Tag Archives: applying for federal disability retirement

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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Do I Need a Lawyer for Federal Disability Retirement?

lawyer

Question of the Week: Do I Need a Lawyer to File for Federal Disability Retirement?

A: This question is a common one. We hear it quite often. And the answer, quite simply, is no. You do not have to hire a lawyer to file for federal disability retirement. However, a lot of thought should be put into this question and decision.

Filing for federal disability retirement yourself, while manageable, is a complex, and often, confusing process. There are deadlines and requirements you must be aware of and meet.

The following are important to consider when deciding whether to hire a lawyer or not.

Eligibility

The Office of Personnel Management has laid out specific criteria you must meet to qualify for federal disability retirement. However, it’s not always clear if you meet those criteria. Seeking a lawyer is beneficial here. Harris Federal Law Firm offers FREE consultations so we can help discuss your case and specific situation and help determine if federal disability retirement is right for you.

Medical

The important thing with federal disability retirement is tying your medical condition to your inability to perform your duties at an efficient level. Doctors may not be aware of the one-year deadline t submit your application to OPM. On top of that, you need to know which forms to submit with your application.

Application

Often, federal disability retirement applications are lengthy and might include hundreds of pages. If filing on you own, that may get overwhelming. A lawyer can help you understand, not only what forms you need, but can make sure those forms are accurate and complete.

Appeals

Sometimes cases get denies by OPM, whether by mistake or an incomplete application. Again, there are deadlines, much tighter in this event, and having a lawyer in this stage is extremely beneficial. You may hire a lawyer at this stage, however, if you had one already at the initial stage, they generally represent you at any subsequent stages, should your application get denied.

Again, it’s not required that you retain a lawyer to file for federal disability retirement. However, having one may put your mind at ease when moving through the federal disability retirement process. We have represented thousands of federal employees with their cases, and we can help navigate you through the process. Call us at 877-226-2723 to set up a FREE consultation with us so we can discuss your specific situation. You can also fill out this INQUIRY form.

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OPM Processing Time for Federal Disability Retirement

application

Question of the Week: “How long will it take for OPM to receive my disability retirement application, and how long will it take them to make a decision?”

A: We’re asked this question all the time. And the truth is, the timeline varies. We’ve seen disability retirement claims receive a decision in as little as 3 months, and some take longer than a year.

So why so long for some?

First, it depends if you’re separated from your agency or not.

  • If you are still working for your agency, or have been separated LESS than 31 days, your application will get sent to your employing agency. There are parts of the application that you fill out, and then parts that your agency fills out. Generally, this may not take that long. The part that may take a while, however, is getting medical records and your physicians’ statement. Your agency may have “agency specific forms”, so depending on what agency you work for, this part could take longer. The agency then sends your application to their payroll department before it gets sent to OPM. Your application will then get sent to OPM in Boyers, PA where it is assigned a CSA (Civil Service Annuity) number. This could take 3-4 weeks. Your application is then sent to OPM in Washington, DC, where it could take months to get assigned a legal administrative specialist.
  • If you’ve been separated longer than 31 days, your application is submitted directly to OPM, where it’s assigned a CSA number. This is generally faster than the former.

“How long will it take then to make a decision?”

  • OPM processes disability retirement claims on a “first in, first out” basis. There is no specific way to expedite it.
  • Disability and voluntary retirement applications are submitted to the same place, so there’s no preference given to a disability retirement application.
  • They have a constant backlog of retirement applications. While their goal is to maintain a steady state of 13,000 claims, and process most within 60 days, that’s just not the reality.
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It’s Never to Early to Start Retirement Planning–Part 3

planning

Planning for retirement should begin as early as possible. It’s literally never too early. Knowing the deadlines and requirements will greatly reduce stress as you move into this phase of your life. Contributing to a Thrift Savings Plan as early as possible is especially important; however, there are also other things to consider such as life insurance, health coverage, service history, and more.

This three-part blog series will look at retirement planning five years out, one year out, and the process of applying.

Process of Applying

Once you’ve picked a date for retirement, ensured all your service dates are correct, and elected survivor benefits, it’s time to start the process of applying for retirement.

If you are still working, you will submit your application to your employer. If you have been separated for more than 30 days, your application will go directly to OPM.

Both your personnel and payroll office in your agency are responsible for processing your application.

Personnel Office Process

  • They will complete the “Agency Checklist for Immediate Retirement Procedures” (Standard Form 2801, Schedule D for CSRS and Standard Form 3107, Schedule D for FERS).
  • Prepare and obtain your signature on the “Certified Summary of Federal Service” (SF 2801-1 for CSRS or SF 3107-1 for FERS).
  • Verify any service not fully documented in your Official Personnel Folder. If your personnel office is unable to verify, OPM will do so, but this could create delays in processing.
  • Certify and transfer your coverage under Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance to OPM.
  • Transfer enrollment under Federal Employees’ Health Benefits program to OPM.
  • Prepare SF 50, “Notification of Personnel Action”.
  • Send all retirement materials to your payroll office.

Payroll Office Process

  • Authorize final paycheck and lump sum payment for unused annual leave.
  • Prepares your “Individual Retirement Record”, SF 2806 for CSRS or 3100 for FERS, which reflects service, salary history, and annual retirement contributions.
  • Forwards all retirement documents to OPM.

OPM Process

When OPM receives your application, they will notify you and provide you with a 7-digit civil service claim number.

  • They obtain any missing information from your retirement documents.
  • Determine your eligibility for annuity and continued health and life insurance coverage.
  • Computes the amount of your annuity.
  • Sends you materials concerning survivor benefit election, an alternative form of annuity, rollover to an IRA, and if you are a FERS MRA+10 retiree, your annuity start date.
  • Authorizes your annuity payment which is paid by the Department of Treasury.
  • Sends you an annuity statement.

OPM could take months to process your retirement application so be sure it’s correct before sending. If they must contact you regarding elections or missing information, this will cause delays in an already lengthy process.

In the event that an injury or illness affects your job duties and you can no longer work, you may be eligible for a federal 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. Please give us a call at 877-226-2723 or fill out this inquiry form for a FREE consultation.

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Retirement Planning Can Never Start Too Early-Part 1

retirement

Planning for retirement should begin as early as possible. It’s literally never too early. Knowing the deadlines and requirements will greatly reduce stress as you move into this phase of your life. Contributing to a Thrift Savings Plan as early as possible is especially important; however, there are also other things to consider such as life insurance, health coverage, service history, and more.

This three-part blog series will look at retirement planning five years out, one year out, and the process of applying.

Five Years Before Retirement

While retirement planning should begin before this point, the five-year mark is an important one. You must have insurance coverage for the five years immediately before you retire to keep it after you retire.

Health Insurance Coverage

You may continue your health insurance coverage only if you meet the following:

  • Your annuity must begin within 30 days or if you are retiring under the Minimum Retirement Age + 10 provision of FERS, your health and life insurance are suspended until your annuity begins, even if it’s postponed.
  • You are covered under health insurance when you retire.
  • The Federal Employee Benefits program must have continuously covered you:
    • For the five years immediately before retiring, or
    • During all federal employment since your first opportunity to enroll, or
    • Continuously for full periods of service beginning with an enrollment that started before January 1, 1965, and ending with the date when you became an annuitant, whichever is shortest.

Life Insurance Coverage

You can keep basic life insurance coverage if ALL the following are met:

  • You have coverage when you retire.
  • Haven’t converted coverage to an individual policy.
  • Your annuity begins within 30 days. An exception is if you are retiring under MRA+10 and you have postponed the starting date of your annuity. Your health and life insurance coverage are suspended until your annuity begins.
  • You were insured for life insurance coverage for the five years immediately preceding retirement or the full periods of service when coverage was available.

Military Service

Another important thing you need to review is your military and civilian service history. If you owe a payment to receive credit for military service performed after 1956, you must make that payment before you retire. If you are receiving military retired pay, you should discuss, with your personnel officer, whether you must waive your retired pay.

In the event that an injury or illness affects your job duties and you can no longer work, you may be eligible for a federal 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. Please give us a call at 877-226-2723 or fill out this inquiry form for a FREE consultation.

For more information on these, click below.

It’s Never Too Early to Begin Planning for Retirement-Part 1

The next post in this series will look at retirement planning when you’re a year away from retiring.

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OPM’s Advice for Furloughs and Reorganization

reorganizationThe Office of Personnel Management has issued new guidance to agencies telling them how to prepare for an upcoming government reorganization. The reshaping guide states, “OPM is issuing this Workforce Reshaping Operations Handbook to aid agencies that are considering and/or undergoing some type of reshaping (i.e. reorganization, management directed assignments, furloughs, transfer of function, or reduction in force)”.

If President Trumps’ budget successfully passes, as is, many civilian agencies will face significant spending cuts which will lead to workforce reductions. The guide describes how agency leaders should “develop, review, analyze, and prioritize mission requirements”. It’s also designed to help agency leaders and HR staff ensure that the reshaping efforts comply with merit system laws and regulations.

OPM said, “Does management need to reduce whole numbers as in ‘across the board cuts’, or is there the possibility of reshaping specific functions within the organization? There is typically less disruption to an organization when specific functions are reshaped than when entire operations are closed.”

There is no mention of specific RIF’s furloughs or job cuts in the budget proposal, however, agencies should begin planning now for any future cuts.

A former chief human capital officer at the Department of Homeland Security said, “There is simply not enough time to get ready for a reduction in force if they wait until a budget is passed. Agencies that begin to plan for a RIF now, even without firm budget numbers, aren’t abandoning their employees. Quite the opposite is true: they are ensuring any RIF they may have…protects the rights of all of their employees.”

OPM also offers alternatives to RIF’s, such as, assigning employees to other departments on a reimbursable basis, using furloughs, and reassigning employees in “surplus functions” to other positions. They also suggest cutting hours, asking employees to change to a lower grade on the General Schedule, or using voluntary early retirements.

Also, included in a second updated guide is which types of employees are exempt from furloughs and what circumstances are exempt.

One thing that should be considered during this time is federal disability retirement. Many federal workers may not know they qualify for this, or worse, what it is. If you are a federal worker and have been suffering from an injury or illness, you may qualify for a federal disability retirement. If this describes you, please give us a call at 877-226-2723 or fill out this INQUIRY form! The consultation is always free. We would love to speak with you about your case!

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Do You Know When the Best Time to Retire is?

retireIf retiring as a FERS employee, your pension starts on the first day of the following month after you retire. So, it makes sense to retire on the last day of the month, no matter what day of the week, right?

Well, this is partly true. While the short answer may be yes, there are many things to consider when choosing when to retire.

Annual Leave

When you retire, any annual leave you haven’t used is paid out to you in one lump sum payment. However, if you are in a “use it or lose it” scenario, and you want your leave paid out at retirement, then you must retire by the Leave Ending Date that year. Otherwise, you’ll lose that time. The Leave Ending Date changes every year, so you’ll need to check what the date is for that year.

Also, while you may get a big paycheck for unused annual leave, remember that this money is taxable. It is added to your income for the year which could you put you in a higher tax bracket.

Thrift Savings Plan

Be sure to find out about age restrictions on you TSP. Generally, you must be at least 59 ½ years old to withdrawal out of your retirement savings. If you are younger than that, you may have to pay an early age withdrawal penalty plus normal income taxes. The exception here is that if you retire or separate from service in the year you turn 55 or older, you can take withdrawals from your TSP without any early age penalty. This is called a waiver.

However, if you’re retiring before the age of 59 ½, you may want to consider leaving your funds in the TSP because of the early age withdrawal waiver.

Transferring your TSP to an IRA right away, if retiring before 59 ½, may leave you subject to the early age withdrawal penalty and cause you to lose the waiver.

Processing Time

OPM’s processing time for retirement applications is quite lengthy, so don’t expect to receive payments right away. It’s a good rule of thumb to make sure you have a few months’ worth of savings to rely on until your pension payments start coming in. Even requesting payments from your TSP can take 4-6 weeks.

Knowing all the little caveats can be helpful when picking a date to retire. Make sure you do your research before retiring so that you can maximize the benefits you’ve worked hard to get.

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