Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Working with the Medical Condition

As the 2012 – 2013 Pro-football season comes to an end, with the approach of final playoff games and the Superbowl, the controversy and issues concerning the game itself — of injuries to players; of concussions and allowing for types of plays which have a high percentage of probability for injuries; of RGIII of the Washington Redskins being allowed to play despite clearly being injured; and of the culture of football which idolizes players who can endure pain — these will continue to be debated and discussed, and peripheral corrections and adjustments to the game itself appear to be an inevitability.

The counter to much of this debate has been twofold:  first, that those who play the game do so knowingly, and therefore cannot complain about the potential risks and hazards of the game itself, and second, that because the players are well-compensated, they therefore do not have a right to object to the inherent dangers of the game.  

For the Federal or Postal worker who has been working for many years in his or her job, and who is suffering from a medical condition, the entire controversy surrounding football players may be a distant and foreign concept.  For the Federal or Postal employee, enduring the medical condition in order to continue to work and to make a viable living is merely a daily necessity.  

There comes a point, however, where the medical condition can no longer be tolerated, and where filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits becomes an option which must be considered.  Football is a well-compensated game; life in other sectors, like Federal and Postal workers who have worked diligently to pursue a career, engulfs a lifetime of commitment.  

Working through pain is nothing new for the Federal or Postal worker.  That occurs daily, all across the U.S.  In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, watching football on television is merely a pastime, and such controversies seem like a distraction to those who know, firsthand, what it means to endure a medical condition on a daily basis.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Working While Waiting

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, often the question is asked by the Federal or Postal employee as to whether one can continue to work while waiting for the process to unfold.

Working is what the Federal or Postal employee who is submitting the application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, knows best. “Waiting” is an anomaly and a period of mercurial frustration because of the level and extent of inactivity and seeming lack of progress or productivity. Yet, it is the latter which must be endured during the process of allowing the bureaucratic maze to unfold, and it is often helpful if the agency will allow for the former.

Not all agencies are equal, however, and while some agencies will allow for an indefinite period of working and performing light duty, other agencies will place the Federal employee on Sick Leave, Annual Leave, LWOP, etc.

The fact that the Federal or Postal employee cannot work, or is not allowed to work, during the process of waiting for a decision from the Office of Personnel Management while having one’s Federal Disability Retirement application reviewed, is often dependent upon various factors: first and foremost, the medical condition of the Federal or Postal employee and the impact of the medical condition upon one’s ability and inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job; the ability of the Agency to “accommodate” the Federal or Postal employee during the process of waiting for a decision from the Office of Personnel Management (using the term “accommodation” loosely, in this context); whether there are safety concerns within the agency or the U.S. Postal Service; whether there are specific regulations which control the ability of the agency to allow for light duty work during the process; and multiple other factors which may come into play when a Federal or Postal employee has filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Ultimately, the frustration of waiting can be somewhat alleviated by a sense of productivity. However, the only option open to the injured/disabled Federal or Postal employee is not necessarily to wait idly while the Office of Personnel Management is reviewing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS; there is always the option of seeking alternate employment in the private sector, or attending to chores or other needed opportunities during the meantime.

A positive outlook while waiting is the best course of action. If you were given a block of time — say, 6 months — what would you do with it? Productivity, value and worth are not defined only by work; waiting is not merely the act of being idle; and the primary and most important job of the Federal or Postal worker who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is to recuperate from the medical condition which is preventing one from attaining that worth, value and productivity which is impacting him or her in the first place.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Working while Waiting

Because of economic necessity, it is often advisable for Federal and Postal employees who are filing or have filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS to continue to work, to the extent possible, without damaging one’s health.  

Often, agencies will “accommodate” a Federal or Postal employee during the waiting process — utilizing the term “accommodation” in a loose sense of the word, and not in compliance with what the law requires in terms of the concept of “accommodation” for purposes of Federal Disability Retirement.  Thus, in the loose sense of the term, an Agency may temporarily accommodate a Federal or Postal employee with light duty work, suspension of one or more of the critical elements of one’s position (such as traveling, lifting certain heavy things, standing for extended periods of time, etc.), and that would be helpful to allow for the income to the Federal or Postal employee during the long administrative process.  

However, one should also be aware that, upon an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application from the Office of Personnel Management, any back pay will be awarded only to the last day of pay — whether it is for a full week’s wages or for a dollar.  

Thus, since back pay for the first year will be at a rate of 60% of the average of one’s highest three consecutive years, it is wise to calculate and see whether the amount of work one is performing falls below the 60% mark.  If it does, then it might be prudent to go out on LWOP.  On the other hand, it may well be that economic necessity will dictate one’s decision and force the issue, and that would be fine — so long as one makes a decision on matters impacting Federal Disability Retirement benefits based upon full knowledge and comprehension of all of the relevant facts.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Psychiatric Conditions and Accommodations

In preparing, formulating and filing a successful Federal Disability Retirement application with the Office of Personnel Management, under FERS or CSRS, the issue of accommodations will come up.  The Agency from which one retires under a Medical Disability Retirement will have to ultimately fill out Standard Form 3112D —  Agency Certification of Reassignment and Accommodation Efforts — which will constitute and satisfy the Agency’s attempts at “accommodating” a Federal or Postal worker in his or her current position, taking into account his or her medical conditions. 

Unfortunately, most medical conditions are deemed to be “non-accommodatable” (if such a term exists in the English Language), and this is logically as well as legally true because with or without the accommodations, one must be able to perform all of the essential elements of one’s positional description.  Minor adjustments to the workplace, or even to the work assignments, may be able to allow for the Federal or Postal worker to continue to work in a Federal or Postal position for some time, but that Federal or Postal worker must be able to perform all of the essential elements of the job, as described in the position description.   An Agency may temporarily suspend certain elements of the core functions of the job, but such temporary suspension does not constitute an accommodation under the law. 

For psychiatric medical conditions, it is rare that an Agency will be able to accommodate such a medical condition, precisely because of the inherent nature of the medical condition — that which impacts upon one’s focus, attention, concentration, and ability to organize and perform executive functions in a coherent and systematic manner.  As such, the issue of accommodation, while one which may have to be addressed in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application, is normally an irrelevant, non-issue.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Recognition

People who are considering filing for disability retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS often come to a recognition that there is life after the Federal Government, right around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the holiday period in between.  Why?  Because when family, friends and loved ones gather around, and there is some time to recuperate and rejuvenate from the daily grind which further exacerbates and worsens one’s medical conditions, the time of respite, the time of peace and quite, of reflection and time reserved away from work, allows for people to recognize that, Yes, there is life beyond the job, and second, that to continue the daily grind until retirement may result in the inability of one to enjoy one’s retirement in later years.  Good health is a gift; all too often, we misuse that gift.  Happy Thanksgiving to all, and please enjoy a safe holiday weekend.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement in a Tough Economy

Healthy individuals may wonder why, in such a tough economy, an individual would consider filing for Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS.  This is an economy which has been shrinking and shedding employees.  Yet, for the Federal or Postal employee whose health and increasingly debilitating medical conditions directly impact one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job, the choice is actually not all that convoluted. 

Where a Federal or Postal employee can no longer perform the job; where sick leave and annual leave have been exhausted to go to doctors’ appointments, or just to stay home to recover enough to make it into the office for another day; or for those who are on LWOP for greater than the time working; in such circumstances, the stark reality is that a disability annuity is better than what the future may offer otherwise.  Removal for unsatisfactory performance; being placed on a PIP; being told that there is no more work at the Postal Service; being counseled for performance issues; these are all indicators of the proper choice to make.

Yes, it is a tougher economy; but when the economy begins to rebound, the first people that private employers turn to hire are those who are essentially independent contractors; and, especially with the looming overhaul of private health insurance, a former government worker who carries his or her own health insurance is, and can be, an attractive worker to a private employer.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Don't Confuse the Standards

People who call me for advice, who are potential candidates as clients for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, often interchangeably use terms which apply to different standards:  standards of total disability as opposed to a medical disability which impacts one’s ability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; whether a medical condition is an “accepted” disability (a concept which is often used in Social Security disability cases); whether a person can file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits even though he “hasn’t reached MMI” (“Maximum Medical Improvement”) — which is language encompassing a concept familiar to OWCP/DOL (Worker’s Comp) cases; or, on a different level, the statement that an agency has been “accommodating” an employee by allowing him/her to take sick leave, Leave Without Pay, or to “not have to travel as much” — mistakenly or loosely using the term “accommodation”, when in fact such agency actions do not constitute a legally viable accommodation, as that term is used in Federal Disability Retirement laws. 

It is the job of the attorney to correct, clarify, and otherwise explain the proper terminology and precise application of concepts in Federal Disability Retirement cases.  It is not surprising that people who are contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS use the various terms in error, or mix terms unknowingly — for there is alot of misinformation “out there”; it is the job of an Attorney who specializes in Federal Disability Retirement law to clarify such confusions.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire