Disability Retirement for American Federal Government Workers: Timing and Impatience

In the United States, we have come to expect efficiency and effectiveness; that is the nature of our history, and precisely why the prevailing philosophical engine has been that of “pragmatism“.  But countries evolve over time; bureaucracies become burdensome; the character of a nation may slowly, almost imperceptibly, change and alter.  Further, some actions are within the purview of one’s ability to impact; other issues are entirely outside of one’s control.

For the Federal or Postal employee contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is important to distinguish between those aspects of the administrative and procedural issues which can have some exerted control, and those which are well beyond one’s sphere of influence.  For, the test of one’s patience and growing sense of impatience will often be determined by a recognition of that which can be influenced, and that which has little to no access for such.

Timing issues can often be controlled, as in when to file; but as for the timing of OPM’s determination, that is another matter altogether.

Patience is unfortunately a virtue which is being daily tested by Federal agencies; the practical reverberating impact is upon the individual Federal and Postal employees who are filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (the Agency that approves and manages Disability Retirement for all Federal Employees in America)  That, too, is something which is historically inevitable — it is the individual who is impacted, while the faceless “agency” goes on about its business.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Events

Society often proceeds in starts and fits; from one event to the next; from a noted day off on a calendar; from that three-day weekend to the next; from a noted celebration; and time is then marked off and set in our minds as details to fill into the wide linear void of time. But chronicity of medical conditions counters such attempts to neatly bifurcate time into segments of comprehensible packages, precisely because there is no break in the duration of progressive deterioration.

Chronic pain is an equalizer of time; it negates and nullifies, and throws one into the deep abyss of a time when time did not exist; of a prehistoric state of being where sensation, events, environmental dangers and the necessity to survive by reacting consume and overwhelm any sense of segments of time.  Civilization and societal niceties create the neat packages of time-oriented existence; like pristine lawns in a suburban neighborhood, property-lines establish our lives like time-lines on an itinerary of a corporate employee.

How does one break that abyss of timelessness?

Federal Disability Retirement through the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, allows for that recuperative segment of time in which a Federal employee may turn to, in order to break the chronicity of a progressively deteriorating medical condition.

At least Federal and Postal employees have that option.  For many in the rest of society, the niceties of a segmented life will continue to determine one’s ability to escape that prehistoric time of timelessness.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Wait-time Extended

The time which takes from the assignment of a case number in Boyers, PA, to a decision rendered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in Washington, D.C., has been extended.

Recent articles regarding this issue have been slow to reveal the underpinnings of this growing problem, but the coalescence of multiple factors is making for a mini “perfect storm” of sorts, including:  Budget cuts which have forced disallowance of overtime and further hiring of additional workers; slow response to a progressively impending problem in the past couple of years; the threat of furloughs which restricts options available for OPM to respond; internal moving of offices within the same building at OPM.

Service is the essence of the function of government; when the essential function of government begins to disintegrate, it becomes a reflection on a growing, greater problem.  For Federal and Postal workers who have worked tirelessly towards their day of retirement, and for those Federal and Postal Workers who have been hit with a medical condition such that Federal Disability Retirement benefits is an option which must be relied upon, any extension of time in processing the application for disability retirement is an added burden which places great financial and emotional pressure upon an already-dire circumstance.

Fair or not, the reality of an administrative nightmare is steadily growing.

The good news is that there is such an option as Federal Disability Retirement benefits, and one which is a progressive paradigm for a society which understands that medical conditions may impact the Federal or Postal Worker, but that such medical conditions need not mean that a person is totally disabled — merely that there is an inconsistency between one’s position and one’s medical condition.

The bad news is that the wait-time to obtain such benefits has been somewhat extended.  The solution?  Only that filing sooner than later will place one in the proverbial line of the bureaucratic turmoil, only to slowly march forward towards the desired end.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Time

Attempting to order life in accordance with a schedule which one has manufactured is often an impossible task to perform; when dealing with a Federal bureaucracy, it is moreover an unwise thing to attempt.  

Preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS necessarily and inherently takes time.  In addition to time, it requires foresight into possible delays, both predictable as well as unintended.  While a general timeline of 8 – 10 months from the start of the process (meaning, the initial gather of the medical documentation and narrative reports, compiling the evidentiary documentation necessary to prepare a case; formulation of the Applicant’s Statement of Disability, etc.) to the time when an approval letter is issued by the Office of Personnel Management in response to the First or Initial Stage of the Process, is a realistic assessment of the time involved, there are multiple events, issues and intervening pitfalls which can interrupt and disrupt such a generalization.  

A cushion of time should always be considered.  More than that, however, the Federal or Postal employee who becomes frustrated with the lengthy process avoids thinking about the months and months of delay and procrastination which was engaged in at the “front end” of the entire process — where, for months and months, the Federal or Postal employee kept putting off starting the process to begin with.  

Remember that preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is a process involving a Federal bureaucracy and, as such, the inevitable virtue of patience must be stored in plentiful quantities, to be harvested during the waiting time.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Early Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: The Timeline

The timeline is an extensive one.  Beyond the period from start to finish of the initial process (6 – 8 months minimum for just the First Stage of the process, assuming everything goes “right” in receiving prompt responses from the medical providers, obtaining the records; having the agency process everything in a timely manner, etc.), there is then the possibility of a glitch in the process on the part of the Office of Personnel Management.  

Filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management must necessarily entail an acknowledgement and recognition of being prepared for a long and arduous wait.  Then, of course, if the case is denied at the First Stage of the process, one must expect a minimum of 90 – 120 days for the Reconsideration Stage of the process; if it is denied a second time by OPM, then a minimum of 120 – 150 days at the Merit Systems Protection Board.  

Further, if a Petition for Full Review is filed, it can often taken 10 months.  And an appeal to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals?  You don’t even want to consider that…  

As such, when one is preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the operative focus should be upon the first conceptual link in the sequence — “preparing”.  The first order of business in a Federal Disability Retirement application is in mentally preparing for the long haul.  I will reiterate an oft-used quip:  Patience is a virtue; ergo, Federal and Postal employees filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS must by definition be the most virtuous of people.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Right Time to File

The proper time to file for a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is an issue which only the Federal or Postal employee contemplating such action can make a final determination upon.  The question often posed to an attorney, “What should I do?” is a difficult one when it comes to timing.  However, because the Office of Personnel Management seems to be taking a long time in rendering decisions upon a FERS or CSRS disability retirement application, such length of time must be taken into account when determining which “metric system” of filing one should rely upon.  

Further, because OWCP benefits can be cut off because of non-compliance issues, or because the Department of Labor has decided that you are fully recovered and can go back to full duties, the comfort of such payments may not be the best guidance as to determining the right time to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  The answer to the previous question is thus probably two-fold:  

The fact that you are contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is an indicator; and second, preparation should involve reading as much information on the internet by various resources, and determining which source appears to have the knowledge, credibility and insight to be able to assist you in attaining your goals.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The 1-Year Rule

Periodically, I remind everyone of the various “1-year” rules which govern Federal Disability Retirement issues under FERS & CSRS.  Since there are multiple applications of the 1-year rule, there is often a confusion which is still prevalent and ongoing.  Thus, here are some clarifications:  You must file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS either while in the employment of a Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service, or within 1-year of being separated from Federal Service

There are a couple of exceptions to this 1-year rule:  If you are found to be incompetent, you may be able to get a waiver from the Office of Personnel Management, but this is extremely rare and difficult to obtain.  Another exception, however, is found in the U.S. Court of Appeals case of Johnston v. OPM, where the Court found that if a person was removed for apparent medical reasons, but was never notified by the Agency, then the 1-year rule may be waived (this often happens to Federal and Postal employees who have been on OWCP for many years, and are forgotten and never informed of an initiation of an SF 50 separating him or her from Federal or Postal Service). 

The 1-year rule should not be confused with:  One’s medical condition needs to last for a minimum of 1 year (but this does not mean that you need to wait a year before filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits; rather, it merely means that your doctor expects that your medical condition will last for a minimum of 12 months).  I hope that this clarfies any confusions, and further, that it serves as a reminder to anyone who is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Attorney