Federal Disability Retirement and the Inescapable Bureaucracies

The gargantuan of Leviathans is the Federal entity with a bureaucracy so expansive that identities of Federal employees are not merely never recognized, but to a great extent, irrelevant. Certain agencies fall into that category: The Department of Defense; The Department of Homeland Security; the Department of Veterans Affairs; The Department of Agriculture, with all of their subsidiary services, including the U.S. Forest Service; The U.S. Department of Justice; and, further, the U.S. Postal Service probably qualifies in that category of large, subsuming organizations where one’s identity of any sense of “self”is lost within the overwhelming size of the bureaucracy.

For the Federal employee or the Postal worker who is employed by such organizations, or any of the lesser ones (i.e., U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration; Department of Commerce; NOAA; Department of Energy; Department of — and one may almost be able to simply insert any pragmatic noun or adjective, and there is a department or agency which fits the bill), the intersection of a medical condition which begins to impede one’s ability and capacity to perform the full positional duties of one’s job, becomes a double-edged sword: On the one side of the equation, being an employee of a large organization can mean that one can, with some success of anonymity, continue to work without much notice, so long as the immediate supervisor or other coworkers do not take note; on the other side of the sharpened sword, is the reality that if such an organization begins to take punitive and adverse actions, it is difficult to fight against the compendium of agency tactics.

Whether the agency notices or not, the Federal employee and the U.S. Postal worker has an absolute right to file for CSRS or FERS Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, so long as certain prefatory legal criteria are met.  For the Federal employee or Postal worker under FERS, a minimum of 18 months of Federal Service is required. For the quickly-fading dinosaur of CSRS employees, the minimum requirement of 5 years of Federal Service is required. In either case, if a Federal employee or Postal worker begins to suffer from a medical condition, such that the medical condition prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, then it is time to consider filing for Federal OPM Disability Retirement benefits, especially if it becomes fairly evident that the medical condition is going to last a minimum of 12 months.

Then comes the next hurdle and realization: While the ill Federal employee or the injured Postal worker is employed by one of those gargantuan entities, the filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application must ultimately be submitted to another Leviathan of sorts: The U.S. Office of Personnel Management. C’est la vie.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

OPM Disability Retirement: Different Agencies

The question is sometimes asked as to whether, in filing for a Medical Retirement from the Office of Personnel Management, it makes a difference whether the Attorney has previously dealt with a particular Agency of the Federal Government.  

Ultimately, whether it is the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration, Customs & Border Protection, Department of Agriculture, Department of the Army, Navy, Air Force, etc., or the multitudinous variety of other departments, including the U.S. Postal Service, Department of State, Securities & Exchange Commission, Social Security Administration, NASA, NOAA, NIH, etc., it matters not. Agencies are made up of individuals.

Whether individual supervisors or Human Resources Departments are “helpful” or not, depends not upon an Agency, but upon the very individuals who comprise the corporate culture of the agency.  Certainly, the tone and tenor of the Department head, and the deliberate compilation of an unpleasant group of supervisors can make a difference in the cumulative culture which conducts business, but for purposes of a medical retirement under FERS or CSRS, the focus needs to be upon the medical conditions, the impact of the medical conditions upon one’s positional requirements, and obtaining the proper documentation to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that one is eligible and entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  

Having prior experience with a multitude of different agencies, over many years, is helpful in recognizing those issues which are central to a Federal Disability Retirement case, and those issues which are and should remain peripheral to a case.  Whether a particular agency or department has been specifically encountered in the past is of far less relevance.

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

CSRS & FERS Disability: The Decision

It is always a hard decision to file for disability retirement benefits.  Aside from the psychological anguish which must be confronted (feelings of worthlessness or devaluation of one’s worth because we live in a society which places a high value upon productivity, work, and output & competence in our jobs, despite our giving lip-service to “family”, “relationships” and “community”), the potential disability retirement applicant must also make pragmatic decisions based upon a variegated spectrum of financial, professional, family & economic circumstances.  Such foundational, decision-making factors could include:  one’s medical conditions (obviously); the type of job one is in; whether a disability retirement annuity is sufficient or even realistic; whether the job market outside of the federal sector is promising enough to allow for making up to 80% of what one’s job currently pays, in addition to the disability annuity; whether a parti-time position or partial income added to the disability annuity will be enough; whether one’s supervisor & agency will be “going after” you for performance, conduct, or excessive absences, and if so, how soon; and many other factors. 

It is always a trying time.  Consideration in filing for disability retirement benefits must be based upon a deliberative methodology, based upon serious consideration of multiple factors.  In basing a decision to file for disability retirement, it is best to do it right before considering doing it at all.  As such, consultation with an attorney who is an expert in the area of Federal Disability Retirement laws can be an invaluable source of information in making the “right” decision.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire