Tag Archives: applying for federal disability retirement

The Shutdown and Federal Disability Retirement

retirement

The partial government shutdown has lasted almost 30 days now and let’s be honest, it is a difficult time to be a federal employee. Whether you’re being forced to work without pay, or on furlough with no pay, it’s a tough time. Seemingly every day there is a new story regarding federal employees—unions suing the government or federal employees being ordered to work without pay. It may have you thinking if there’s anything else.

NTEU Sues Over the Shutdown

The National Treasury Employees Union filed a lawsuit against the government alleging the federal statute allowing some federal employees to be required to work without pay during the shutdown is unconstitutional.

“If employees are working, they must be paid—and if there is no money to pay them, then they should not be working,” NTEU National President Tony Reardon said.

One example the lawsuit points to is employees at the Internal Revenue Service. NTEU says these employees’ jobs involve “the regular functions of government unrelated to protecting human life.” IRS is recalling thousands of workers to work in the preparation for the upcoming tax filing season.

“While a case can certainly be made that some federal employees, such as Customs and Border Patrol Officers and others, are protecting human life and property, that line of reasoning gets quite shaky when applied to thousands of IRS employees being called back in order to process tax refunds—and to do so without being paid,” Reardon said. “That is not how the law works, and that is not how this country should work.”

Federal Employees Ordered to Work Without Pay

Here are a few of the most popular stories about this:

Politico (1/15, Mintz, Gurciullo, 4.04M) reports that, according to Professional Aviation Safety Specialists Vice President Michael Gonzales, approximately 1,500 inspectors had returned to work as of today. Gonzales said, “The FAA Flight Standards Service has developed an aggressive plan to bring key components of our safety inspector work online, with an initial recall of all principle safety inspectors through next week.”

Bloomberg News (1/15, Dlouhy, 5.74M) reports that the Administration has “ordered thousands of furloughed federal employees back to work without pay to inspect planes, issue tax refunds, monitor food safety and facilitate the sale of offshore oil drilling rights.” The efforts, Bloomberg News says, show how President Trump is “trying to limit the impact of the partial government shutdown and shield favored industries” as the impacts of the shutdown spread across the country. Critics, however, say the Administration is “skirting federal law by continuing some functions” amid the shutdown.

The Washington Post (1/15, Marimow, 13.51M) reports US District Judge Richard J. Leon on Tuesday “refused to force the government to pay federal employees who have been working without compensation during the partial government shutdown, rejecting arguments from labor unions that unpaid work violates labor laws and the Constitution.” The judge “ruled against a consolidated claim that the National Treasury Employees Union and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association filed against the government, alleging that employees should not be forced to work without pay.” The Washington Free Beacon (1/15, McMorris, 58K) reports Judge Leon “said the motion could throw the political process into ‘disarray’ even as he acknowledged that workers ‘are not the ones at fault.’”

Federal Disability Retirement

None of us really knows when this shutdown will end. It could be a few days, or it could be a few months from now. Many of you may be working through an injury or illness, and have been for some time now, that prevents you from performing your essential job duties. If this describes you, the time could be right for you to start the process of applying for this benefit. If you would like to learn more about this and how Harris Federal Law Firm may be able to help you, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Call us at 877-226-2723 or fill out this INQUIRY form to schedule your FREE consultation.

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Stress and FDR

stress

Stress is defined by Oxford Living Dictionaries as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.” It’s found in every part of life, good or bad—marriage, divorce, working with others, doctor appointment, etc.

An eligibility requirement for federal disability retirement is having a medical condition (injury or illness) that prevents your ability to provide useful and efficient service in your current job with the federal government. It’s certainly true stress can make you ill and cause a host of medical or mental issues, but is stress alone enough to qualify you for federal disability retirement?

Maybe.

The main question here is if you were removed from your stressful environment, would you be able to perform your essential job duties efficiently? Would you “get better”? If the answer is yes, or probably, stress would not qualify you. On the other hand, if the answer is no, then you need to understand how to successfully prove your “situational disability”.

A situational disability is location specific, attributed to something or someone that only shows up at your workplace. The disability is NOT situational if it extends beyond the workplace and prevents you from doing ANY job in your agency.

These cases are especially hard to prove because it’s usually considered causally connected to something or someone, so merely removing yourself from that environment would essentially “cure” you. If you’re going to claim stress as your medical condition, be sure to include objective medical evidence connecting the stressor to your inability to perform your job duties.

If you think you fall into this category, give us a call at 877-226-2723 or fill out this INQUIRY form. We’d love to schedule you with a FREE consultation and get more information from you.
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Update on OPM Retirement Claims Backlog

backlog

The Office of Personnel Management Inspector General released a report that shows OPM has work to do in meeting its goals for keeping down its backlog of retirement applications. The agency has said it has a goal of improving “retirement services by reducing the average time to answer calls to 5 minutes or less and achieve an average case processing time of 60 days or less.”

Here is what the IG had to say of OPM’s efforts:

“OPM appears to remain focused on its internal process improvements and external outreach towards other Federal agencies to meet their goal. However, while Retirement Services appears to have met its average case processing goal for FY2018, with an average processing time of 59 days, its claims backlog as of September 2018 was 17,628, more than 4.5% higher than at the same time a year ago. In addressing the average call answering time, Retirement Services stated that an average time to answer calls in FY2017 was 9.7 minutes, but it increased to 12 minutes in FY2018, more than double the strategic plan goal of 5 minutes or less. Again, no data was provided to Retirement Services’ average time to answer calls.

In order to alleviate the excessive busy signals and long wait times, Retirement Services provided more automated services via Services-On-Line, a redesign which went live on June 10, 2018, featuring a new technology stack with responsive design that is compatible with any hand-held design, and provides a more customer-friendly experience and efficient processing of transactions.

In continuing its efforts, Retirement Services plans to:

  • Continue to integrate improvements for correspondence and claims processing;
  • Enhance reporting tools to monitor and address Retirement Services workloads;
  • Utilize overtime to assist with timely processing;
  • Work with the OCIO to investigate technological capabilities to help improve processing time and reduce wait times;
  • Continue to provide Federal retirement policy technical assistance to all OPM offices and Congress;
  • Perform on-going audits of agency submissions;
  • Provide monthly feedback to agencies and payroll offices and alert them of trends and improvement opportunities; and
  • Identify training needs for agencies, develop job aids and online training modules, and conduct workshops on the retirement application process.

OPM must continue to work to obtain the necessary resources to ensure that the needs of its customers and stakeholders are met.”

This has been an ongoing battle for OPM, so we’ll see if the new year brings changes.

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How Can Disease/Illness Qualify You?

disease

There are many requirements you must meet to be qualified for federal disability retirement. One of them being, “you must, while employed in a position subject to the retirement system, have become disabled because of disease or injury, for useful and efficient service in your current position”. And it must last at least one year.

An injury, at times, maybe “easier” to prove that it affects your ability to perform your essential job duties. This can be for many reasons; the injury has a permanent effect on your range of motion, it could cause you to lose a part of your body, and many more.

Many people wonder if their illness or disease is enough to qualify them for this benefit. The short answer is, it depends. The long answer…

Illness/disease comes in many forms and is either physical or psychological. The Office of Personnel Management does not have an exhaustive list of illnesses/disease. Physical conditions can include cancer, degenerative disc disease, Lyme disease, neuropathy, HIV, diabetes, seizures, and so much more.

Psychological conditions can include major depressive disorder, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, PTSD, and much more.

Both physical and psychological conditions are equally valid in filing for federal disability retirement benefits because the law does not distinguish one from the other in determining the viability of a medical condition and its impact on your ability to perform the essential duties of your job.

Your illness must be clinically supported with medical evidence such as MRI’s, X-Rays, mental health records, and treatment reports that show there is a direct correlation to the illness/disease and your inability to perform your jobs’ essential functions. Having a supportive doctor that you’re currently treating with is extremely important in strengthening your case.

Note: If OPM does approve your application, they may require periodically require you to undergo medical exams and provide them with documentation, in order to keep your benefits, depending on your condition.

If you’d like to learn more and set up a FREE consultation, don’t hesitate to call us at 877-226-2723. You can also fill out this INQUIRY form.

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Should You Hire an Attorney?

attorneyIf you find yourself in a position where you’re looking at filing for federal disability retirement, you are, no doubt, looking into whether hiring an attorney is worth the money. An attorney is not required for you to file your disability retirement claim with the Office of Personnel Management. And let’s face it, attorneys are expensive. However, NOT hiring one may cost you even more.

Below are areas in the federal disability retirement process where you may want to have an attorney’s help.

Eligibility

Determining your eligibility for federal disability retirement seems straightforward—you meet the requirements, you’re eligible. Generally, that’s true. However, a few of the criteria have a bit of a gray area and you may want the expertise of an attorney who has seen your type of case before.

One of the criteria for federal disability retirement is you must have become disabled, while employed in a position subject to the retirement system, because of disease or injury, for useful and efficient service in your current position.

Let’s say you work on a computer all day and deal with paperwork and you suffer from migraines. These migraines get so bad that you miss work, can’t focus on your computer screen, can’t sleep, or eat. Eventually, this leads you to other illnesses that keeps you from doing your job duties effectively. (Remember, this is just one of the criteria; there are others you must meet as well.) Now, let’s say you suffer from migraines, but this time its stress related from your work environment. You still are unable to complete your job duties but removing you from your work environment removes the trigger for your migraines, so you can work again.

One of these is more likely to get help your claim with OPM and one isn’t. But do you know the difference?

Medical Records

This one is tricky. You can get your own medical records from your doctor. You don’t need an attorney to help you with that. The one thing here an attorney CAN help you with is ensuring you supplement your disability retirement application with the RIGHT medical evidence from supportive doctors.

Application

The application for federal disability retirement is lengthy and can be confusing. Again, you don’t need an attorney to help you with it. The problem here is that the entire process with OPM generally takes 12-18 months. That’s with a full and complete application. But what if there’s a mistake in there that you don’t know about or didn’t realize you made? That could delay your decision another year. You don’t want that, especially if you are out of work and not receiving any income.

Appeals

Harris Federal Law Firm represents clients through all three stages of the process; initial, Reconsideration, and Merit Systems Protection Board. Of course, you can file on your own and receive an approval. But what if you get denied? You then have an incredibly tight window to appeal (and then hire an attorney if you choose to). The same thing goes for the next stage, should you get denied again.

So, should you hire an attorney for federal disability retirement? There’s no right or wrong answer. While an attorney may be expensive, there are great benefits to retaining one. Harris Federal Law Firm has represented thousands of federal employees with filing for federal disability retirement. Our consultation is always FREE. Fill out this INQUIRYform or call us at 877-226-2723 to schedule yours today.

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OPM Gets it Wrong Sometimes

wrong

There are three chances to get an application approved for federal disability retirement. If it is denied at the initial stage at OPM, it moves to the Reconsideration stage at OPM, where you are assigned a different legal administrative assistant than before. Lastly, if your application is denied twice, the process moves to the Merit Systems Protection Board. This series of posts is going to focus on the initial and Reconsideration stages at OPM.

Harris Federal Law Firm has helped thousands of federal workers successfully obtain federal disability retirement benefits. And we’ve helped at all three stages of the process, if necessary. While most of our clients receive an approval at the initial stage, there are those that should’ve been approved but instead are denied.

Some of these denials, quite frankly, are ones that should’ve been approved in the initial stage. This series will detail some cases we’ve seen this.

Eligibility

The requirements for federal disability retirement are as follows:

  • You must have completed 18 months of federal civilian service creditable under FERS.
  • While employed in a position subject to the retirement system, you must have become disabled, because of disease or injury, for useful and efficient service in your current position.
  • Your disability is expected to last at least 1 year.
  • Your agency must certify its unable to accommodate your disabling medical condition in your current position and it has considered you for any vacant position in the same agency at the same grade or pay level, within the same commuting area, for which you are qualified for reassignment.
  • You must apply before your separation from service or with 1 year. Your application must be received by OPM or your former employing agency within 1 year of the date of separation. The time limit can only be waived if you were mentally incompetent on the date of separation, or within one year of this date.
  • You must apply for Social Security Disability. You don’t have to be approved, but an application for FERS disability retirement requires an application for SSD.

All of these must be met to receive federal disability retirement benefits.

The Case

A recent client of ours seemed to meet all these requirements. His employing agency noted a deficiency in service. Further, his treating physicians submitted medical evidence that his conditions were directly correlated with his inability to perform his duties as a Senior Officer Specialist for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Doctors diagnosed medical conditions such as PTSD, Seizure Disorder, Panic Attack Disorder, and Sleep Apnea. Doctors said his related symptoms of nausea, anger, nightmares, migraines, dizziness, confusion, and lack of concentration affected his ability to render useful and efficient service. They went as far to say, “the patient was not able to go back to work after his second hospitalization…[he] is not able to work, or work in any correctional facility.”

It was even made clear that the diagnosed conditions would continue for at least one year.

The FBOP was unable to make a reasonable accommodation and made no offer of reassignment.

Despite all the supporting medical evidence submitted, OPM found the claimant unqualified for federal disability retirement benefits due to:

  • His application failed to show his service deficiency was caused by his medical conditions.
  • The evidence didn’t show that his condition was disabling for at least one year.
  • There were no objective psychiatric testing or clinical findings to support his medical condition was severe enough for him to be considered disabled for useful and efficient service.

However, when his application was re-submitted in the Reconsideration stage, we were able to successfully show he did, in fact, meet all the eligibility criteria for federal disability retirement and he received an approval. The documentation submitted the first time should’ve been enough for an approval, but sometimes OPM, gets it wrong.

If you receive a denial letter in the initial stage, don’t give up.

If you need assistance with your federal disability retirement application, give us a call at 877-226-2723 or fill out this INQUIRY form. The consultation is always FREE.

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Agency Spotlight–FBI Worker Injuries/Conditions

conditionsTo conclude our series on the Federal Bureau of Investigation, we’ll look at some common ways an FBI worker can get injured during work. FBI employees often engage in dangerous work, particularly their work environments and dealing with people of special investigation. The nature of their job puts them at a significant risk for intentional violent injuries. Below are a few clients we have helped/are helping.

Investigative Specialist

A person in this position uses a variety of equipment and must infiltrate businesses or homes without being detected. They must follow subjects unnoticed, collect and disseminate intelligence, organize surveillance teams, and offer advice to Special Agents.

This particular client is part of FBI’s elite Special Surveillance Group. This group is tasked with conducting physical surveillance of FBI targets of investigations. His conditions include:

  • Cauda Equina Syndrome—an extreme version of never compression or inflammation in the lower part of the spinal canal, and considered a surgical emergency if left untreated because it can lead to permanent loss of bowel and bladder control and paralysis of the legs.
  • Neurogenic bladder and bowel
  • Severe lumber Disc Degeneration
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Dysesthesias in the right foot—an abnormal sensation caused by lesions of the nervous system (peripheral or central) and involves sensations such as burning, wetness, itching, electric shock, and pins and needles.

Due to these conditions, he is no longer able to stand, sit, or walk for more than 10 minutes without severe pain, numbness, or weakness. He loses his balance. He is unable to climb more than 15 steps. Applying self-defense and driving techniques is near impossible. He is also unable to “run from a hazardous situation”.

Operational Support Technician

A worker in this position performs data analysis on phone records, maintain case documents, conducts physical surveillance related to national security and criminal investigations, and helps Special Agents and Intelligence Analysts.

This person is suffering from cervical herniated discs, bulging lumbar discs, Fibromyalgia, generalized anxiety, and thyroid disease. Because of these conditions, she is no longer able to carry heavy items, limited to desk work such as typing, however, she is unable to sit for prolonged periods of times, including while driving.

Special Agent

This persons’ job is to investigate crimes and enforce laws, interview suspects, participate in raids, arrests, search warrants, and other dangerous activity. They are likely involved in investigations of large scale criminal activities such as organized crime, drug trafficking, terrorism, and cybercrime. The position is on duty 24/7.

This client is suffering from failed inguinal hernia mesh repairs. This occurs when tissue, such as part of the small intestine protrudes through a weak spot in abdominal muscles, resulting in chronic pain.

He has difficulty standing, sitting up, and walking. He cannot move with ease, run, jump, or engage a subject due to his lack of mobility.

Supervisory Program Analyst (Unit Chief)

A person in this position is responsible for:

  • Supervising the development of complex studies
  • Analyzing staff activities related to long-term planning
  • Determining goals and objectives in their unit
  • Preparing reports on management initiatives and studies the overall coordination of the allocation of resources
  • Directing and monitoring the progress of administration activities
  • Coordinating and facilitating the processing of all administrative issues such as staffing and recruiting
  • Managing and overseeing workforce management, intern program, HR management, auditing, and inventory management
  • Receiving and resolving a variety of complex employee matters
  • Preparing and presenting briefs to FBI management

She is suffering from:

  • Lumber facet arthroplasty—degeneration and arthritis in that part of the back
  • Lumber facet disease
  • Sacroiliitis—inflammation of one or both sacroiliac joints (where the lower spine and pelvis connect)
  • Migraines

Because of these conditions, she can no longer have great attendance at work, which is required by supervisors, sit, or stand for long periods of time, or concentrate or focus due to the chronic pain.

If you are an FBI employee who has found you can no longer perform the duties of your job because of your medical condition, you may qualify for federal disability retirement. We offer FREE consultations, so please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Call us at 877-226-2723 or fill out this INQUIRY form.

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Why the Slow Processing Times at OPM?

processing

Some officials at the Office of Personnel Management attributed a slowdown in the processing times of retirement claims to the hiring freeze that occurred earlier this year.

July saw an increase in the number of retirement claims—10,070 up from 6,141 in June. This brought the backlog of claims up to 17,091, an increase of 18 percent over June. Before last month’s influx, OPM was making progress on its inventory, with the backlog steadily decreasing since February. (13,000 is considered a steady state)

However, the percentage of claims processed within 60 days since the beginning of FY2017 (October 2016-September 2017) lagged behind the rate of previous years. Last month, only 55 percent of claims in that time had been processed within 60 days, compared to 79 percent a year ago.

A spokeswoman at OPM said that one factor in the slowdown was the hiring freeze earlier this year. “The hiring freeze did impact the percentage of claims processed within 60 days. Retirement Services has mitigated the impact of staff shortages in the retirement claims process by implementing process improvements and working with agencies to improve the quality and timeliness of their submissions,” OPM said.

They also said there are procedures in place to ensure retiring federal employees don’t feel the brunt of government issues. One of these procedures is retirees are placed in an “interim pay status” within 5-7 days of OPM receiving their claim. From then until the claim is fully processed, the retiree receives an estimate of what their post-employment annuity will be based on final salary and length of service. Generally, the estimate equals about 80 percent of their final retirement pay.

Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA) called this lag “unacceptable” and linked it to lack of agency leadership. He said, “It’s troubling that the percentage of retirement claims processed within 60 days is trending in the wrong direction compared to last year. Continued backlogs are unacceptable. This issue needs the attention of OPM leadership and highlights the importance of having a Senate confirmed director and deputy director in place to help address the problem.”

OPM also has said, “RS has the authority and flexibility to address workload spikes, including the ability to move qualified employees to areas of greatest need. However, our ability to maintain desired processing time will depend upon the extent of the increase in the number of cases received.”

They also noted that some cases just take longer than others because they involve “more complicated situations that may require additional information from agency or employee”.

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Do’s and Don’ts of Filing

filingNo federal employee ever thinks (or hopes) they’ll need to file for federal disability retirement. This process is often long and confusing. There are many rules and deadlines you must follow. Below are some “do’s and don’ts” to keep in mind when filing for federal disability retirement.

filingDON’T WAIT

The main reason not to wait to file is the one-year deadline. You must apply before you are separated from your agency or within one year of the date of separation. Not only that, but the process can take a year, or more, so waiting to file only delays a decision. Also, it is generally easier to prove a case while you’re still employed so that you don’t have to rely on “post separation medical evidence”, where you must prove that “proximity in time, lay testimony, or some other evidence provides the requisite link to the relevant period”.

filingDO PROVIDE AS MUCH EVIDENCE AS POSSIBLE

The Office of Personnel Management must consider the following types of evidence:

  • Objective clinical findings
  • Diagnoses/medical opinions
  • Subjective evidence of pain/disability
  • Evidence relating to the effect of your condition on your ability to perform your essential job duties

Each of these may not be enough on their own, but as a whole can provide a compelling case to OPM.

filingDON’T ASSUME

Don’t assume your doctor will support your federal disability retirement application or that they know about the process of filing for it. What your medical evidence must show is that your condition adversely impacts your ability to perform essential job duties and requirements. Be sure to inform your doctor of what the process involves exactly and what forms and medical evidence you need from them.

filingDO SHOW A CAUSAL CONNECTION

This is worth repeating. It’s one thing to have a medical condition or disability, but to be eligible for federal disability retirement, you must show the causal connection between your condition and your inability to perform your job duties. If you can’t, it’s likely OPM will deny your case.

filingDON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOUR AGENCY TELLS YOU

Unfortunately, some individuals in your agency may not provide complete or accurate information about filing for federal disability retirement. Not out of malice, but maybe they don’t know themselves. One way this is evident is when your agency allows you to perform “light duty” work, as an accommodation. There is nothing wrong with you doing this work, however, this doesn’t constitute an “accommodation” under the law, and shouldn’t preclude you from filing, even if the agency ends your light duty work. Accommodation means “an adjustment made to the employee’s job or work environment that enables the employee to perform the duties of the position”.

filingDO PRESENT YOUR CASE IN A PROFESSIONAL MANNER

Don’t overstate the case and have a lot of “fluff” thrown in or overemphasize an emotional aspect of the case. Instead, let the medical documentation and evidence speak for itself.

filingDON’T ACT AS A LAWYER

This doesn’t mean you must have a lawyer to apply (although helpful), it just means don’t act as something you’re not. If your application is complete and correct, let that speak for itself at OPM.

There are so many things to consider when applying for federal disability retirement. It’s often and long and arduous process. Harris Federal Law Firm has helped thousands of federal employees, in every state, get the benefits they deserve. If you would like to set up a FREE consultation to discuss your unique situation, please give us a call at 877-226-2723 or fill out this INQUIRY form.

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Join Us for a Webinar This Wednesday

webinar

Join us this Wednesday, August 16th at NOON EST for a FREE webinar titled “Federal Disability Retirement–Approvals Before Separation”

One of the eligibility requirements for federal disability retirement is that your agency must certify that they are unable to accommodate your medical condition causing a deficiency in your current position AND that they have considered you for any vacant position at the same agency, same grade or pay level, and in the same commuting area, for which you are qualified. But what exactly does this mean?

In this webinar, we will discuss what qualifies as accommodation and look at how it can affect your chance of approval on your federal disability retirement claim.

Other topics that will be discussed are:
• Reassignment
• Modified Job Assignments
• How far must your agency go to accommodate you
• What qualifies as accommodation and what does not.

Register here https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/448223995036310274

We hope to see you all there!

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