Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: The Circle of Questions and Answers

The tragedies befall frequently enough to make some correlative conclusions; of the athlete who fell short of the finish line; of the one who wanted to just make it one last time, only to become severely injured prior to completing the task; and others who become debilitated within the last 50 yards, or within the parameters of being “within reach” of the end.  This is likened to the Federal or Postal employee who has only a couple of years before full retirement.

Inasmuch as Federal Disability Retirement takes on average 8 – 10 months to obtain (from the start of the process of gathering the medical reports, records, etc., until a decision from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management), the question often becomes whether it is worthwhile filing for Federal Disability Retirement when one has come so close to the finish line.

Each case must be assessed and evaluated with the particular facts peculiar and unique to it; but questions of intelligent assessment should be applied, in order to reach an algorithm of rational conclusions:  When I reach the end (or, “if I…”), will my health be preserved enough such that I can enjoy retirement?  Is the reason why I am contemplating Federal Disability Retirement now, because I have in fact already reached the crucial flashpoint where I am no longer able to continue performing the essential elements of my job?  Is there a possibility that I will not in fact be able to endure the remaining X-number of years left before I reach full retirement?

Questions prompt answers; answers, even if preliminary and tentative, begin the process of further questioning; and so the circle of questions and answers begin to guide and resolve the issues which trouble the soul.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Early Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: Where to Begin

One is often asked the question, “Where do I begin”?  It is the question of pervasive immediacy, combining both exasperation at a process too complicated to comprehend and requiring a sense of urgency because of the importance attached to the successful outcome, precisely because it may well determine one’s future financial security, and the present ability to continue to attend to one’s medical conditions.  Such a question, however, often needs to be reordered in order to prepare a case properly, in retrospective fashion.

Thus, to reorganize the priority of questions:  Where do I want to end up? (With an approval from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management)  Who approves a Federal Disability Retirement application?  (Not one’s agency, but the Office of Personnel Management and, as such, be careful of promises made and statements asserted by one’s own agency)  How does one obtain an approval from OPM (By satisfying the legal criteria as applied by OPM)  What does one need to do to obtain such an approval?  (Two-part answer:  File the proper forms; complete the forms effectively)  When should I begin the process?  (Since filing for, and obtaining, Federal Disability Retirement benefits can be a long, arduous process, it is wise to file as soon as one has the support of one’s doctor)  Where does the application need to be filed?  (If one is still with one’s agency, then it must be filed through one’s agency; if one has been separated from the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service for more than 31 days, then it must be filed directly with the Office of Personnel Management).

The question of “why”, of course, need not be asked or answered, because it is a self-evident one.  It is the “who”, “what”, “when”, “where”, and “how” which require one’s attention.  For, in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the Federal and Postal employee already knows the “why” of filing.  The medical condition itself provides that answer.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Early Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: When Should the Agency Be Informed?

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the question is often asked whether and when an Agency should be informed of the impending Federal Disability Retirement application.  

Such a question & answer is almost always a discretionary one, and there is not a “right” answer — only one which can result from the tailored responses of specific and individual circumstances.  For, on the one hand, the Agency will often already suspect that filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, and therefore the automatic loss of the applicant/employee, is an inevitable future certainty, and therefore such notification is merely a formality.  

The Agency is often anxious to have the backlog of work created by the employee’s non-attendance or sporadic attendance resulting from the chronic medical conditions, to be abated at some point, and therefore hiring a replacement is something which the Agency wants accomplished as soon as possible — and one might argue that informing the Agency is the “right thing” to do.  

But in representing a Federal or Postal employee in a Federal Disability Retirement case, the “right thing” always is looking after the best interests of the client, and informing the agency prior to filing is not always in the best interests of the client.  For, on the other hand, informing the Agency too soon will often result in unintended consequences — of reactions and initiated actions upon being informed of the very intention of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  

While unfortunate and even perhaps “retaliatory” in nature, Agencies often act/react only upon official notification of an intention.  In other words, the proverbial “elephant in the room” is only noticed when the elephant actually stomps its feet (or is it “hooves”?).  Whether and when is a discretionary decision by the Federal or Postal employee.  

Ultimately, of course, when the Federal Disability Retirement application is filed through the Agency for further processing before being forwarded to the Office of Personnel Management, the Agency will be fully informed.  But as to “pre-informing” the Agency — that all depends upon the individual circumstances of the Federal or Postal employee, taking into account first and foremost the best interests of the client when represented by an OPM Disability Retirement attorney.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Periodic Clarifications

Clarifications are needed to be periodically made, based upon questions which Federal and Postal employees continue to ask.  There is often a confusion concerning the “one year” issue — whether it concerns the Statute of Limitations in filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, or the length of time a medical condition must last. 

A Federal or Postal employee must file a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS within one (1) year of being separated from one’s Agency.  The confusion often arises because a Federal or Postal employee is unsure of whether or not such separation from service has actually occurred.  Especially for Postal employees, where the U.S. Postal service will often continue to keep a Postal employee “on the rolls” despite having been on OWCP for many years, the confusion can be understandable.  However, one indicator is that if a Postal employee is continuing to receive zero-balance pay stubs, then in all likelihood that Postal employee has not yet been separated from service, and the 1-year tolling of the Statute of Limitations has not yet begun. 

Because obtaining an approval from the Office of Personnel Management on a Federal Disability Retirement application can take an extraordinary amount of time, however, it is wise to begin the process sooner, rather than later, whether one has been “officially separated” from service or not.  For Federal employees, an SF 50 (Personnel Action) form would systematically be issued showing that a Federal employee has been separated from Federal Service

As for the 1-year issue concerning the extent of a medical condition, we will address that issue at another time.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Sometimes, It is the Wrong Question

If the question is asked, “Is it difficult to get Federal Disability Retirement benefits based upon a Stress Claim?” — within the context of the poorly-worded question, you may get a wrong answer.  This is because it is the wrong question to begin with.  

The concept and term “stress claim” is more appropriately formulated in the context of an OWCP claim.  It implies that one is claiming for compensation based upon a situation — a hostile work environment, a harassing supervisor, etc. — because the origin and inception of the medical condition generically characterized as “stress” implies that it is the workplace which is the originating responsibility for the very medical condition claimed.  

Such a question would thus imply a multitude of irrelevant considerations for purposes of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, such as the causality of the claim, whether the cause is merely situational (is it the supervisor causing the stress?  If so, if a Federal or Postal worker moved to another office or agency, could he or she work in the same job?), or contained within the context of the workplace. The problem with using the term “stress” in a question is that, whether as a noun or a verb, it implies too much while revealing too little.  If expanded upon (e.g., while stress may be the origin, is the medical condition Major Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, etc.), then the entire question takes on a new form.  Sometimes, the problem begins with the question asked which is poorly worded; and to a poorly worded question, a wrong answer might be given.

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