Monthly Archives: March 2014

Federal Disability Retirement & Social Security Disability

One major point of confusion that we hear a lot has to do with the difference between Social Security Disability (SSD) and Federal Disability Retirement (FDR). Both are commonly referred to as “disability”, but the benefits are not very similar.

Social Security Disability is administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Every person in the country that earns a paycheck pays into Social Security. If that person becomes totally and permanently disabled, they are entitled to receive a monthly check from the SSA. The key here is that it is for tax payers of all kinds and the disability has to be total.

Federal Disability Retirement is administered by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and is only for career federal employees. The applicant must prove that they cannot perform their assigned job duties. The employing agency has the opportunity to try to place that employee into another, equivalent position that accommodates the disability. If they are unable to find another position, the employee is granted the early retirement due to their medical condition.

The main differences are the eligibility and the degree of disability. Only career federal employees are eligible for the FDR, while any taxpayer with enough quarters paid-in are eligible for the SSD. The degree of disability is more significant for the applicant. The SSD is total and permanent disability, while the FDR is occupational. This means that the federal employee has to prove that they can’t do their specific job to qualify.

Now, to confuse matters, all federal employees under the FERS system also pays into the Social Security system with their FICA taxes. As a requirement of the application for FDR, each federal employee must complete an application for Social Security Disability. They are not required to be approved by the SSA, but simply to apply.

If the application is approved by both entities, there is a payment offset. Check out This Graphic to see how the offset works. Call Harris Federal if you have questions about your options. We are here to help!

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Federal Disability Retirement – Success Story

Mr. G. became a client of Harris Federal Law Firm in August of 2013. He is a 55 year old Letter Carrier for the United States Postal Service from Chesapeake, VA. Mr. G was diagnosed by his doctors and treating medical physicians as having multiple ailments and injuries preventing him from performing his duties as a letter carrier. These injuries range from bipolar disorder, severe anxiety, severe depression disorder, adult attention deficit disorder, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, renal failure, dysphoria, and heat stroke. These injuries and ailments became so severe that he became incapacitated in being able to perform his daily job functions as a Letter Carrier for the United States Postal Service.

After compiling Mr. G. medical records, progress notes, work excuses, medications list, personal statement of disability, and other pertinent information to ensure that his application was of the highest quality and integrity, our firm submitted the Federal Disability Retirement Application to the OPM in September of 2013. After guiding Mr. G. through the long arduous and tenuous processes at the OPM, his application was approved within three months. Mr. G. was overjoyed and ecstatic with our representation and overwhelmed upon receiving his approval letter from the OPM.

 

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Federal Disability Retirement… Why are you waiting?

Waiting until you are separated from service to apply for federal disability retirement is possible and allowable under the law, provided the application is submitted within one year of the separation date. The mistake that can cost you money is waiting to file, even when you know you are headed that direction.

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This commonly occurs when the employee is drawing OWCP workers compensation lost wages. Many people do not know that it is not only allowable to file while you are still employed and drawing OWCP benefits, but in many cases the most advantageous move. If you are drawing federal workers comp payments, you can apply and be approved for disability retirement from the OPM. You can then place those benefits into a hold status and continue to draw the OWCP payments as long as you are still eligible.

If you wait to file for disability benefits, the workers comp payments may stop, at any time and without much notice. The OWCP’s job is to minimize their exposure. Simply put, they want to stop paying you as soon as they can. Their preferred avenue is a return to work. If that avenue is not an option, they may send you to a second opinion doctor to get a medical narrative that gives them evidence that you are not eligible for the payments any longer.

The problem becomes that if you have not filed for disability retirement, it can take up to a year to get an approval from the OPM. If you are without OWCP lost wages payments, that could be a year that you don’t receive any money at all.

Additionally, one of the qualifications for disability is that you have a deficiency in service with regards to your employment. If you no longer work for the employing agency, it can be difficult to get the appropriate documentation from your previous employer. Further, you could be asking an HR representative to complete and certify that you have been deficient in a job, even though that person may never have seen you work, or understand anything about your medical condition. This makes it hard to get the paperwork completed correctly and can make your case more difficult.

We help federal employees apply for disability retirement. Whether you are still working, still employed, or already separated, we can help you navigate the application and adjudication processes. Call Harris Federal today for a free case consultation.

 

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OWCP and Federal Disability… Working together for you!

A lot of federal employees ask us why they should apply for federal disability retirement when they are currently drawing lost wages from the Office of Workers Compensation (OWCP). The truth is that full workers comp disability payments are usually higher than those that come from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) for disability retirement. Why should they switch?

The problem is that the framing of the question infers that the employee must give up the workers comp to get the federal disability. That is not the case. A career federal employee can be approved for both benefits simultaneously, and choose to draw from the benefit that helps them the most.

While the OWCP payments are often higher on a monthly basis, they are also much more tumultuous and can be terminated at a moment’s notice. Even if you are successful at getting them restored, it may take months while the OWCP wouldn’t be paying you. If you already had the OPM disability retirement approved, you could immediately begin drawing benefits from the OPM.

OWCP and Disability RetirementImagine OWCP wage loss like walking a tight rope. Everything is hanging in the balance and the slightest hiccup can cause a major fall and disaster. Having a disability retirement approved and waiting is like adding a safety net to catch you and prevent you from hitting the hard ground. It may not be as good as being on the tight rope, but it sure is a lot better than falling to rock bottom.

On the other hand, there are times and positions where the employee would rather have the freedom to begin a new life and move past their federal employment. The disability retirement can afford them the option to step away from federal service. But if they had a work related injury claim, they are still entitled to medical care for that injury for their lifetime. Also, if permanent impairment exists, they can collect schedule awards from the OWCP while drawing disability from the OPM.

Call Harris Federal now to get a free case consultation and let us help you understand which options are best for you.

 

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Human Resource Shared Service Center for Federal Employees

When a federal employee submits a federal disability retirement claim, asks for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), or wants to make a change to a benefit election, the Human Resource officer is the person to speak with. However, within the decade, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has switched almost every element of their internal offices to a Human Resource Shared Service Center (HRSSC). The office is located in Greensboro, NC, and services all of our country’s postal service employees.

While some of processes have been streamlined, some can be much more cumbersome for the employee. Working with a local officer gave you a face and contact person who might remember you and your file. The HRSSC is enormous and is nearly impossible to speak with the same person twice, let alone establish a relationship with them.

Some local level HR employees may not have understood all of the points perfectly, some were fantastic! The HRSSC has leveled the playing field so that all of them have a similar base knowledge to assist an employee, even if it does seem a bit impersonal.

There is little chance of personal vendetta, which can be to the worker’s advantage, but also little chance of special understanding or exceptions. The large corporate approach increases some efficiency, but deludes some of the charm.

The HRSSC in Greensboro comes into play significantly when a postal employee files for federal disability retirement. If the applicant is still employed, their application is submitted to the HRSSC with all accompanying paperwork, evidence, and exhibits. The HRSSC collects a significant portion of the employee’s personnel file and packages the entire group to the Postal Finance Center in Eagon, MN for Payroll information.

The HRSSC ensures that the applicant’s supervisor completes the 3112 B form and gets the 3112 D filled out as well. These are critical to the case to keep it moving. OPM protocol is to hold case files that are not complete and not assign them to an LAS until they are received. Ensuring that the file is properly documented is critical to the process and can throw a wrench into your retirement application.

Contact us if you have questions about how the HRSSC works or any questions about federal employee benefits. Call us anytime… We are here to help!

 

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