Filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is a serious matter. There are often whispering lamentations about individuals “gaming” a system, or somehow taking deliberate “advantage” of a compensatory program in place, targeted for specific needs. Of course, there will always be those few individuals who are caught manipulating an inherent weakness in an administrative process; but the fact that there may be a minority of negatives does not betray the compendium of positives within any given system.
OPM Disability Retirement, in the end, is one of the most thoughtfully enacted systems within the greater universe of Federal programs.
First, it is narrowly targeted with great specificity — to Federal and Postal Workers who suffer from a medical condition such that the medical condition prevents them from performing one or more of the “essential” elements of their positional duties.
Second, it requires a minimum eligibility requirement, both in substantive terms as well as procedural: the FERS Federal employee must have a minimum of 18 months of Federal Service; the CSRS Federal employee must have a minimum of 5 years of Federal Service; and the condition must last for at least 12 months (this latter requirement does not mean that the Federal or Postal employee must be unable to work at all for 12 months, but merely that the treating doctor must be able to state, within reasonable medical probability, that the medical condition will last for a minimum of 12 months).
And, third, it does not penalize the Federal or Postal Worker from remaining productive in a second, alternative vocation. The Federal and Postal Worker who receives a Federal Disability Retirement annuity is allowed to go into the private sector and make up to 80% of what one’s former Federal or Postal position currently pays, in addition to the receipt of the annuity. Thus, in essence, it is a “self-paying” system in that it allows for the annuitant to pay “back into” the system, thereby maintaining the viability of the entire Federal Disability Annuity program for future applicants and annuitants.
It is rare among Federal Programs because of its thoughtful approach and well-planned process, as well as being successful in its outcome and current workings.
For critics who attempt to savage all such compensatory programs in an indiscriminate manner by pointing to weaknesses in the system, the following should be noted: the American Society long ago wisely decided to avoid the London streets of Dickens’ universe, where human debris of homelessness and poverty prevailed on the streets of a city now gone, and instead attempted to create a more caring and empathetic civilization.
Until and critic suffers from the devastation of a medical condition, you never quite know what it is like to be in the shoes of that Federal or Postal employee who daily toils to try and work, but cannot because of the progressively deteriorating disability which has devastated life, hope, and dreams of a better tomorrow.
Robert R. McGill, Esquire