OPM Disability Retirement: Delays

Often, the answer to a question posed depends upon how accurately the question is presented.  Such are the tools of the trade of an attorney, and it is often necessary to rephrase, reassemble and rearrange a question in order to suit an answer.  

In a Federal Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management, the question posed is:  How long does the process take?  This all depends upon a number of factors — how quickly the treating doctor will respond; how long will the Agency take in completing their portion; what is the “wait time” at the Office of Personnel Management.

Unspoken within the original question, however, is how many months of delay has already occurred on the part of the potential applicant prior to coming to a point of determining that filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is a necessary event.  Unfortunately, the very emergency nature of having to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS results quite often because the Federal or Postal worker has continued to delay for months and months — and sometimes years — prior to coming to a decision that filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is a necessity.  

Such delays and procrastination are often part of the medical condition itself, and cannot be helped.  But during such delays, it is important to make an assessment as to whether the procrastination has a detrimental effect, or is it for positive reasons?  If it is irrefutable that one’s medical condition is progressively and irreversibly deteriorating; if delaying is simply dwindling finances needed to endure the long administrative process of waiting for an approval from the Office of Personnel Management; if putting off the inevitable is simply a result of not wanting to face the event; such reasons for delay constitute a self-defeating action.  If, on the other hand, delaying has meant securing one’s financial future, or because it has had positive psychological benefits, then that is a different matter entirely.  

To delay is not necessarily a negative decision, but each individual must bear the personal responsibility of his or her part in such an act, by making a forthright assessment of the underlying reasons and justifications.

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 Right Time

For each Federal and Postal employee, there is a “right” time to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS.  By “right time”, I do not mean as to the proper timing in the actual filing of a Federal Disability Retirement case — i.e., whether it should be before or after separation from service, whether at the end of the year, the beginning of the year, etc.  No, by “right” time, I refer to the time when a Federal or Postal employee — that person who has put in all of those many years of loyal service, managed through pain, discomfort, overwhelming stresses, anxieties, fears, chronic and intractable pain, etc. — comes to the conclusion that he or she cannot continue in this mode of existence anymore.  Whether or not a Federal Disability Retirement case is filed with an agency or at the Office of Personnel Management in one month as opposed to another, is ultimately not of great importance; whether a person who is suffering from a medical condition for months, or years, and has been adept at hiding the daily pain and suffering — whether that person has come to a decision that it is now the “right time” to file for disability retirement, makes all the difference.  Each person must find that right time.  “How” and “when” are the two questions which must be answered, and only the Federal or Postal employee who is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS can answer such questions.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: The Agency

I have written on this particular topic in the past, but certain issues seem to be “recurring thematic issues” which need constant vigilance in approaching it in the proper manner. Filing for disability retirement requires an affirmation of two foundational hurdles: (1) acknowledgment and acceptance that one has reached a point in one’s life that he/she can no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  This is the “psychological hurdle” which must be overcome.  And, (2) dealing with the Agency — trying to get the Agency to be “on your side” or, short of that, to render any potential agency action to become irrelevant or inconsequential. 

As to the first hurdle, the Federal employee must always remember that filing for disability retirement is not a “shameful” thing — it is a pragmatic business decision:  No longer a good “fit” for one’s job, it is a benefit which one has had as part of the “employment package” that one accepted when one became a Federal employee.  Remember that, in the private sector, an employee may get a greater salary compensation package; in the Federal government, the employment package includes more than salary:  it includes health insurance, life insurance, disability retirement benefits, annual & sick leave, etc.  Filing for disability retirement is simply part of that compensation package.  As to the second, once an employee decides to file for disability retirement, it is important to try and convince the Agency that any adverse actions contemplated (putting you on a PIP; suspension actions; negative performance ratings; contemplated removal actions, etc.) will be vigorously contested — unless it is removal based upon a medical inability to perform one’s job.   Hurdles often arise through inaction and fear; this is your life; take the affirmative road, and begin tackling the issues “head-on”.  The time to file for disability retirement is now — not tomorrow.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Proper Response to the Agency

It is often difficult to inform an Agency of one’s decision to file for disability retirement. On the one hand, it is often a place where a Federal Employee has spent many years working for; with multiple years of interaction, both good and bad, it is a place which has grown to play a prominent role in the employee’s daily life, with necessary interpersonal infusions of personalities, playing such an influence as important as one’s personal family life — and, because a person may spend 8 – 10 hours a day, week after week, month after month, like life in a family, it has come to embrace a place of primary importance in one’s life. As such, to inform such a place of one’s decision to file for disability retirement is, in effect, to inform them of one’s separation from that primary location of importance. Such separation can be as psychologically devastating as a “divorce” which, in many respects, it is similar to. That is often why the role of an attorney can be important. An attorney can be a “middle-man”, an arbiter to soften the strain of such a separation from a federal employee from his or her “family”. Remember, this is an administrative process; it need not be an adversarial process. An attorney experienced in disability retirement law should know the process, and act to soften the separation which has been long in coming, and work to garner a sense of “teamwork” between Agency and employee, to attain as amicable a separation as possible.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill,Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Time to File

A question often asked is, when is it the right time to file for Disability Retirement? Must you wait until one has been disabled for over a year? Do you have to file for Social Security first, before filing for OPM Disability Retirement? Should the Agency be notified at the beginning of the process, or some time later down the road? What is the best time to approach my doctor about getting his or her support for disability retirement? These are all “timing” questions — each important in its own right, as are all such timing questions.

Since the processing from start to finish, to obtain disability retirement benefits, may take 6 – 8, sometimes 10 months, it must be timed financially — is there enough sick leave, annual leave; should donated leave be requested? Once LWOP is taken, should one remain on LWOP throughout the entire process? As to whether one must wait for a year of being “disabled” before one can file — the answer is “no”. So long as the doctor believes that the medical disability will last for at least a year (within reasonable medical probability), one has the proper medical basis to file for disability retirement. As to filing for Social Security, the Office of Personnel Management actually only needs to see the receipt, showing that one has filed for SSD, at the time of approval of the disability retirement application. And how about notifying the Agency?

This is a question which should be decided after discussion of several factors, with one’s attorney, who may provide for proper legal advice, the potential consequences of informing the Agency, etc. Ultimately, timing questions are a matter of particular importance — particular to the situation and circumstances of each individual case. With that in mind, it is often a good idea to have the counsel of an experienced attorney in the area of Federal Disability Retirement.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire