Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: August, Vacations, & OPM

August is traditionally a time of vacations; a period of respite, before the onset of school and the busy schedules of parents.  Government offices slow down, and with the coinciding impact of furloughs mandated through automatic imposition, delays in work and accomplishment of cases become incrementally evident, like reverberations from the slow moan of an earthquake.

The lazy slapping waves mixed with the taste of sea salt may lull the vacationer into an isolated sense of calm and quietude; but for the Federal or Postal worker suffering from a medical condition, who is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, or who is in the midst of the process of formulating one’s case, or for those who have already filed and are merely anxiously awaiting a decision — that time of temporary rejuvenation is a needed escape, despite never being able to fully separate oneself from the medical condition which impacts one’s life.

That is the strange phenomena of a medical condition — unless it has been a lifelong condition, it is a part of one’s existence and being which only constitutes a minor percentage of the entirety of one’s lifetime; yet, it often consumes the greater portion of one’s thoughts, actions and ruminations, and undermines that time of leisure known popularly as a “vacation“.

Medical conditions are a reality to be dealt with; vacations are optional times of leisure; and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, is a choice which allows for a combination of the two:  a time of respite in order to become rehabilitated, and to recuperate in order to deal with the reality of a medical condition.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Unfortunately, like a Toothache

Preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is analogous to having a toothache — a gnawing sense of foreboding during the entire process, especially during the long period of waiting for a decision from the Office of Personnel Management.  Then, like the extracted tooth which cures all ills, an approval from the Office of Personnel Management solves many of the problems, clears up much uncertainty for the future, and allows for a good night’s sleep for the first time in many months.

The difference between filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits and having a toothache, however, is that while the latter can have a solution fairly immediately, the former will linger for many months, and it is precisely the longevity of the process which is the most disconcerting.

Further, the fact that one’s own Federal agency, or the U.S. Postal Service, and specifically the Human Resources office of many agencies (there are, of course, exceptions to the general rule, though such exceptions are rare and delightful when found — sort of like coming upon a near-extinct species and recognizing the aberration of the moment) will deliberately and with purposive intent attempt to obfuscate and create unnecessary obstacles (isn’t that precisely why such euphemistic designations like, “The Office of Human Capital” is applied?) is itself disturbing, puzzling, and infuriating.  But like the toothache, all that can be done during the long administrative process is to wait for that moment of extraction — or approval, as the case may be.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Working while Waiting

During the process of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the question is sometimes asked as to whether a Federal or Postal employee who is filing, or has filed, can either (a) continue to work in the Federal or Postal job he or she is occupying, or (b) work at another, private-sector job, during the process.

Because Federal Disability Retirement is not a disability annuity based upon “total disability” (unlike Social Security Disability), but in fact encourages Federal and Postal workers to remain productive in the workforce, the fact of continuation of work during the process should not generally have an impact upon a decision rendered by the Office of Personnel Management.

The key, operative word, of course, is “should”.  The Office of Personnel Management will sometimes bring the issue up, and make certain assumptions — as to the similarity between positional duties of one’s Federal/Postal position and the private sector job, or that the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service has “accommodated” the Federal or Postal worker, and therefore that is the reason why continuation in the position has been possible.

Such assumptions obviously need to be addressed, but they are often based upon a presumption founded in error — for, “light duty” or “temporary” duties do not constitute a legally viable “accommodation”, but that is something which OPM has a difficult time understanding.  The fact that the Federal Agency which makes the legal determination on the viability of a Federal Disability Retirement application, has a lack of understanding of “the law” governing the legal criteria, is rather astounding, but true.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Uniqueness & Comparisons

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, then submitting the presentation either through one’s agency (if one is still on the rolls of the Federal or Postal Service, or if separated, it has not yet been 31 days or more) or directly to the Office of Personnel Management (if one has been separated from Federal Service for 31 days or more), it is then the entrance into the dreaded “waiting period” where the dead zone begins of increasing anxiety, angst and upheaval of awaiting “the decision” from the Office of Personnel Management.  

During this time of waiting wasteland, it is difficult to remain productive if one is no longer working at the Agency, and it is easy to fall prey to the mentality of comparison — of attempting to obtain information on other filings, of other Federal or Postal employees, either current, fairly recent, or in the far past, and attempting to gauge the success or failure, the waiting period, whether some have been preferentially treated, etc.  

The problem with engagement in such comparisons, of course, is that it is almost impossible to recreate an apple in order to compare it to another apple.  Whether because the internal procedures of OPM have changed (which it has), and comparing it to a time passed when procedures reflected a more systematic methodology of review; or whether one attempts to figure out if there is a non-arbitrary system of review at OPM (there isn’t); or whether the case has been assigned to a more experienced case-worker as opposed to one who has newly come on board at the Office of Personnel Management; or whether the strength of one’s medical and other substantiating documentation makes the initial review for OPM to grant the case immediately — all are factors, and many more not delineated herein, which make for differences between cases which cannot be compared.  

Each case is unique; uniqueness is the differentiation between cases; the cases, because of each individual uniqueness, fails in all attempts at quanitification of comparative analysis.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Working while Waiting

The question is often asked whether a Federal or Postal employee is able to, allowed to, or can work, while filing for and awaiting a decision upon, a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management.  The subtle distinctions to be made between “able”, “allowed” and “can”, of course, are done purposefully.  

Within the medical restrictions, condition and extent of severity of the medical conditions, most Federal employees are able to continue to provide some level of productivity within his or her position with the Federal government.  

Whether a Federal or Postal employee is allowed to work while having filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is a separate question, but for the most part, agencies allow the employee to continue working — sometimes in a light duty capacity (especially where certain essential elements of the job may pose a danger because of the medical restrictions imposed), but often in a temporarily reduced capacity.  Thus, the “allowed” category is essentially up to each individual and independent agency, but for the most part agencies do allow Federal employees to continue to work.  

The latter distinction — whether a Federal or Postal employee “can” work — is a hybrid of the previous two categories.  Most Federal and Postal employees must work, out of economic necessity, and therefore will force themselves to continue to work as long as possible.  

The Federal or Postal employee who can continue to work, will work, and can do so to the extent that the Federal Agency or the Postal Service will allow the employee to perform some, if not most, of the essential elements of one’s job.  It should be a coordinated effort between the Agency and the employee who has shown his or her loyalty these past many years, but unfortunately such coordination breaks down somewhere during the process.  

During the trying times of preparing, formulating, filing, then waiting for a decision on a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the time for an Agency to show that the concept of “loyalty” is a bilateral proposition should surface — if only for the time to complete the process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Different Denials

After having formulated, prepared and filed a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the period of long waiting ensues with the review process of the Office of Personnel Management (having survived the waiting process through the Agency).  

At this initial stage of the application, the Federal or Postal applicant will be forced to wait (anxiously) for a decision by OPM.  Thus, when the Office of Personnel Management makes a decision at the First Stage, and that decision is a “denial” of the Federal Disability Retirement application, there is a spectrum of possible responses — immediate, emotional, angry, frustrated, etc.  

Instead, however, the proper response is to recognize that this initial denial is merely part of a greater process which involves many steps, procedures, responses and replies.  Indeed, part of the reason why a Federal or Postal employee feels the pressure and anxieties is because one tends to view the application process as a “one-time” deal — where submission of an application should be reviewed by OPM and an approval is granted.  This can be true — but should be viewed as merely an anomaly, and not the standard.  

While having a Federal Disability Attorney prepare the application for Disability Retirement should increase the chances of an approval at any level of the process, it is nevertheless first and foremost a process involving multiple steps and stages, with potential pitfalls and denials throughout.  Thus, a Federal Disability Retirement application may be initially denied, then responded to, then denied a second time at the Reconsideration Stage of the process, and require a further response.  

Different denials require different responses, not because they are not all part of the same process (I know, the double negative gives one pause), but because each denial is given by different departments and personnel at the Office of Personnel Management. Remember, one must prove one’s eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, and proof means that there is the potential for an adversarial component of the process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: The Office of Personnel Management

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) , located in Washington, D.C., is the agency which makes the decision on all Federal Disability Retirement applications, whether under FERS, CSRS or CSRS-Offset.  They are the responsible agency for the first two “stages” of the process of attempting to show eligibility and entitlement to a Federal Disability Retirement annuity.  By “stages” is merely meant the initial application stage of the process, as well as the second, “Reconsideration” stage of the process — where a Federal or Postal employee has the right to, within 30 days of an initial denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application, request that his or her case be “reconsidered”, and further have the right to submit any additional medical or other supporting documentation for review and consideration. 

If the case is denied a second time by the Office of Personnel Management, then the Federal or Postal employee who has filed the Federal Disability Retirement application, or the attorney representing the Federal or Postal employee, has a right to file an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  The Office of Personnel Management is taking quite a long time in making a decision on a Federal Disability Retirement application, and although they are attempting to get caught up with their workload, the volume of cases filed and received by OPM on a weekly basis has made such an attempt difficult.  As has been stated by this author many times, Patience is a virtue, and as such, Federal and Postal employees must be the most virtuous of all, because patience is what is needed to endure and survive the process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire