Monthly Archives: July 2011

Federal Disability Retirement: Does my medical condition have to be work related?

This is one of the most commonly asked questions when a federal employee is seeking Federal Disability Retirement. Many federal employees think that it has something to do with the workers compensation claim (OWCP). In fact some applicants neglect to include valuable medical information in their paperwork because they do not think of it as relevant because it isn’t job related.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) makes decisions on Federal Disability Retirement claims based upon the applicant’s ability to perform the job duties regardless of the cause of the medical condition. Developing a disease like diabetes or cancer, and being injured at the job carry the same amount of impact to the OPM. The burden is to prove that you are unable to continue your employment due to the medical condition.

The applicant may also use a combination of conditions that together cause the disability. Sometimes a single condition may not cause the service deficiency independently, but when combined with another condition, it may be debilitating. The cumulative effects of all the applicant’s conditions are taken into consideration.

Harris Federal

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Backlog at OPM: Federal Disability Claims are moving slow at OPM

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is the federal agency that adjudicates all Federal Disability Retirement claims. The Disability Branch in Washington, D.C. processes about ten thousand claims every year and due to some budget cuts and staffing issues, that office has fallen behind. This is creating a large backlog at OPM for federal applicants awaiting a decision on their disability retirement claims.

The average processing time is around 117 business days at the OPM office. This is regardless of the amount of time that your file spent at your agency.

The disability section of the OPM has been authorized to add some personnel and has also been cleared to borrow personnel from other departments. They hope to work through their backlog and return to a more reasonable timeline. Speeding the process up is important, however a hasty decision that is incorrect or overlooks some valuable evidence is never desirable.

The more clearly a Federal Disability Retirement claim is presented and the more persuasive the evidence, the more likely a claim is to be approved in a more timely fashion.

Harris Federal

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Federal and Postal Disability: Do I need an Attorney?

As Federal Disability Retirement applicants begin to review the many required forms and requirements from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), many of them begin to seek out their rights with regards to legal counsel. No applicant is required to hire an attorney to assist them with a disability retirement. Considering the merits of hiring a professional, it can prove a wise choice for many.

For most, their own application will mark the first time they have ever completed the application forms or structured legal arguments around what are often complex medical issues. Of course no one knows the medical symptoms better than the applicant, but explaining how those conditions meet the burden under the law can be confusing.

An attorney with extensive experience who dedicates at least a major portion of their practice to Federal Disability Retirement has worked with scores of doctors, agencies and OPM Legal Administrative Specialists. Their ability to foresee bumps in the road can help to ensure that your claim is properly processed and the correct decision is made by the OPM.

While fees can vary greatly, having a consultation with an attorney’s office can be extremely beneficial. Harris Federal offers  free consults and can help you understand whether or not pursuing a representative is in your best interest.

Harris Federal

Federal Disability Retirement Seminar

Harris Federal is hosting a free seminar for federal employees in Pittsburgh on August 13th!  Please join us and share this with your friends and co-workers.

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Federal Disability Retirement: What’s a High 3?

Any time a federal retirement annuity is calculated, whether it is for an optional retirement or a Federal Disability Retirement, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) uses a figure called a “high-3” to find the appropriate benefits. A “high-3” is comprised of an average salary for a federal employee during a portion of their career.

The specific calculation is found by averaging the highest basic salary from any three year period of your career. The 3 years must be consecutive and include any rate changes in your pay from which retirement deductions were withheld (shift rates). It will not include any overtime or bonuses. It can be your most recent three year period, but it does not have to be.

When calculating a Federal Disability Retirement, the “high-3” is the base number used in all retirement calculations. Your agency’s human resource office should be able to help you get a “high-3” estimate to assist you in your retirement decision.

Harris Federal

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Social Security Disability VS Federal Disability Retirement… What’s the difference?

Often times these two benefits are misunderstood.  This brief explanation may help!

Social Security Disability is administered through the Social Security Administration and is available to anyone who pays Social Security taxes, including federal employees. That would include all FERS and CSRS Offset employees. It is a total and permanent disability benefit that is awarded when someone loses their ability to complete any substantial gainful employment. The dollar amount awarded is based on the amount of taxes paid in.

Federal Disability Retirement is administered through the Office of Personnel Management.  It is available to all federal CSRS employees with over 5 years of service and to all FERS employees with at least 18 months of credible service. It is awarded to applicants who are no longer able to be fully successful in their bid assignment, and no reasonable accommodation is available to them within their same pay grade and seniority levels.

Harris Federal

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Federal Employee Disability Benefits: Work in the private sector

Federal employees who are approved and drawing their Federal Disability Retirement benefits CAN also work in the private sector.  As long as the employment does not exceed their medical restrictions and the claimant does not begin to earn more than 80% of their previous job’s salary, they can simultaneously receive their disability retirement.

This can open many doors for federal employees who do not want to stop working in some capacity.  In fact, it can sometimes be the amount of support needed that provides the opportunity to pursue another career that you have always desired.  We have witnessed many federal employees take advantage of this and happily move on with their life in a different direction.

Harris Federal

What if my injury or illness is not work-related?

Doesn’t have to be for Federal Disability Retirement.  Disability means the inability to perform your job.  The cause of the deficiency in performing your service requirements does not have to be derived from work activity.

Medical conditions that have no relationship to work (for example: cancer, diabetes, post traumatic stress disorder) are often sufficient to keep one from completely performing his/her normal work activities.  That’s the medical requirement to establish your entitlement to Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

It’s understandable that many federal employees confuse this with OWCP Federal Workers Compensation:  which must be work- related.

So, OPM Federal Disability Retirement doesn’t require that that medical problem be due to work activity.

Harris Federal

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Accommodation can be decided by the employing agency

Claimant was a City Carrier with the U.S. Postal Service. After not coming into work for nearly two weeks, the USPS removed her from service. She applied for Federal Disability Retirement before her removal for a number of physical and psychological problems. The USPS signed off on her request for a Federal Disability Retirement, admitting that they did not have the ability to accommodate her.  Despite this, the Office of Personnel Management denied her claim, saying that she had not shown that she could not be accommodated back at her former position!

But the claimant was not about to give up! After the Office of Personnel Management rejected her application, she appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board. The administrative judge at the Board was not pleased with the Office of Personnel Management’s reason for denying the claimant’s application. The judge pointed out to the OPM that the USPS had already stated that the claimant couldn’t be accommodated. Because the OPM had not tried to disprove the Postal Service’s statement, there was no reason not to accept the Postal Service’s opinion. After all, the Postal Service knows better than the OPM whether one of its own employees can physically do the job.

Claimant was then awarded the Federal Disability Retirement benefits. This case reveals some of the disconnect that can occur between the employing agency and the OPM. It also shows that the MSPB judge will trust what the employing agency says regarding accommodation. Once the employing agency agrees with the employee that it cannot accommodate the employee, it’s up to the OPM to prove that accommodation can be made. If the OPM fails to do so, the MSPB judge should believe the employee and her employer.

Harris Federal

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