OPM Disability Retirement Application: Eligibility & Entitlement

The two concepts are often confused; for the Federal employee and the U.S. Postal Service worker filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, the frustration is often voiced precisely because of the misapplication of the legal import between them.

Eligibility is determined by the contingencies which must be met, the thresholds of prerequisites which must be satisfied:  The Federal or Postal employee must be either under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset; the minimum number of years of Federal Service must have been accrued; the Statute of Limitations must not have already passed; further, then, some age limitations need to be considered as a practical matter, to allow for pragmatic justification to even apply.

Entitlement is based upon proof.  As the law is set by statutory authority, filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management requires that the Federal or Postal applicant meet certain preset standards of acceptable proof, based upon that which constitutes sufficiency of satisfaction.

The legal standard is based upon a “preponderance of the evidence“; the evidentiary requirement provides that a tripartite nexus be established between (A) the medical condition, (B) the Federal or Postal position which the Federal or Postal employee occupies, and (C) evidence showing that as a result of A, one or more of the essential elements of B cannot be satisfied.  Further, there is the “D” component, and that involves the issue of “reasonable accommodations” and whether the Federal agency or the U.S. Postal Service can reassign the Federal or Postal employee to a similar position at the same pay or grade.

It is only upon the initial satisfaction of eligibility requirements that the Federal or Postal employee can then further investigate whether entitlement is feasible or not.  Thus, “entitlement” in this sense is not based upon meeting eligibility requirements; rather, satisfaction of eligibility prerequisites allows for entrance into the gateway of establishing entitlement.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: The Purposeful Statement

Some narratives are written for the pure beauty of style and art; quiet in tenor, like the bamboo hollow whistling in the serenity of a morning breeze as the sun reaches the crest of the distant mountains, the place where wizards and warlords gather in solemn conferences around a fireplace of cooling ashes.  Then, there are informational pieces — direct lines of communication, shot at the reader like an arrow and with words to pierce the intended audience.

One’s Statement of Disability, written for purposes of inclusion in a Federal Disability Retirement application by the Federal employee or the U.S. Postal worker, and whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset; the admixture of history, story, situation and persuasive argumentation, constitutes the purposeful narrative.  Stories reveal a truism; in the classical sense, a conflict, and an unfolding until it reaches a pinnacle of a resolution.

A statement of disability, written in response to questions posed by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management on Standard Form 3112A, may not yet have a resolution; otherwise, the need for filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits would be somewhat meaningless.

But be not fooled; the narrative as delineated on SF 3112A, in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability, is a story filled with compelling drama and mixed with facts, circumstances, and contextual significance, no less than the great works of literature or the purposeful articles in technical journals and compendiums of esoteric writings; it is just that the particular narration as detailed on SF 3112A pinpoints a select audience, and is written from the soul of a Federal or Postal employee,  reaching out to a nameless bureaucracy in a world where numbers are assigned to faceless and nameless workers who have toiled for years without accolades and ceremonies, but where need is the basis of the written statement submitted for an approval from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

OPM Disability Retirement: The Power of Approval

Whether the Federal agency or the U.S. Postal Service can have a significant impact upon a Federal Disability Retirement application is a question often asked; then, of course, there are always suspicions that certain individuals and entities may try to undermine or otherwise sabotage, out of pure animus and acrimonious low-down-ness (not a legal or technical term, by any stretch of the imagination), by going through “back-door” channels and attempting to influence or otherwise paint a portrait of perverse circumstances.

At best, agencies, individuals and entities of the Federal kind can remain neutral and harmless; at worst, they can allege unspecified and unidentifiable, nefarious circumstances of associated behaviors or conduct issues otherwise unrelated but left to the unimaginative creativity of an OPM administrative specialist.  But then, since those would all be illegal and unofficial acts of retribution and retaliation, they would never be validated nor publicly acknowledged, anyway, and so only the suspicions would remain, without verifiable evidence of ascertained capability to influence or otherwise persuade a negative determination to be reached by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

To their credit, OPM asserts complete and total independence, and refuses to allow for any influence but for the legal criteria in evaluating a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether the individual is under FER, CSRS or CSRS Offset, and whether the Federal Disability Retirement application comes from the U.S. Postal Service or from one of hundreds of Federal agencies and departments across the country.

Neither a Federal agency nor the U.S. Postal Service can promise or otherwise grant a Federal Disability Retirement application to a Federal or Postal worker; only the U.S. Office of Personnel Management can do that.  Empty promises aside, whether by implication, inference or alleged influence, OPM is the only entity which can approve a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Yes, agencies can be more helpful than not (though that is rare); agencies can somewhat harm (though a Federal OPM Disability Retirement application is ultimately based upon the medical evidence gathered); and yes, agencies more often than not attempt to undermine rather than assist (despite thousands of Human Resource Specialists across the country claiming otherwise); despite all of this, it comes down to a single entity — the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and no other agency — which grants or denies an approval for a Federal Disability Retirement application.  As such, beware of promises made; be cautious of settlements reached; and be dubious of claims of egomaniacal exponents of hyperbolic vituperations; they normally amount to the value of the verbal paper they are written upon.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

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

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

OPM Disability Retirement: OWCP Acceptance & Federal Disability Retirement

Case acceptance by the Department of Labor, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (DOL/OWCP) makes it easier for the Agency to make a determination on issues of accommodation, which is one of the elements which must be established in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  

On the one hand, when a Federal employee has been deemed to be “permanent and stationary”, the issue as to whether or not the Agency can reassign the Federal employee, or accommodate him such that the employee can continue to perform all of the essential elements of his or her job, can be easily established, in conjunction with and through the cooperation of a case manager from OWCP.  But even a modified job does not preclude an employee from filing for, and being eligible for, Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, precisely because such a modified or “light duty” job is not a permanent position, but rather an ad hoc set of duties as described in the prevailing case of Bracey v. OPM.

On the other hand, when a Federal or Postal employee has been accepted by OWCP and placed on “temporary total disability” — even if the “temporary” nature of such compensation continues on and on for many years — then it makes it easy for the Agency to simply forget about the employee and not even search to see if accommodating the individual is even possible.  

Thus, being placed on OWCP often makes it a simple administrative matter for the Agency.  No accommodations need to be searched for, and the Agency can move on, leaving the Federal or Postal employee in perpetual limbo.  

Concomitantly, however, for the Federal or Postal employee, the fact that one’s medical condition has been accepted by OWCP/DOL can be used as one element to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, to show that being on OWCP has some evidentiary weight that (A) the Agency is unable to accommodate the Federal or Postal worker, and (B) that there is persuasive evidence that another Federal Agency has determined that the Federal or Postal employee is disabled, and (C) that receiving temporary total disability is an indicator that one is unable to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  

Nevertheless, beyond the proof of acceptance by OWCP, the Federal or Postal employee must still affirmatively prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the medical evidence proves that one is unable to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job. Being on OWCP may have some minimal persuasive impact; it is still up to the Federal or Postal employee who is preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application that he or she is eligible for the benefit.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Problem with OWCP

Agencies which have employees who cannot perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job will often encourage him or her to file for Department of Labor, Office of Workers’ Compensation Program benefits (DOL/OWCP), if the injury or medical condition occurred as a result of an on-the-job incident, or can be shown to have an occupational cause.

That is fine, so far as it goes.  For, OWCP is set up with the intent of addressing those medical conditions and issues which are work-related.  However, when agencies begin to use OWCP as the dumping ground for workers they don’t believe are fully productive, it becomes a problem because OWCP is not intended for long-term compensation, but merely a venue in order to compensate a Federal or Postal employee for a temporary time in order for the worker to recuperate from his or her medical condition or injury, then to return to full duty.  It is not meant to be a retirement system.

Further, it only compensates for those injuries which are causally related to the workplace.  As a dumping ground, it makes it easier for the Federal agency or Postal Service to deny the ability to accommodate the Federal or Postal Worker, or to reassign the individual, and instead to provide the proper forms to file for Workers’ Compensation benefits.  This doesn’t mean, however, that OWCP will accept the claim, either as an original claim or as a recurrence.  OWCP is not a retirement system.  

On the other hand, OPM Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS is meant to compensate Federal or Postal employees who have a long-term medical condition.  If the agency cannot accommodate the disabled Federal or Postal Worker, that is an option to be considered.  If you are “unwanted” — and the agency shows every inclination of that — it may be time to consider the option of Federal Disability Retirement.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OWCP Payments & FERS/CSRS Disability Retirement

There are many Federal and Postal workers who have been receiving OWCP payments (Temporary Total Disability benefits) for years.  Such payments can, indeed, continue for many years, or for a few months, depending upon the length of time it may take for a medical condition to persist.  

The problem with relying upon OWCP as a retirement system is that, strictly speaking, it is not a retirement system.  The Department of Labor can begin the process of sending the benefit recipient to a “Second Opinion” doctor, and the process of attempting to cut off OWCP benefits has thus begun.  

Further, there is often the problem of reliance upon OWCP, resulting in a Federal or Postal worker failing to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits within 1 year of being separated from Federal Service.  This sometimes happens because the Federal or Postal Worker begins to feel secure in the monthly OWCP benefit, and because it pays a higher rate than FERS or CSRS Disability Retirement benefits.  However, one should never be fooled by the tenuous nature of OWCP — it is not meant to be a retirement system, and most Federal and Postal workers who have experienced first-hand the treatment by OWCP/DOL will attest to the fact that they can be sudden, arbitrary, and difficult to deal with.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Service Disability Retirement: Hindrances

One would think that the Human Resources Department of the Agency from which a Federal or Postal employee is attempting to file a Federal Disability Retirement application, would be a “helpful” entity.  It is indeed a baffling phenomena when one pauses and reflects upon it:  What is the purpose of the Human Resources Department?  Specifically, what existential purpose does a person serve, who has a positional designation of “Disability Retirement Specialist”?  Let me attempt to answer the question in the way it is supposed to be answer:  1.  The purpose of the Human Resources Department is to help the Federal and Postal employees of the Agency or Department of which they have been established.  2.  The person who holds the designated job entitled, “Disability Retirement Specialist” is one who, theoretically, is there to assist in any way, within the legal confines established by the Agency, in as much as possible, to help the Federal or Postal employee to finalized and complete the disability retirement packet for submission to the Office of Personnel Management.  Now, let me pose the following hypothetical:  an H.R. person calls up and says, “I cannot forward the disability retirement packet because Box Number ___ on Standard Form _____ has not been checked.”  Does this sound like the Human Resources Department is fulfilling the existential purpose for which it was established?  On the other hand, rhetorical questions are fun to ask, precisely because they are rhetorical, and allow one to expiate some build-up of frustrations on a Friday night, after a long week dealing with multiple agencies.  Have a good weekend.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire