Monthly Archives: September 2011

Success Story: DOD Sheet metal worker in California

K.B. was a 51 year-old man from California. He was employed as a sheet metal worker at the Department of Defense for the Navy. Unfortunately, several medical conditions concerning his back had been preventing K.B. from working for over a year. He suffered from back and knee osteoarthritis, degenerative joint disease in his knees, mid and lower back, and degenerative joint disease in the cervical and lumbar area of his spine.

These conditions limited many physical activities. He was unable to kneel, squat, bend, lift over 20 pounds, or climb ladders. The chronic pain he experienced daily also affected his outlook on life and resulted in stress, anxiety, and depression.

After hiring Harris Federal Law Firm, K.B. was awarded medical disability retirement in only four months.

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Success Story: USPS Clerk from Pennsylvania

D.B. was a 59 year-old U.S. Postal Service Clerk from Pennsylvania. He suffered from fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine, coronary artery disease, and anxiety/panic disorder. He had already undergone surgeries for his back and his heart and had been placed on light-duty at work for two years before he applied for medical disability retirement.

His conditions had worsened to the point that he often could not make it into work because of the constant pain. He was also unable to lift and carry heavy objects, bend, stoop, sit, or stand for prolonged periods of time. He experienced fatigue, impaired memory and concentration. Combined, these conditions prevented D.B. from performing his job.

D.B. hired Harris Federal Law Firm to file for federal disability retirement for him. Six months later, D.B. was approved by the OPM. We were proud and honored to have been able to represent D.B. and win his case!

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Success Story: Navy Chief Engineer from New Mexico/Guam

P.A., from New Mexico, became disabled at age 44. He suffered from chronic back pain (as a result of a bone disease called osteopenia which caused vertebral compression fractures), nerve pain, partial complex seizure disorder, and symptoms of depression. These conditions severely interfered with his job as the Chief Engineer and head of all design and construction for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Marianas, under the Department of the Navy.

P.A. hired Harris Federal Law Firm to represent him on his federal disability retirement claim. After only 5 months, Harris Federal was able to win his approval for benefits. Congratulations P.A.!

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The Survivor Annuity Basics

Whenever a federal employee retires, whether it is because of a disability or not, they have to make various decisions regarding their insurance and survivor annuity elections.

This can be confusing. I am limiting this article to pertain only to FERS annuitants. Please make sure that you review your personal situation with a financial consultant before making any decisions.

When you retire from the federal government, you will have three options regarding your survivor election. Upon their death, the annuitant may choose to leave a portion of their retirement to their surviving spouse for a reduction of the benefits during their own lifetime.

If your retirement payment was $1000 per month, it would cost you 10% or $100 to leave a monthly payment to your spouse of 50% or $500. That is the first option. Option 2 is a 5% or $50 reduction to leave a monthly annuity of 25% or $250. The final option is no reduction and no survivor annuity.

If you choose no reduction, your spouse cannot continue to keep you health insurance benefits after your death. If you choose anything except the maximum option, your spouse has to sign the election form before a Notary Public acknowledging your election. You cannot leave the annuity to anyone who does not have an insurable interest in you.

Please consult with a professional before making your elections and read the instructions carefully as the things may change. Protecting your family is important and making the right elections can cost or save you a lot of money during your retirement. Remember that disability retirement benefits are calculated differently and it may not be as good to choose the same elections based on the benefits themselves.

Please read more about federal disability retirement and federal disability attorneys at one of these two websites.

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Will OPM ever kick me off my disability?

The easy answer would be to say no. OPM does not have postal inspectors follow you around with video cameras trying to see if you are well enough to return to work. Remember that the federal disability retirement benefits are based on an occupational disability, not a total disability.

If you are under the age of 60, the OPM may require that you send them an update from your physician on whether or not your accepted disability conditions have improved to the point that you could return to your old job. They are simply asking your doctor to let them know if you have recovered.

The OPM relies on self reporting. If you recover, tell them! However most disability claims are based on permanent conditions with no real hope of a recovery that would lead to reemployment at the original position. Remember that you can absolutely get a job in the private sector and earn money on top of your disability annuity so long as it does not exceed the 80% rule.

It is very rare that someone recovers from permanent type conditions that usually cause disabilities. If you have more questions about the recovery process or an administrative recovery, contact a professional and get the answers you need to make an informed decision.

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Life insurance and federal disability retirement

Many federal employees have questions regarding how their federal insurance benefits carry over if they are approved by the OPM for federal disability retirement.

This is an important question that needs to be made with an insurance professional to ensure that you maximize your retirement benefits. If you are approved for disability retirement, you are usually eligible to continue your coverage into retirement. You are usually not allowed to add coverage at that point, however, you can discontinue coverage.

Federal Employee Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) is a very valuable benefit that can be an inexpensive way to retain coverage for retirees. It may be wise to consult a professional in the private sector for advice on life insurance matters to see if you qualify for other types of coverage that may provide better benefits for your money.

FEGLI is a type of coverage that can periodically get more expensive to the insured. Some options in the private sector may be able to better meet your needs and actually save you money.

Everyone has to make these decisions whether they are going out on a federal disability or simply an immediate retirement. Make sure you investigate your benefits and make your selections based on sound information.

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Federal Disability Retirement: Approval for Rural Letter Carrier in Arizona

W.A. worked as a Rural Letter Carrier in Arizona for the U.S. Postal Service. At age 56, he became unable to successfully perform his job due to traumatic arthopathy, a rotator cuff tear on his left shoulder, asthma, and sleep apnea.

His doctor had limited how long he could sit or stand and how much he could lift (no more than 5 pounds), and restricted him from doing any type of repetitive work. Overall, W.A. had a 29% impairment of his left upper extremity. Three years later, he hired Harris Federal Law Firm who assisted him with his application for federal disability retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management.

His full application was submitted in June and his approval was received in September. Not all claims move that fast. We are pleased and honored to have assisted W.A. in the process of winning benefits from the OPM. Here is some more free information about how that process works.

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The Reconsideration Process

If your claim for federal disability retirement has been initially denied, you have appeal rights. The Reconsideration appeal form should be included with your denial letter from the OPM legal administrative specialist.

Pursuing your claim to appeal is certainly a decision you should evaluate carefully. This may be a good opportunity to consult with a professional who has experience specifically helping federal employees with these disability benefits. Remember that you are not required to hire an attorney to help you with a federal disability claim. However, it may be a wise decision if you do not have experience dealing with the Office of Personnel Management.

When your Reconsideration Request Form is submitted, you may choose to have an additional 30 days to submit evidence. Your choice here relies upon where you stand with your medical evidence. The additional time may allow you to get more paperwork from your doctor.

Once all of your evidence is submitted, or your time to supply it is expired, the OPM will assign your claim to another, different Legal Administrative Specialist to review the initial decision and all of the evidence in your file. A Reconsideration decision is made based only on what is in your file.

The amount of time the Specialist takes to make their decision on your claim varies greatly depending on their own case load. Sometimes decisions are very quick, especially if you did not supply new evidence. A Specialist may take upwards of 3-4 months to issue a decision as well.

There is more free information regarding the entire disability retirement process on FederalDisability.com.

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Federal Disability Retirement: Approval for BOP Supervisor in Miami, FL

W. A. was a 42-year-old woman from Florida. She worked as a Gardener Supervisor for the Federal Bureau of Prison at a Federal Correctional Institute in Miami. Several years before she applied for disability retirement, she fell off of a tractor during work. This accident resulted in long-term knee and lower back pain.

She eventually underwent surgeries for her right knee on two separate occasions. Despite the surgeries, she was still in a lot of pain from her right knee. Her doctor diagnosed her with patellar instability, and contributed the condition to her previous accident. She also had a central disc herniation in her lower back with mild stenosis.

She was approved for federal disability retirement benefits with the help of Harris Federal Law Firm.

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Beware the “High 5”

Many of you understand how to calculate your own “High 3” average salary for retirement purposes. What you may not know is that the federal government is considering a switch to a “High 5”. This carries a significant impact on anyone considering a retirement, voluntary or disability.

Federal disability retirement calculations are made based currently on your “High 3”, and would therefore lower in monthly benefit amount if the switch to “High 5” is made. It stands to reason that anyone who is already under a “High 3” calculation would be grandfathered in and their annuity payments would be unaffected.

If you have been considering a federal disability retirement, now may be the best time to begin the process. These benefits could be affected by any change in calculations in the near future.

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