Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Agency Independence

Each agency is tooled with a statutory mandate as to its mission and purpose, and from the origination of the statutory mandate, Federal Regulations and policies are formulated.  The independence of each agency within the Federal Government results in the anomaly of a patchwork of Federal Agencies, few of which are coordinated in their efforts or purposes.  

Conceptually, this is thought to be a good idea — precisely because by preserving the independence of each agency, it can singularly focus upon the mandated purpose and goal — and better accomplish its “mission”.  But the flip-side to the positive consequences of such conceptual formulation is that there is often an overlap between missions, and where the logical result of one action should almost automatically (logically) result in another, such is not the case because of the wall of separation between agencies, preserving their independence from each other.  

In Federal Disability Retirement issues, one would think that where a stricter standard of eligibility is imposed in one agency (e.g., the Social Security Administration for disability determinations), an approval based upon that stricter standard should automatically result in an approval by the Office of Personnel Management for purposes of evaluating and deciding upon a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  

Such is not the case, however.  

Hypothetically, it is possible to conceptualize a case where a Federal or Postal employee is deemed “totally disabled” by a doctor, but still be able to perform all of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job.  Conversely, it is possible to think of a case where an individual is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job (FERS or CSRS Disability Retirement) and yet not be considered “totally disabled” (SSDI).  The latter, of course, happens all the time; the former continues to occur — although, to actually come up with a true case involves mental gymnastics which exists only in the world of myths and language-games.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Agency Interaction

Federal Agencies often act like little fiefdoms.  This is not necessarily a negative thing; each agency is an independent entity, and each has a province of responsibilities which it must carry out and execute according to the statutory mandate provided by Congress.  As independent entities, each agency acts without coordination or regard to other agencies. 

Thus, while approval for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration will mean an offset of monetary payments under FERS, such interaction between the two agencies simply goes to the financial payments — not to the substantive issues of approval or disapproval of a disability retirement claim.  Similarly, while receipt of temporary total disability payments from the Office of Worker’s Compensation Programs means that you cannot concurrently receive payments under CSRS or FERS disability retirement (unless you are receiving a scheduled award from OWCP/DOL), the substantive basis of approval or denial of a claim rarely overlaps.  This is because each agency has its own independent criteria for eligibility — meaning that, for Social Security, the “disability” has a higher standard of “total disability”, whereas under FERS & CSRS, it is a lower standard of “inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job”.  Similarly, with OWCP/DOL, the issue of “causality” and whether it is “work-related” is often the important component of consideration. 

All of this is not to say, however, that an approval of a disability benefit from one agency,or a report from a doctor considered for one benefit, should not be used by the applicant for submission to another agency.  Indeed, this should be done — but carefully, and with thoughtfulness. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire