuals receiving OWCP temporary total disability may not work at another job – period. Here is a sample scenario using OPM Disability Retirement rules:

A worker’s average salary for 3 consecutive years totals $50,000. The individual goes out on disability retirement, and after the first year (in which he would receive 60%, or $30,000), he is eligible to receive an annual annuity of 40%, or $20,000. The worker then applies for and accepts a job in the private sector. The worker can accept a job that pays up to $40,000 per year (80% of the current salary), and still be eligible to receive the $20,000 per year disability annuity.

The 80% Rule Increases Over Time

The rule is “80% of what a person’s former job pays currently.” If 5 years from now, a person’s former position pays $60,000 per year instead of $50,000, then he can make up to $48,000 per year at the job, because 80% of $60,000 is $48,000.

Filing for Disability Retirement while on Workers’ Compensation

It is often not a bad idea for those who are receiving OWCP benefits to remain on OWCP for as long as they can stand it (i.e., the persistent harassment, the constant oversight by so-called “2nd opinion doctors”, etc.) — but to always have the FERS/CSRS disability retirement annuity approved as a back-up source of income. Individuals may file for disability retirement concurrently while on OWCP — but you simply cannot collect from both at the same time (See 5 C.F.R. Sec. 844.105, “Relationship to workers’ compensation. (a) Except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section, an individual who is eligible for both an annuity under part 842 or 844 of this chapter and compensation for injury or disability under subchapter I of chapter 81 of title 5, United States Code (other than a scheduled award under 5 U.S.C. 8107(c)), covering the same period of time must elect to receive either the annuity or compensation.”).

When OWCP terminates payments (and there is a very good chance that this will happen at some point in the near future), it is a wise option to have your disability retirement benefits approved, but held in an inactive status. Federal workers have every right to elect one benefit over the other. Indeed, if you wanted to, you are allowed to go back and forth between OWCP and FERS/CSRS disability retirement.

As a secondary issue on this matter, a closer look at 5 U.S.C. Section 8106, paragraph (c) (2), (OWCP) on “partial disability” compared with the definition for disability retirement reveals: that “partially disabled employee who refuses or, neglects to work after suitable work is offered to, procured by, or secured for him, is not entitled to compensation.” This means that if OWCP secures a job for you as a retail store greeter for instance, and pays you the difference between your salary and what retail store pays — and you decide to say “no”, OWCP has every right to cut off your payments.

On the other hand, under the laws concerning FERS & CSRS disability retirement, 5 C.F.R.Sec. 844.103 (a)(2) states that, in order to be eligible for disability retirement, the individual “must, while employed in a position subject to FERS, have become disabled because of a medical condition, resulting in a deficiency in performance, conduct, or attendance, or if there is no such deficiency, the disabling medical condition must be incompatible with either useful and efficient service or retention in the position.” The difference here is that, under OWCP, if you are “partially disabled,” if you are offered any job that OWCP believes you can do, you must accept it. On the other hand, under FERS/CSRS disability retirement laws, if you are partially disabled — meaning that you simply cannot do at least one or more of the essential elements of your job — then you are entitled to disability retirement benefits, and your agency or the Postal Service cannot simply offer you any job; they must offer you a job in the same pay or grade, and one in which you are qualified or, if you are in the Postal Service, then it must an accommodation in the same craft.

Controlling Your Future

Under OWCP, you have no control over your future – OWCP determines your future. Under OPM Disability Retirement, you can obtain disability retirement benefits, and then take control of your future and work at another job of your choice, make up to 80% of what your (former) position pays and still continue to receive your disability annuity.