FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: OWCP Dilemma

Benefits received through FECA (Federal Employees’ Compensation Act), administered through the Department of Labor and otherwise known under the acronym of OWCP, provide for temporary total disability compensation during the time that a Federal or Postal employee is injured and is unable to go back to one’s former job.

It pays well.  The problem, often, however, is that it pays well enough just to maintain a person to prevent him or her from drowning.  This dilemma is highlighted by the fact that a Federal or Postal employee who is receiving OWCP benefits (scheduled awards excepted) is unable to work at a job (with some exceptions regarding a person who had already been employed at a second job when injured at his primary vocation) or receive additional earned income.

Federal Disability Retirement benefits, on the other hand, whether under FERS or CSRS, allows for earned income up to 80% of what one’s former position currently pays.

While the Federal or Postal worker is allowed to concurrently file for, and get approved, both Federal OWCP benefits as well as FERS or CSRS Disability Retirement benefits, if both are approved, you must choose between one or the other approved benefit, and allow the unchosen one to remain inactive.

While FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement benefits, filed and obtained through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, pays less than OWCP benefits, it is the added advantage of being able to work at another vocation which makes it more attractive.

It is like the difference between a shipwrecked victim who can hang onto a small floating device as opposed to a raft with oars; while the former allows for survival, it is the latter which will ultimately take one to the destination of final fruition.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Taking the Longer View

The converse viewpoint of the short-sale, or short-term view, is the obvious:  to look to one’s future with a long-term view, which often takes self-discipline in ignoring the short-term gain.  In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is often difficult to disregard the attraction of OWCP payments, and to instead plan for one’s future by opting for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from OPM.

Under FECA/DOL, OWCP pays 75% of one’s Federal or Postal salary tax free (if one has dependents), and 66 2/3% without dependents.  That is a sizable compensatory attraction.  However, with limited exceptions, when one is under the thumb of OWCP, you:  A.  Cannot work at another job, B.  Must do what OWCP says in order to continue the benefit, C.  Must be careful, as the watchful eye, especially in the form of a video camera, may be anywhere and everywhere, and D. Will likely be subjected to second and third opinion doctors, as well as a nursing case manager, to try and expedite your return to your job.

Ultimately, OWCP is not a retirement system, and the job of the Department of Labor is to get you back to your former job as quickly as possible.  OPM Disability Retirement, on the other hand, is a compensatory system whereby one is encouraged to go out and begin anew.  The long-term view is often the harder road to take; it is, however, meant to reward one for a lifetime, as opposed to a momentary and fleeting memory which will end soon enough.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: OWCP & the Short Sale

Americans are often looked upon as short-sighted.  Lacking historical longevity, both in terms of an enduring civilization as well as culture, the economic, mercantile (some would say ‘mercenary’), materialistic approach of the American Way lends itself to criticism for the emphasized focus upon short-term gain and profit.

For those questioning whether or not a Federal Disability Retirement annuity, in comparison with compensation received or being received through the Department of Labor, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (FECA), would be beneficial, may be suffering from the American-Way syndrome — of viewing the higher pay alone and in a vacuum, without considering the superior benefits of the longer view of life.

Indeed, under an annuity from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, one may continue to receive the Federal Disability Retirement annuity, and yet work and receive income on top of the Federal Disability Retirement annuity, up to 80% of what one’s former Federal or Postal job currently pays.  Under OWCP, of course, one cannot work while receiving temporary total disability payments.

Further, it is important to understand that the time that one is on Federal Disability Retirement counts towards the total number of years of Federal service, so that when it converts to regular retirement at age 62, all those years on Federal Disability Retirement are counted.

Short term sale or long term goals and benefits?

Whether lacking in culture, history or an enduring civilization, it is always beneficial to review the present, in order to plan for the future.  Short sales often sell one short, and that is something which the Federal and Postal employee must take into account in preparing, formulating, and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from OPM, whether under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: It Is a Retirement

Federal Disability Retirement is a retirement; it is not a temporary method of compensation, and unlike OWCP under the Federal Employee’s Compensation Act (FECA), one is actually separated from Federal Service shortly after receiving an approval from the Office of Personnel Management.

Once the Federal or Postal employee obtains a Federal Disability Retirement approval, there is no “turning back” for employment or position rights; one does not have a preemptive or superior right to go back to one’s agency, anymore than a person who applies for a Federal or Postal job as a new hire.

That is why, as part of the administrative process and requirement in the filing of Standard Forms, one must include SF 3107 (for FERS disability retirement applicants) or SF 2801 (for CSRS disability retirement applicants) — the “Immediate Application for Retirement”, where much personal information is requested, including information on one’s spouse, data on health insurance, life insurance, past military service, etc.

While it is true that the Federal Disability Retirement annuity becomes recalculated and re-characterized as “regular retirement” at age 62, based upon the number of years of total Federal Service — including those years on Federal Disability Retirement (which is why switching from OWCP to OPM Disability Retirement can be beneficial in the long run, as opposed to the lesser monetary amount for the short term) — it is nevertheless a retirement in every sense of the word:  one is separated from Federal Service; one receives an annuity; there is no future expectation of rehabilitation and return to work, etc.

It is not a short-term process of rehabilitation and compensation, and therefore when the Federal or Postal employee begins to prepare, formulate, and file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, one should be fully aware that in the very term, “Federal Disability Retirement”, it is a compensatory benefit based upon three (3) factors:  It is for Federal/Postal employees; it is based upon a medical condition or disability; and it is a retirement.  As the age-old adage goes:  If it walks and acts like a duck, then it must be one.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: OWCP Independence & Instersection

When Federal and Postal employees call to inquiry about Federal Disability Retirement issues from the Office of Personnel Management, the initial part of the conversation often involves separating the distinction and differences between OPM Disability Retirement and temporary total disability benefits obtained through the Office of Worker’s Compensation Programs, Department of Labor (OWCP/DOL).  

The two are distinct, independent, and do not intersect except when it comes to having both benefits approved — in which case the “intersection” between the two is comprised of choosing one benefit over the other, and allowing the other to remain in an inactive status.  The fact that each is separate, independent and non-intersecting (for the most part), however, does not mean that documentation from one entity cannot be used to prove or otherwise enhance the provability of the other (yes, the double-negative makes it more difficult to understand — but what it means is that you can use documentation from OWCP sources to help prove your OPM Disability Retirement).  

Thus, while there are two separate “language games” (to use a term coined by the 20th Century Philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein) involving usage of terms which are somewhat foreign to each other — such as “MMI”, “percentage disability ratings”, whether it is an “on-the-job” injury or not, etc., the fact that OWCP issues embrace a medical condition which impacts one’s ability or inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, can certainly be a valuable tool in the arsenal of weapons to be used in proving a Federal Disability Retirement case.  On the other hand, discretion is a tactical tool which also needs to be applied…

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for U.S. Federal Government Employees: Context, Sequence & Connections

Often, a potential applicant for Federal Disability Retirement will insist that the origin of the medical condition or injury is important to annotate, for one reason or another.  Unlike OWCP issues, origin and causation is usually of little or no significance in a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS.  Thus, for OWCP Disability, it may be of importance to show that X injury was caused by occupational hazard Y; or that, while on the job on a certain date, the applicant slipped and fell, etc.  In proving OWCP Disability, such “incident-specific” facts are important in establishing causation, in order to determine eligibility and entitlement to OWCP Disability benefits.

For purposes of OPM Disability, however, the Federal or Postal worker who is seeking Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, does not have to establish such incident-specific facts.  Rather, the focus shifts upon the medical condition, the symptoms, and the impact upon those medical medical conditions and symptoms upon one’s inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, within the last year.  While it may be that some factual context is significant by way of showing a sequence of events from the past, in order to show how the medical condition worsened over time, OPM normally does not care about such historical facts.  While the history of X is interesting, what occurs in the recent-to-present timeframe is what interests OPM.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The (non) Problem of Causality & Causation

In a Worker’s Comp (DOL/OWCP/FECA) case, causation and causality often loom as significant issues, and doctors often have to walk a difficult line in making unequivocal statements, or somewhat equivocating statements, as to the “cause” of a medical condition or injury.  Such statements can sometimes be the singular focus as to the success or failure of an OWCP case.  Why?  Because OWCP compensable injuries and medical conditions must be related to the job — either as something caused by an accident while on the job, or in some way occupationally related. 

In Federal Disability Retirement cases under FERS or CSRS, one can be on a skiing vacation and incur a medical condition or disability, and so long as that person is unable to, because of the medical condition, perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, one is thereby eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS. 

Sometimes, however, the issue of causation comes into the picture, but can work in a detrimental way, but need not.  Let me clarify:  In a chemical sensitivity case, or a psychiatric condition which finds its originating “causation” from the workplace, the doctor may want to relate the “cause” of the medical condition directly to the workplace.  This is fine, so far as it goes — and, ironically, most doctors (because they have no idea about FERS or CSRS disability retirement) think they are doing their patients a favor by relating it as “causally related” to the workplace.  More often than not, however, it can open up a “can of worms” — of being characterized by the Office of Personnel Management as a “situational disability”, which must be avoided like the plague.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire