OPM Disability Retirement: SSDI and the Pursuance Thereof

How aggressively one should pursue SSDI concurrently as one is preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is a question which one is often confronted with during the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

If one is under CSRS, then the question is a moot point, because CSRS employees do not have a requirement of filing for SSDI benefits.

For FERS employees, however, who make up the vast majority of Federal and Postal employees who file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, there is a requirement of filing concurrently for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.  For purposes of satisfying the requirement of OPM, one needs to only show a receipt that one has filed.  Further, while many Human Resources personnel offices, both for Federal agencies and the U.S. Postal Service (the latter being comprised of the central office known as the H.R. Shared Services Center located in Greensboro, N.C.), misinform and misinterpret the statutory requirement of filing for SSDI, by telling people either that one must file and get a decision from the Social Security Administration prior to filing for FERS Disability Retirement benefits (wrong), or that you cannot file for FERS Disability Retirement unless and until you file for SSDI (also wrong) — the fact is, the only time OPM requires a showing of having filed for SSDI is at the time of an approval of a FERS Disability Retirement application.

As for how actively or aggressively one should pursue SSDI?  That depends, in most cases, on whether you will be attempting to work in a private sector job while on Federal Disability Retirement.  Because SSDI has stringent limits on what you can make in earned income, while OPM Disability Retirement allows for you to make up to 80% of what your former position currently pays, on top of the disability retirement annuity one receives, it becomes a pragmatic calculation.

Pragmatism is the guiding light to determine one’s self-interest, and that which is in the best interest of one’s future.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Erroneous Information and Its Impact

A number of recent telephone calls clearly reveal that the abundance of erroneous information “out there” or disseminated by Union officials, Human Resource personnel, agency personnel, supervisors, coworkers, etc., continues unabated.  Ultimately, of course, the responsibility for acting upon information gathered — erroneous or not — is placed upon the individual who seeks out such information.  

The problem, as always, is that reliance upon erroneous information can result in irreversible consequences.  For example:  In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS (CSRS is exempted from this particular “requirement”), must one receive a denial from the Social Security Administration before one can file a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS?  Must a Federal or Postal employee be separated from Federal Service for at least 6 months before filing for SSDI benefits?  Must SSDI be approved by the Social Security Administration prior to filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS?  The common thread and answer to all three of the questions posed:  No.  

The consequences of relying upon a “yes” answer, or information which either explicitly or implicitly implies that there is a precondition requirement of filing for SSDI before the Office of Personnel Management will accept and consider a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS?  Delaying of preparing and filing for FERS Disability Retirement until a week before the 1-year Statute of Limitations was about the expire.  

The fact is that the Office of Personnel Management doesn’t much care about whether or not a FERS Federal Disability Retirement applicant filed for SSDI or not, until the time of approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  For, the only issue between FERS Disability Retirement and SSDI is a monetary one — whether an offset will occur between the two sources of annuities.

One other point:  When a caller argues, stating:  “But that’s not what X said…”  You can believe whomever you wish; just check out the source, consider the reliability of the source, and determine the consequences of such reliance.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: The 80% Rule and Other Considerations

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is always the future which one must plan for — the short-term future of obtaining Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management; the intermediate future of adjusting to the monetary reduction; the longer-term future of planning for another career, to supplement the income from one’s Federal Disability Retirement annuity.

As to the last factor, the “80%” rule must always be adhered to — that while FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement allows for a person to work in the private sector and make up to 80% of what one’s former position currently pays, the greater question often involves:  Doing what?  Federal and Postal workers who have worked in the Federal Sector have done so to perfect all of the skills and knowledge for a particular career path.  As such, as with most individuals, to become “disabled” from being able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job is devastating not only financially, but moreover, the impact is upon one’s “life work” in so many other ways — upon one’s identity, which is bundled up so intimately in one’s career and work.

Can an injured or partially disabled Federal Employee who has been approved for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS go out and obtain a State, County or City job, or one in the private sector, which is similar to one’s former Federal job?  The general answer is “yes” — so long as one adheres to the 80% rule, and so long as the “essential elements” which you could not do, are not required in the new job.  The trick is to differentiate and justify the distinction, and such differentiation and justification can involve both medical and legal issues which should be addressed prior to acceptance of the new non-Federal job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The 80% Rule — Earned Income

As we reach the end of the year, Federal and Postal employees who are receiving Disability Retirement benefits, and who are working in the private sector, should remember the 80% earned income rule.  Be aware that a Federal or Postal employee who is under FERS or CSRS, and who is receiving a Federal Disability Retirement annuity, is allowed to make up to 80% of what one’s former position currently pays.  

While it is sometimes difficult to ascertain what the current pay scale is (and the Office of Personnel Management is often completely unhelpful, whether deliberately or inadvertently), it is best to always estimate “down”, so that one is never in danger of exceeding the cap.  Further, if the Federal or Postal employee in any given year exceeds the cap, then reinstatement of the Federal Disability Retirement annuity is allowable if in any succeeding year, he or she goes back under the 80% ceiling.  It is important to keep an eye on one’s earned income if one is to continue to maintain a Federal Disability Retirement annuity.  Planning is the key to the entire process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: FERS & SSDI

Of course one must file for SSDI (Social Security Disability benefits) when a Federal or Postal employee under FERS (the Federal Employees Retirement Systems, as opposed to CSRS, the Civil Service Retirement System) files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  If approved by Social Security, there is a 100% offset of benefits in the first year, and a 60% offset of benefits every year thereafter until age 62.  The real underlying question for most people, is how aggressively one should, or one wants to, pursue Social Security benefits.  This is often determined by what one plans to do after becoming a Federal Disability Retirement annuitant.  For, if you plan to work part or full time, and think that you will be earning more than the yearly ceiling allowable under SSDI, which is around $12,000.00 per year, then it is probably not worthwhile to pursue it very aggressively.  On the other hand, if you plan on relying exclusively on your disability annuity, it is probably a good idea to pursue it with the intent of obtaining it. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire