FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: The 31-day Rule

Once a Federal Disability Retirement application has been prepared and formulated, the next step in the equation is to determine the proper destination for filing.

For all Federal and Postal employees, whether under FERS or CSRS, if one is still on the rolls of the agency, whether on Sick Leave, Annual Leave, receiving donated leave, or on LWOP, if separation from service has not occurred, then the Disability Retirement packet must go through either the local or district Human Resources Office of the Agency for further processing.  The Office of Personnel Management will not accept a Federal Disability Retirement application directly from the applicant, if the Federal or Postal worker filing for such benefits has not yet been separated from Federal Service.

For Postal employees, a further caveat concerning “separation” should be taken into account:  Often, the U.S. Postal Service will continue to retain workers on the rolls, even after proposing to remove them, and often even after issuing a decision letter on a removal.  A good indicator as to whether a Postal Worker is still on the rolls of the U.S. Postal Service is if the individual is still receiving “0” balance pay stubs.  This likely means that the person is still officially “on the rolls” of the U.S. Postal Service.

Further, while many Federal (non-postal) workers continue to have the benefit of a local Human Resources Office, or an assigned district H.R. Office, for the U.S. Postal Service employee, all Federal Disability Retirement applications must be processed through the H.R. Shared Services Center in Greensboro, N.C.

If a person has been separated from Federal Service for more than thirty one (31) days, then the former Federal or Postal Worker must file his or her Federal Disability Retirement application directly with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Thus, the first priority is to prepare and formulate a Federal Disability Retirement application; next, to ensure compliance with the 1-year statute of limitations; and finally, to file it via the proper channels.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: When the Agency Promises…

The Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service for whom the Federal or Postal employee works, cannot “promise” the granting of a Federal Disability Retirement annuity.  Such promises are presumptuous and ultimately vacuous, precisely because it is on the independent agency — the Office of Personnel Management — which is the sole agency and arbiter for determining the viability, sufficiency and legal adequacy of all Federal Disability Retirement applications under either FERS or CSRS.

While agencies can be somewhat “helpful” in the processing of a Federal Disability Retirement application, it is important that if there is an ongoing collateral litigation (e.g., EEOC action; a pending parallel lawsuit; a grievance procedure invoked, etc.), that any settlement or discussion of settlement not state, infer or otherwise imply that the agency can provide the applicant with a Federal Disability Retirement annuity.  

Instead, the agency should complete certain forms consistent with the terms of any settlement; and, further, a separation from Federal Service based upon one’s medical inability to perform one’s job can invoke the Bruner Presumption, which can certainly be a plus in a Federal Disability Retirement application.  But recognizing the independence of OPM, and staying away from any appearance of “collusion” through promises that an Agency can somehow “promise” the Federal or Postal employee an approval from the Office of Personnel Management, is important to maintain.  

Agencies cannot promise a Federal Disability Retirement approval, and any such promise in a collateral source is only worth the cost of the paper it is printed upon — or, in most cases, even less.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Opinions, OPM and Power

In filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, one must always be aware of the distinction between the two — opinions and power — and apply it with that awareness in filing an application for Federal Disability Retirement to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  

There will be multiple opinions involved in any Federal Disability Retirement packet — the opinion of the medical doctor who is treating the applicant; the opinion of the applicant as to one’s ability or inability to perform some, which or all of the essential elements of one’s job; the opinion of the Supervisor or someone at the Agency on multiple issues, rendered in the Supervisor’s Statement and the Agency’s Certification for Reassignment and Accommodation; and the “opinion” handed out by the Office of Personnel Management as to whether all of the compendium of opinions, collectively gathered to present the evidence for approval in a Federal Disability Retirement application, constitute sufficient evidence such that it meets the preponderance of the evidence in proving one’s case.  It is thus helpful to understand that all of these identifiable propositions are all “opinions”.  

The one distinction, however, is that the opinion of the Office of Personnel Management carries with it the power of approval or disapproval, and so one may designate it as carrying more “weight” because it contains an inherent authority which all other opinions lack — that of the power to say yea or nay.  But remember that such power, fortunately, is not absolute, nor necessarily arbitrary and capricious, and there is ultimately an appeal process to have such raw power reviewed for viability and sufficiency.  That is why the validity and force of the “other” opinions is important to maintain — the medical opinion and the opinion of the Applicant — so that when it is reviewed by an Administrative Judge, the integrity of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS may be properly adjudicated.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire