Monthly Archives: October 2016

What Happens to Your TSP if You Leave?

tspThe Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is available to federal employees and works very similar to a 401k. It is part of the three-tier FERS system, which also includes a pension and Social Security. So what happens if you leave federal service? Can your TSP move with you?

Regardless of how you separate from federal service, retirement or resignation, your TSP fund is designed so that you can take your money with you if you choose to do so. It takes about 30 days for you to have access to your funds. You no longer will be able to contribute to your Thrift Savings, however, because contributions are deducted through payroll.

To read more about your options if you leave federal service click below.

What Happens to Your TSP if You Leave Federal Service?

 

Phased Retirees and TSP

If you are a phased retiree, you are still eligible to contribute to your Thrift Savings Plan. Those contributions are subject to normal restrictions. However, you are not eligible for post-employment withdrawals and you are not subject to the RMD age requirement. Being a phased retiree, you receive income from wages and an annuity. Your contributions are calculated based on your basic pay. Your annuity will not be used for that calculation.

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GAO Investigates OPM Processing

gaoIn a letter from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the panel is asking the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to consider ways OPM can improve federal retirement claims processing. The average time for a processed claim in more than 60 days is 100 days. Since March 2016, OPM has reported a decline in the percentage of claims processed in 60 days or less. In September 2016, it was 64 percent.

In the letter to GAO, the house panel wants several factors investigated.

  1. How is OPM instructing agencies to save and file employees’ information so it can be easily accessible? Are the agencies following that?
  2. They also asked GAO to find out why certain agencies have a high error rate on their employee retirement applications.
  3. Research whether there is more that OPM, Congress, agencies, and employees can do to speed up the claims process.

To read more about this investigation, please click below.

GAO Calls for an Investigation in Retirement Claims Processing

A statement in the letter reads, “While OPM continues to study how to best modernize retirement processing, it is critical that OPM ensures the current paper system is efficiently meeting the needs of retiring federal workers.” A consistent backlog would suggest that the current manual paper processing system is not doing this very well.

Historically, retirement claims rise in January. It will be interesting to see if GAO will take action in response to this letter and if it will be sooner rather than later.

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Member of a Union?

Here at Harris Federal Law Firm, we help countless federal workers who are members of a union. Additionally, we offer discounts to those who are affiliated with one. A couple of the unions we work with are The Air Marshal Association (AMA) and the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU).

union
AMA

The AMA solely represents Federal Air Marshals (FAMS). More than 65 percent of Air Marshals are members. They represent all levels of discipline for Air Marshals.

 

NTEUunion

This is the largest independent union of federal employees. It covers 150,000 employees in 31 departments or agencies. Some of the employees the NTEU represent are Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs), cyber-security experts, scientists, and attorneys. Members of the NTEU include bank examiners, park rangers, revenue officers, and much more. NTEU prides itself on fighting for fair pay, improving working conditions and helping improve the working lives of federal employees.

Pay

This is their top priority. They support locality pay and emphasize that federal pay is far behind private sector pay. One of their missions is to fight for a proper overtime pay as well.

Retirement

The NTEU worked with Congress to create the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) and the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP).

To learn more about these unions and how we can help you, click the link below.

Member of a Union and Seeking Federal Disability Retirement?

If you have been hurt or developed an illness during your federal service, please give us a call at 877-226-2723, or fill out this inquiry form. Furthermore, please let us know if you are a member of a union. We want to help you in any way we can.

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What is the MSPB?

mspbFederal workers who can no longer perform their job duties may be eligible for Federal Disability Retirement. If you apply and are denied twice through the OPM, you can appeal that decision. This time, your case is reviewed by the MSPB. This is a much more formal process than dealing with the Office of Personnel Management.

What is the MSPB?

The MSPB is a quasi-judicial body. This means it’s a tribunal board of a public administrative agency and has powers and procedures resembling those of a court of law or a judge. They are obligated to objectively determine facts and draw conclusions from them so they can provide a basis for an official action.

How does the MSPB play a part in Federal Disability Retirement cases?

If your case is denied at the Reconsideration level, you can appeal that decision. Your appeal must be filed within 30 days after the date of the decision, or 30 days after the receipt of the decision, whichever is later. There is an e-file system in place that makes it easier to appeal within the allotted time. In your denial packet, you will be provided with the address of the MSPB. Make sure to verify this address! You want to ensure your appeal is sent to the correct office. At this point in the process, the OPM has no control over your case. That falls to the Administrative Judge (AJ).

To learn more about the MSPB and how they process appeal claims, read more at the link below.

What is the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB)?

Harris Federal Law Firm has been helping federal workers for over a decade. If you are applying for Federal Retirement Disability, or have had your case denied, please don’t hesitate to call us! There are very strict deadlines to meet and we want to help you as best we can. Call us at 877-226-2723 or fill out this inquiry form for a FREE consultation.

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What is the Reconsideration Process?

reconsiderationAll federal workers have the right to apply for Federal Disability Retirement if they have an illness or injury that prevents them from doing their essential job duties. Furthermore, if you are denied at the initial stage through OPM, you also have appeal rights. The stage that this post will focus on is the Reconsideration stage.

Your denial letter will state that your request for reconsideration must be received by the OPM within 30 calendar days of the date of the letter.

Options

You have three options when requesting a reconsideration.

  • Have OPM make a decision based on the evidence included, along with the request form and documentation already in your file.
  • Ask for a reconsideration based on the original documentation already in your file. Essentially you wouldn’t be adding any supplemental documentation. Since your case is assigned a new Legal Administrative Specialist in this stage, there is a chance that new LAS could approve your application as is.
  • Request a reconsideration of the initial decision along with a 30-day extension to gather and submit additional evidence.

Representation

The team at Harris Federal Law Firm has over a decade’s worth of experience with the appeals process. If you’re facing an initial denial, please remember that you have a tight deadline to make. Feel free to give us a call at 877-226-2723 so we can discuss the specifics of your case. You can also fill out this inquiry form for a FREE consultation.

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Another Rise in FEHB Premiums

fehbOpen Season for Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB) is quickly approaching. It will run from November 14-December 12, 2016. The new premiums for the 2017 year will start in January 2017. This Open Season will allow any Federal employee or retiree a chance to keep their current benefits, change plans, or enroll for the first time.

Rising Rates

The rates will be increasing by an average of 4.4 percent, with some seeing an increase of 6.2 percent. This is less than the 6.4 percent increase seen last year. The government share will be increasing by 3.7 percent. What this means is that those enrolled in the self-plan will see an increase of $5.27 biweekly. Enrollees on the self plus one plan will see an increase of $10.32 biweekly. Finally, those on the family plan will see a $12.97 increase biweekly. Dental premiums are rising by 1.9 percent and vision by 6.3 percent.

To read more about this rise in premiums and how it will affect you, please follow the link below.

FEHB–Another Increase in Insurance Premiums

 

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What is VA Disability?

va disability

VA Disability is designed for veterans who become disabled, due to injury or disease, during active military duty. Compensation is tax-free.

Eligibility

To be eligible, you must be at least 10 percent disabled because of an injury or disease that was incurred or aggravated during active military duty, or active or inactive duty training. A dishonorable discharge disqualifies you for benefits. The compensation you receive depends on the severity of the injury or disease.

Auto Allowance

Along with disability compensation, the VA offers an auto allowance to certain individuals.

Clothing Allowance

Another benefit that could be payable to you is a clothing allowance. This benefit provides unique clothing needs because of an injury or disease.

Additional Benefits

  • Special Home Adaptation Grants—provides money to adapt or obtain suitable housing
  • Service-Disabled Veterans’ Insurance (S-DVI)—provides life insurance to veterans who have incurred a disability in the previous two years
  • Veterans Mortgage Life Insurance (VMLI)—provides mortgage life insurance. This is a supplement to those receiving SHA grants.
  • Vocation Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E)—provides education and training to those who have sustained a disability so they can prepare for, obtain, and maintain employment
  • Education Assistance—provides assistance for veterans furthering their education
  • Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA)—provides assistance to veterans’ survivors or dependents to pursue education or training

Documenting everything is extremely important! Make sure to always be in contact with your doctor and document everything related to your injury or disease. It is best to submit a VA Disability claim within one year of separation from the military.

To learn more about the requirements for eligibility for the aforementioned benefits, please visit the link below.

VA Disability–The Requirements and Benefits

If you think you may qualify, or think someone else may, please don’t hesitate to call Harris Federal Law Firm. Our number is 877-226-2723 or fill out this inquiry form. You have done a great service to our country and we want to help you get the benefits you deserve.

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What is the Special Security Supplement?

special security supplementThe Special Security Supplement can be a tad confusing to understand. One of those reasons is because it has so many names; Bridge to 62, FERS Special Supplement, Special Retirement Supplement, Annuity Special Supplement, and Special Supplement. However, all these names mean the same thing and mean the benefit is calculated the same. The Special Security Supplement (SSS) is a benefit that supplements your income between the time you retire from Federal service and when you become eligible for Social Security benefits at age 62.

Eligibility

You must be a FERS employee to qualify. CSRS employees don’t pay into Social Security so therefore, are not eligible. On top of that, you must have at least 30 years of service and meet your Minimum Retirement Age (MRA). Another way to be eligible is if you have 20 years of service and are at least 60 years of age.

Calculation

A ballpark calculation of this benefit is to take the latest estimate of your Social Security benefit (provided by the SSA) and multiply that number by your years of service. Then divide that number by 40. This should give you a reasonable estimate of what you can expect to receive with the SSS every month. A more precise calculation can be found here.

Exceptions

As with any rule, there are exceptions.

Follow the link below to learn more about this special benefit to FERS employees.

Why is the Special Security Supplement Important in Retirement Planning?

The Special Security Supplement is a nice bonus to those who retire early and meet the requirements. If you want to learn more about this benefit, or see if you qualify for it, call Harris Federal Law Firm at 877-226-2723. You can also fill out this inquiry form for a FREE consultation.

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Harris Federal Law Firm at the WILG Convention

wilgBrad, Bo, Grant and Leah all attended the 21st annual convention for WILG (Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group). WILG is a non-profit membership organization dedicated to representing the interests of workers who suffer work-related injuries or illnesses, who need legal assistance.

The FECA (Federal Employees Compensation Act) section had its own breakout sessions at this year’s convention. This section of WILG focuses only on the rights for federal employees. Brad Harris, our senior attorney, is a CLE Chair for the FECA section. He served as the MC this year, which involves facilitating speakers and topics of discussion. Brad also serves on the Board of Directors for WILG.

Chartered Federal Employee Benefit Consultants, Bo Harris and Grant Ostrander, were speakers this year.

One cool aspect of this year’s convention is that two members of the Department of Labor were in attendance and spoke during their own session. Adam Calendrillo, Chief of the Branch of Regulations and Procedures and Catherine Carter, Counsel for Compensation from the Solicitor of Labor’s Office were the two speakers. Having these two there is important to the advancement in dealing with more federal agencies in the future.

Read more about what Bo and Grant spoke about by following the link below.

Harris Federal Goes to Phoenix for the Annual WILG Convention

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Why is OPM Always Behind?

backlog

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is notorious for taking months to process retirement applications. There is a continuous backlog. This is especially difficult for someone who is applying for Federal Disability Retirement. They can’t work, or at least not their full capacity, and they don’t know when their annuity payments will begin.

So what’s the problem? Why is it that there is a backlog of cases at OPM? Is it too little help? Or are the annuity calculations too difficult?

Too Little Help

There is only a handful of Legal Administrative Assistants (LAS) that process claims at OPM. There have been instances when temporary help was hired, or mandatory overtime was scheduled. In August 2016, the number of cases out of OPM was 16, 334! That’s a staggering number for just a handful of people to work on.

FERS Annuity

Could it be that the FERS annuity calculation takes too long to compute? It is estimated that it takes one LAS up to three hours to complete one calculation!

What is the Cause for a Continuous Backlog at OPM?

Submitting a complete and timely application can help ensure your case has as little delays as possible. If you are unsure if you have all the documents and forms you need, give us a call at 877-226-2723. Harris Federal Law Firm has been helping federal workers submit their applications for over a decade. We are here to help you in any way we can.

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