The Law of Salvage and Federal Disability Retirement Compensation

The concept is derived from maritime law, where recovery of ship or cargo at sea left to abandonment and forfeiture should be duly compensated of a value commensurate with the worth of the property salvaged.  The ocean is a perilous expanse, fraught with dangers encompassing weather, treacherous beneath-the-surface terrain, and potential piracy; and it is within this context of the magnitude of dangers to be faced, that the equitable principles of maritime law are applied. And isn’t that what one must do in most phases and contexts of life?

The measurement of future potential consequences, compared as against the benefit to be received, the compensation considered, which should determine the value of the services rendered.  Thus is a lifetime annuity measurable, not only in terms of the net amount, but also taking into account the economic stability which it promises, the future security it provides, and the potential for a life allowed.

Filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether one is under FERS or CSRS, or CSRS Offset, must be viewed in this light; for the benefit to be received is almost immeasurable:  Beyond the annuity amount itself, it provides for the capacity of the Federal or Postal worker to be compensated in order to attend to one’s medical condition; the time that one is on Federal Disability Retirement counts towards the total number of years of service, such that when the Federal Disability Retirement annuity is recalculated at age 62, those years one was on Federal Disability Retirement counts towards the total number of years of service; and while one is receiving Federal Disability Retirement, one may work at a private sector job and make up to 80% of what one’s former position currently pays; and many, many other benefits and factors to be considered.

Medical conditions tend to create havoc, and leave an appearance of a life left in tatters; but Federal Disability Retirement is a benefit which can bring about a stabilizing force of foundational security; and just like the Law of Salvage in maritime law, consideration in filing for Federal OPM Disability Retirement should be commensurate with the value to be received in salvaging one’s livelihood, career, and future contentment.

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

OWCP & OPM Future Reviews

There are horror stories:  of people on “disability” who are watched and video-taped, and after having 500 hours of taping, it is edited to show that, within a 2-minute period, it is revealed that you can indeed perform physical feats which your medical disability should restrict.

As an attorney who receives daily inquiries concerning Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, people relate such fears to me.  However, I am quick to remind such callers on two (2) matters:  First, such stories relate almost exclusively to Federal OWCP cases, which have nothing to do with Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS, and Second, the people I represent have legitimate medical conditions which impact and prevent one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.

There is also an additional Third element in the issue, Federal Disability Retirement annuitants are allowed, under the law, to go out and get another job, and to work and make up to 80% of what his or her former position currently pays.

Now, obviously, any such job should be essentially different, in many ways, from the former job.  But the point is that the medical disability under FERS or CSRS is intimately wedded to a particular job, and the inability to perform the essential elements of that particular job.  That is where the difference lies between Federal Disability Retirement rules under FERS & CSRS and OWCP cases — the former allows one to continue to remain productive in the workplace; the other does not.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Indicators

If your weekends are spent for the purpose of recuperating just so that you can have the energy, strength, mental acuity, and sustained focus and attention to go back to work on Monday, then it is an indicator that you may need to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS; if, after each day of work, you are so profoundly fatigued that you end up spending each evening just resting, unable to have any significant recreational enjoyment or time for relaxation, time with family, etc., then it is an indicator that you may need to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS; if you must take sick leave, LWOP or annual leave every few days, or after a week of work, because you need the time off to recuperate, then that is a further indicator.  Ultimately, each individual must make his or her decision as to the timing and whether one has reached a critical point where filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is necessary.  Different reasons for different people; different factors at different times of one’s life. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Last Minute Filing

Too often, I receive calls from Federal and Postal employees (or rather, formerly thereof) who have waited until the very last conceivable moment to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS.  Yes, I realize that time erodes away slowly, almost imperceptibly, and all of a sudden it is an emergency.  Can a case be put together within a couple of weeks?  Yes.  Is it best to wait until the very last minute?  No.  Remember that all Federal and Postal employees only have up until one (1) year from being separated from Federal Service, to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  But life happens; time slips away; what was once 6 months is now only 30 days, or perhaps 2 weeks. 

I may have told this story before, but here goes:  On the desk of a civil clerk in a local County Courthouse, is a sign which reads:  “The fact that you procrastinated does not make your filing my emergency”.  That is essentially true; however, whenever I get calls by panicked individuals who have failed to use the 1-year Statute of Limitations wisely, in most cases, I have been able to properly put the case together, and file it on an emergency basis.  In such circumstances, adaptation is the key:  some things need to be filed later, but the essential forms to meet the deadline must be immediately filed.  There are very few true emergencies in life, and most cases can meet the deadline — no matter how much the Federal or Postal Employee has procrastinated.  However, it is better not to wait until tomorrow, that which can be done today. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Don't Confuse the Standards

People who call me for advice, who are potential candidates as clients for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, often interchangeably use terms which apply to different standards:  standards of total disability as opposed to a medical disability which impacts one’s ability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; whether a medical condition is an “accepted” disability (a concept which is often used in Social Security disability cases); whether a person can file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits even though he “hasn’t reached MMI” (“Maximum Medical Improvement”) — which is language encompassing a concept familiar to OWCP/DOL (Worker’s Comp) cases; or, on a different level, the statement that an agency has been “accommodating” an employee by allowing him/her to take sick leave, Leave Without Pay, or to “not have to travel as much” — mistakenly or loosely using the term “accommodation”, when in fact such agency actions do not constitute a legally viable accommodation, as that term is used in Federal Disability Retirement laws. 

It is the job of the attorney to correct, clarify, and otherwise explain the proper terminology and precise application of concepts in Federal Disability Retirement cases.  It is not surprising that people who are contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS use the various terms in error, or mix terms unknowingly — for there is alot of misinformation “out there”; it is the job of an Attorney who specializes in Federal Disability Retirement law to clarify such confusions.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Applicant’s Statement & Essential Elements

When an applicant for FERS & CSRS Federal Disability Retirement benefits begins to craft his or her Applicant’s Statement of Disability, certain foundational questions must be considered before composing the historical, emotional, substantive and impact-descriptive narrative.  For instance, to the legal criteria, To be eligible for Federal Disability Retirement Benefits, one must show that one’s medical conditions prevent one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job — the initial and most foundational question obviously is:  What are the “essential elements” of one’s job? 

Now, that may seem like a simple — even simplistic — question.  One needs only to look at the official position description and pick out the major factors of the position.  If only it were that easy.  For, there are many “implicit” essential elements which are not explicitly stated, and it is often those unspoken, “un – described” elements, which are directly impacted by one’s medical conditions and disabilities, which must be creatively woven into the narrative of one’s disability statement.  Always remember to take care of the “foundational” issues first; thereafter, the narrative can extrapolate from the major factors of the position description.

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

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

OPM Disability Retirement: The Case of Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is one of those medical conditions that the Office of Personnel Management systematically “targets” as a condition which is prima facie “suspect”. This is despite the fact that there are cases which implicitly “admonish” OPM from engaging in the type of arbitrary reasoning of denying a disability retirement application because they “believe” that “no objective medical evidence” has been submitted, or that the “pain” experienced (diffuse as it might be) is merely “subjective”, or that the chronicity of the pain merely “waxes and wanes”, and a host of multiple other unfounded reasonings. Yet, cases have already placed a clear boundary around such arbitrary and capricious reasonings.

A case in point, of course, is Vanieken-Ryals v. OPM, a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit case, decided on November 26, 2007. In that case, it clearly circumscribes the fact that OPM can no longer make the argument that an Applicant’s disability retirement application contains “insufficient medical evidence” because of its lack of “objective medical evidence”. This is because there is no statute or regulation which “imposes such a requirement” that “objective” medical evidence is required to prove disability. As long as the treating doctor of the disability retirement applicant utilizes “established diagnostic criteria” and applies modalities of treatment which are “consistent with ‘generally accepted professional standards'”, then the application is eligible for consideration. Further, the Court went on to state that it is “legal error for either agency (OPM or the MSPB) to reject submitted medical evidence as entitled to no probative weight at all solely because it lacks so-called ‘objective’ measures such as laboratory tests.” Statues are passed for a reason: to be followed by agencies. Judges render decisions for a reason: for agencies to follow. Often, however, agencies lag behind statutes and judicial decisions. It is up the an applicant — and his or her attorney — to make sure that OPM follows the law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire