Monthly Archives: November 2016

Send Correct Forms to OPM

correctEffective as of November 14, 2016, The Office of Personnel Management told benefits officers that forms will need to be completely correct or they will no longer be accepted. These corrections include using white out and strike-throughs. Instead, the entire form will need to be re-done so that they are free from errors.  OPM said this change is necessary because their Retirement Services Office has received many forms with handmade corrections. Due to these corrections, it is impossible to tell if the forms are valid or not.

To learn which forms are affected by this change, click below.

Make Sure Your Retirement Forms are Correct Before Sending to OPM

Filing for any type of retirement from federal service requires you to fill out many forms. This is especially true with federal disability retirement. Therefore, it is very important your application is correct and complete the first time you send it in. Here at Harris Federal Law Firm, we walk you through this process. Call us for a FREE consultation at 877-226-2723 or fill out this inquiry form.

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Agency Spotlight–FAMS

fams

This post in our Agency Spotlight series is on the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS). They fall under the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which falls under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Their mission statement is this, “The Air Marshal Service is meant to promote confidence in civil aviation by effectively deploying Federal Air Marshals (FAM’s) to detect, deter, and defeat hostile acts targeting the United States.”

History

The Federal Air Marshal Service can be tracked back to 1962 and were originally under the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). As restructures have happened, they were moved to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The TSA was established after the signing of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act in November 2001, under the Bush Administration. Then in 2005, FAMS moved under the authority of DHS.

Training

FAM’s are specially trained agents who fly undercover as passengers to protect the crew and passengers from any potential threats, terrorists, and unruly passengers. Also, they assist with medical emergencies. Their training consists of two stages. The first part of training involves learning about constitutional law, marksmanship, defense tactics and other law enforcement techniques. The second phase focuses on what they can expect to face in the field. This involves perfecting marksmanship skills.

Changes After September 11th

There were numerous changes that occurred to the Federal Air Marshal Service after September 11, 2001. A couple of these include,

  • Prior to 9/11/01, the FAM’s missions were focused almost exclusively on international flights/routes. More domestic routes were added after the terrorist attacks.
  • Since Air Marshals were small in numbers, they were closely associated with the intelligence community. They had intimate knowledge of the aviation system and all were issued Top Secret Clearance. The Director of FAA Federal Air Marshal program also secured them Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI). This allowed them the ability to gather information when evaluating overseas airports. This changed after 9/11/01.

Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR)

The VIPR program falls within the TSA as well. These teams provide an extra layer of random, high visibility presence in the mass transit environment. This program was first created to work in a ‘non-aviation’ environment. The group is comprised of FAM’s and other Federal Law Enforcement Officers. Their focus is to search and detain travelers at ferries, ports, railroad and bus stations, truck weigh stations and special events, such as the Super Bowl, NCAA Final Four, and State of the Union addresses. They also inspect ships, vehicles, and containers. In 2007, TSA increased the frequency of VIPR deployments from one a month to two per week.

Some government officials have given definitions of the purpose of VIPR teams:

Augmentation: “Augment the security of any mode of transportation at any location within the US.”

Presence/Detection: “Provide an increased visible deterrent force for all modes of transportation for homeland security.”

Terrorism and Emergencies: “Prepare to respond to a large-scale incident such as a terrorist attack or natural disaster.”

Issues Facing FAM’s

One major issue in the Federal Air Marshal community is sleep deprivation. FAM’s fly most days out of the month and their sleep schedule is very irregular. Often, their flights are extremely long, at odd hours during the day and overnight. Therefore, many of them have broken sleep patterns. A study on CNN found that 75 percent of FAM’s on domestic flights suffer from some level of sleep deprivation, while 84 percent do on international flights. Their job calls for them to be critical at a moment’s notice, and sleep deprivation can make that extremely difficult. The study also states, “the acute and chronic lack of sleep substantially degrades a Federal Air Marshals ability to react and think quickly…”

To learn much more about FAM’s and see what they have said about Harris Federal Law Firm, click below!

Agency Spotlight–Federal Air Marshal Service

How we help

We have helped many Federal Air Marshals with their federal disability retirement claims. With over 50 successful FAMS cases this year, we have helped Federal Air Marshals be approved for lumbar sprains, herniated discs, seizure disorders, chronic pain, Middle Range Hearing Loss, sleep apnea, and much more. Additionally, we offer a discount if you are a member of the Air Marshal Association. If you are a Federal Air Marshal who can no longer perform all your essential job duties, please don’t hesitate to call us at 877-226-2723 to see how we can help you. You can also fill out this inquiry form.

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New Plan Could Mean Bad News

plan

A recent article by Lisa Rein in the Washington Post shows how the President-elect could shake things up for federal workers come January. The Article is entitled “Trump has a plan for government workers.  They’re not going to like it.”  It’s about how hiring freezes, firing “poor” performers, and less generous pensions may be just the start. Eric Yoder contributed to this report.

The article states, in part, that President-elect Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress are drawing up plans to take on the government bureaucracy they have long railed against, by eroding job protections and grinding down benefits that federal workers have received for a generation.

Hiring freezes, an end to automatic raises, a green light to fire poor performers, a ban on union business on the government’s dime and less generous pensions — these are the contours of the blueprint emerging under Republican control of Washington in January.

These changes were once unthinkable to federal employees, their unions and their supporters in Congress. But Trump’s election as an outsider promising to shake up a system he told voters is awash in “waste, fraud, and abuse” has conservatives optimistic that they could do now what Republicans have been unable to do in the 133 years since the modern civil service was created.

Top Republicans on Capitol Hill say their first priority will be making it easier to fire employees regarded as incompetent or who break the rules.

Chaffetz said he plans to push through wholesale changes to the generous retirement benefits that federal workers receive, by shifting to a market-driven, 401(k)-style plan for new employees.

The promises go hand in hand with Trump’s promise to shrink the size and reach of government, from eliminating some agencies outright to lifting regulations and running the bureaucracy with fewer people.

“The most immediate worry is: How are we going to shrink government?” Dougan said. “Are we going to lay people off? Eliminate whole agencies or do it through attrition?”

Trump has promised that in his first 100 days in office he will freeze hiring by not replacing employees who leave. The military and employees in public health and safety roles would be exempt, according to the president-elect’s Contract with the American Voter.

He has pledged to eliminate two regulations for every new one passed and shut down the Education Department and parts of the Environmental Protection Agency.

To read more about this and how it could affect you, click below.

Our senior attorney Brad Harris says this article looks like very bad news for the average federal employee and they should probably contact us to see if we can help them with a new life plan.

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Planning for Retirement?

planningPlanning for retirement can be a scary time. Many questions surround people as they start to think about retirement; Can I even afford to retire? When should I retire? Can I still have insurance coverage? Do I have to elect beneficiaries? Those, along with other questions, are important to think about as you enter this phase in your life.

Five Years Before

While it’s never too early to start planning for your retirement, the five-year before mark is an especially important one. This is because, in order to carry over any health and life insurance when you retire, you must carry coverage continuously for the five years immediately before retirement. Continuing health insurance in retirement is possible if:

  • You maintain health insurance when you retire.
  • Your annuity must begin within 30 days.
  • You must maintain coverage for the 5 years immediately leading into retirement.

 

One Year Before

It becomes more critical at this point to double check your benefits and ensure that all your personal and work information is correct. The following are key to ensuring a smooth transition into retirement:

  • Confirm that you are eligible to receive a retirement benefit.
  • Decide on the date you want to retire and tell your supervisor.
  • Ask about any other benefits you may be eligible to receive, including your TSP.
  • Confirm your Official Personnel Folder (OPF) is complete and your insurance coverage is documented.

Also, make sure that you have any beneficiaries designated. If there is not designation made, your benefits will be paid out in the following order, 1. Widow/widower, 2. Children in equal shares, 3. Parents in equal shares, 4. Appointed executor/administrator of your estate, and 5. Next of kin under the laws of the state in which you reside in when you die.

To learn more about what you need to do at each stage, click below.

Retirement Planning? Here’s What You Should Know

In the event that an injury or illness affects your job duties and you can no longer work, you may be eligible for a disability retirement. Of course, there is no way to plan for this happening, however knowing your options should this arise can help you plan for your next steps. Our team at Harris Federal Law Firm can help you if you find yourself in a situation like this. If this sounds like what you’re facing, please give us a call at 877-226-2723 or fill out this inquiry form for a FREE consultation.

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Understanding Survivor Benefits-Part 2

survivor benefits

In part one of this post, we looked at survivor benefits that are available to your beneficiaries. This post will focus more on the amount of each benefit.

Survivor Annuity

This benefit is the longest lasting of the survivor benefits and it is automatic for employees. It can be taken as either a full (50 percent of the retiree’s calculated annuity) or a partial (25 percent of the retirees’ annuity). This payment is made monthly and is increased with COLA’s annually. This benefit is required for the surviving spouse to be eligible to maintain health insurance coverage under FEHB.

Lump Sum Payment

If there is a lack of beneficiaries or an insufficient amount of time to earn an annuity, then that estate will receive a refund on all contributions made. A designated beneficiary will receive a prorated amount earned on either a final paycheck for that employee or a final annuity payment for a retiree.

Basic Employee Death Benefit

Beneficiaries will receive this if the current employee dies while employed. The basic benefit is $32, 326.58. In addition, they also receive 50 percent of that employee’s salary, or of the High-3 salary, whichever is greater. This payment may be taken as a lump sum, monthly installments over three years, or be transferred to an IRA.

TSP

A surviving spouse beneficiary may choose to roll an inherited TSP balance into their own account if they are a federal employee. If they are not, they can still maintain the account by being a beneficiary participant on the TSP. In any other scenario, that person must transfer the TSP to an outside inherited account or take direct distributions. Once in this account, the beneficiaries can take the money out within five years or choose a stretch option. This option is available over their lifetime and only available to a surviving spouse. The subsequent beneficiary can’t choose this option; however, they can maintain that option.

To learn more about each one of these benefits as well as children’s benefit and FEGLI, please continue reading by clicking on the link below.

Know Which Survivor Benefits Apply to You-Part 2

Understanding these benefits is the first step. Additionally, if you are a federal worker who has been injured and can no longer perform your job duties, these benefit elections may apply to you too. If you are eligible or think you may be, for a medical disability retirement, please give us a call at 877-226-2723, or fill out this inquiry form. We can schedule you for a FREE consultation and discuss your specific situation further.

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Agency Spotlight-TSO’s

Transportation Security Officers (TSO’s) are employed by the Transportation Security Administration, and make up the bulk of the TSA workforce. “They are charged with protecting the US transportation systems from terrorist attacks and ensuring freedom of movement for both commerce and people”. They are to follow the guidelines set by the TSA.

Training and Requirements

tsoTo become a TSO, you must have a high school diploma, GED, or prior security experience. Weekend, holiday and evening work is required. Qualified candidates must be honest and flexible with work schedules, accountable, have great communication skills, and work well with a team.

This position is very physically demanding. Those with poor vision, who are color blind or have impaired hearing are not suited for this line of work. TSO’s must be able to lift and carry up to 70 pounds. There are also physical requirements with set limits on blood pressure, dexterity, joint mobility, strength, and stability.

Job Duties

TSO’s are trained to screen passengers at security checkpoints by checking luggage manually or with X-Ray equipment. They usually don’t work in the same position every day. Therefore, they must know how to check tickets and ID materials of crews and passengers.

To learn more about TSO’s and issues facing them, click below.

Agency Spotlight-Transportation Security Officers

Due to the strict requirements of being a TSO, it is very common for a TSO to find themselves in a position where they can’t fully complete their job duties. In this case, that person may qualify for federal disability retirement. If this describes you or someone you know, don’t hesitate to call us at 877-226-2723 or fill out this inquiry form. We want to be able to help you.

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More Workers Hired with Disabilities

disabilitiesIn a 2010 executive order President Obama says, “As the Nation’s largest employer, the Federal Government must become a model for the employment of individuals with disabilities. Executive departments and agencies must improve their efforts to employ workers with disabilities through increased recruitment, hiring, and retention of these individuals”. This order set a goal of hiring 100,000 workers with disabilities over a five-year span from 2011-2015. The total number of part and full-time employees hired during this time is 109, 575. That represents 14.41 percent of the federal workforce, which is an increase from 13.56 percent from FY2014. *Originally the goal was set by the Clinton Administration in 2000, however, the 2010 executive order noted that not enough steps were taken to achieve that goal.

At the present time, there are 264,844 employees with disabilities, which is a 35-year high.

OPM acting director Beth Cobert said, “The administration has consistently demonstrated a commitment to providing equal employment opportunities for Americans with disabilities. We remain committed to supporting the federal governments’ efforts to be a model employer for people with disabilities. I look forward to continuing building on our progress.”

Between 2014-2015, 30 percent more disabled veterans were hired, rising from 20,618 to 26,466. Additionally, four agencies employed the most disabled workers, percentage wise. They include the EEOC, Veteran Affairs Department, Defense Department and the Railroad Retirement Board.

To read more about this story, see below.

The Goal for Hiring Federal Workers with Disabilities Has Been Exceeded

 

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Workers’ Compensation Attorney Fees

attorney fees

When most workers file a workers’ compensation claim, their state law usually dictates that his employer’s workers compensation insurance company pay for his attorney fees.  The state law typically limits the fees for the claimant’s attorney which, of course, has some effect on limiting the time the attorney will work on the file.

This is NOT the case if a federal employee has a workers’ compensation claim, although the fee must be approved by the federal government, the federal employee must pay his own attorney’s fees –and those fees must be based upon contemporaneous time billing (as opposed to a contingency fee based upon the amount collected on behalf of the employee).

So that is a BIG difference between the rights of “state law” workers compensation claimants and the rights of federal employees.

In a major ruling, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday said that their state law limiting attorney’s fees in workers compensation insurance cases is unconstitutional.

The 5-2 ruling in the closely watched case was a victory for attorneys who represent injured workers — and a blow to business groups that have long argued legal fees drive up the costs of workers compensation insurance. The fee issue will bounce back to the Legislature, where it could spark a fierce debate.

Justice Barbara Pariente, writing for the court’s majority, said the 2009 law is a violation of due-process rights under the Florida Constitution and the U.S. Constitution because it prevents challenges to the “reasonableness” of attorney’s fees awarded in workers-compensation cases. The ruling stemmed from a case in which an attorney was awarded the equivalent of $1.53 an hour in successfully pursuing a claim for benefits for a worker injured in Miami.

Pariente wrote that the goal of the workers-compensation system is to quickly provide benefits to get injured people back on the job at a reasonable cost to employers.

“This case, and many others like it, demonstrate that despite the stated goal, oftentimes the worker experiences delay and resistance either by the employer or the [insurance] carrier,” wrote Pariente, who was joined in the majority by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices R. Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince and James E.C. Perry. “Without the likelihood of an adequate attorney’s fee award, there is little disincentive for a carrier to deny benefits or to raise multiple defenses, as was done here.”

The case, known as Marvin Castellanos v. Next Door Company, was one of three major challenges to the workers-compensation system that have been pending at the Supreme Court.

Attorney’s fees have long been one of the most contentious issues in the workers’ compensation system, which handles disputes through a legal process outside of more-typical civil courts. Under the formula included in the 2009 law, for example, attorneys who successfully represent workers can receive fees equal to 20 percent of the first $5,000 in benefits obtained and 15 percent of the next $5,000 in benefits.

In a concurring opinion, Lewis described the attorney’s fees part of the workers’ compensation system as “emasculated” and pointed to the example of the $1.53 an hour in fees in the Castellanos case, which he wrote is “clearly unreasonable and insufficient to afford workers the ability to secure competent counsel.”

Read more here: https://goo.gl/J2jxHc

This article was written by senior attorney Brad Harris of Harris Federal Law Firm. You can contact him at Harris Federal law Firm (877) 226-2723 or mail@harrisfederal.com.

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Your Annuity and Leaving Federal Service

federal serviceLeaving federal service is a choice where all the options need to be weighed carefully. In some cases, the choice is not all that difficult: better hours and pay, closer commuting, better benefits, etc. However, in other cases, the decision may be a bit tougher to make. In those cases, one question that people always have is “What happens to my annuity if I leave federal service?”. And it’s a good question.

The options you have leaving federal service are not all that different from leaving a private sector job. Leaving federal service before you are eligible for retirement leaves you with a couple different options.

Interest

The interest payable on the lump sum of your contributions varies depending on which retirement system you worked under. Under the FERS system, you will get interest on the refund of the contributions if you worked more than a year.

Rollover

Another option is the rollover option. Former federal employees can choose to rollover their lump sum payments. These payments represent your retirement contributions and any applicable interest. Eligible payments are made either to you or directly to an IRA or employee-sponsored plan. However, be aware that the choice affects the taxes owed.

To learn more about these different options, please continue reading by clicking below.

What Will Happen to My Annuity if I Leave Federal Service?

For more information on how leaving federal service affects your annuity, visit www.opm.gov.

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Understanding Survivor Benefits

survivor benefits

Survivor benefits are difficult to understand and frankly, may not be thought of very often. However, that could be a mistake. Not choosing a beneficiary in the case that something happens to you may cause delays in the distribution of benefits. This could cause undue hardships to loved ones that you leave behind. In this two-part series, we’ll explain which survivor benefits are available and how they can affect your loved ones. This post will focus on which survivor benefits are available and the eligibility of them.

Basic Death Benefit

Surviving Spouse

If an employee dies with at least 18 months of creditable civilian service, a survivor annuity may be paid out if:

  • The surviving spouse was married to the deceased for at least 9 months.
  • The death was accidental.
  • There was a child born of the marriage to the employee.

The spouse may be eligible for a Basic Employee Death Benefit equal to 50 percent of the employees’ final salary plus $32,326.58. *This number is as of December 1, 2015, and is based on COLA’s. 

Monthly Survivor Benefits

Surviving Spouse

If a FERS employee dies, recurring monthly payments may be made to the surviving spouse if the deceased employee completed at least 10 years of creditable service, 18 months of which must be civilian. To qualify, the surviving spouse must have been married to the employee for at least 9 months. If the death occurred before that 9-month mark, benefits may still be payable if,

  • The death was accidental.
  • There was a child born of the marriage.

When Benefits Begin

  • Widow/Widower—survivor annuity begins on the day after the employee/retirees’ death
  • Former Spouse—based on the court order; this begins to accrue on whichever day of the following is later, 1. The day after the employee/retirees’ death. 2. The first day of the second month after OPM receives a certified copy of the court order along with any necessary supporting documentation.
  • Children—the survivor annuity begins to accrue on the day after the employee/retiree’s death.

Fo more information on these, and more survivor benefits click below.

Know Which Survivor Benefits Apply to You-Part 1

Additionally, if you are a federal worker who has been injured and can no longer perform your job duties, these benefit elections may apply to you too. If you are eligible or think you may be, for a medical disability retirement, please give us a call at 877-226-2723, or fill out this inquiry form. We can schedule you for a FREE consultation and discuss your specific situation further.

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