Tag Archives: federal disability retirement

Options to Change FERS

contributions

The federal government spent $91 billion on retirement benefits for civilian employees in 2016 alone.

  • $70 billion for CSRS pensions for civilian retirees and their survivors
  • $13 billion for FERS pensions for civilian retirees and their survivors
  • $8 billion for TSP contributions

These expenses were partially offset by $3 billion in revenue from employee contributions to CSRS/FERS pension plans.

The national debt is close to $20 trillion and continues to rise. Because of this, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee asked the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to consider changing the federal retirement system for potential savings. Under the current system, the governments’ net expenses for federal civilian retirement systems are projected to grow by an average of 2.8 percent annually between 2018-2027.

Retirement Options for FERS

The report from the CBO examines how changing FERS would affect federal government spending in the long term.

Option 1

This option would modify the FERS pension plan by changing employee contributions to the plan. It would increase the FERS contribution rate to 4.4 percent for current employees (from 0.8 percent for employees hired before 2013 and from 3.1 percent for employees hired in 2013).

Option 2

This option would decrease pension contributions for some employees with larger contributions from the government to employee TSP accounts. CBO describes this change similar to the shifts over recent decades from defined benefit to defined contribution retirement plans in many private sector companies and state governments.

It would decrease the FERS contribution rate to 0.8 percent for all employees (from 4.4 percent for employees hired after 2013 and from 3.1 percent for employees hired in 2013). This option may help in recruiting new federal employees and retaining current employees, however, it would increase the federal government’s net retirement costs by 10 percent over the next 10 years.

Option 3

Option 3 would change the current pension formula from calculations based on the High-3 salary to a High-5. This would decrease FERS pensions by basing the retirement benefit on 5 years of the highest salary. It would also decrease the government’s cost by one percent over the next 10 years.

Option 4

This option would eliminate the FERS pension and increase the government’s automatic TSP contribution to 8 percent salary. It would also require the government to match employee contributions up to an additional 7 percent.

Option 5

Option 5 would eliminate the FERS pension, increase the government’s automatic TSP contribution to 10 percent of salary and eliminate the governments’ matching contributions. This option would potentially have the biggest long-term savings for the government.

Most of these proposals would have a greater impact on new employees than those who are already employees.

There’s also no guarantee that Congress will adopt these changes.

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Minority Hiring Initiative

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Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, plans to launch a new initiative to improve diversity in foreign service. This includes a requirement that at least one minority candidate be considered for all ambassadorial positions.

He noted there was a significant gap between the racial makeup of the State Department and the American population. “We have a great diversity gap in the State Department. We need a State Department that reflects the American people, reflects who we are. The State Department must redouble our efforts to increase diversity at the highest ranks of the department, including at the ambassador level,” Tillerson said.

About 12 percent of senior Foreign Service officers are people of color, and that is “about the same” for the agency’s senior executive service contingent.

Tillerson has instructed staff that at least one minority must be considered and interviewed for every open ambassador position.

State Department Press Secretary, Heather Nauert said even if this plan doesn’t produce immediate results, it will advance the agency’s diversity goals in the future. “When we look at ambassadorial candidates, when we look at that pool, we want a minority represented in those interviews, to be interviewed for the job. And if they’re not ready for that position yet, that gives us the opportunity to know who they are and put them on our radar. And it helps us get them ready for the future,” she said.

Tillerson also announced he will retain “all of our fellowship and internship programs”. He plans to boost the agency’s recruitment efforts at college campuses, particularly historically black colleges, and universities.

He said, “While our diplomats in residence at Howard, Spellman, Morehouse, and Florida A&M do an outstanding job ensuring that people understand the opportunities at the State Department, there are more than 100 historically black colleges and universities, and there’s so much more we can do to raise awareness about the range of careers at State. We also want to expand our footprint at minority-focused job fairs, and we can do more to recruit from one of the most diverse and proven talent pools, as I mentioned: our U.S. Military.”

Nauert said she didn’t have a timeframe for when the agency will begin ramping up its recruitment efforts, but she did say the initiative is “important to the secretary”.

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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

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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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Is “At-Will” Employment Coming?

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Congressman Todd Rokita (R-IN) recently introduced the Promote Accountability and Government Efficiency Act. This would make federal workers “at-will” employees. It allows federal employees to be removed or suspended “without notice or right to appeal from service by the head of the agency at which such employee is employed, for good cause, bad cause, or no cause at all”.

Much of this proposed legislation would apply to federal employees hired on or after one year of the bill’s enactment.

“At-will” employees could appeal a removal, suspension, or demotion to the Merit Systems Protection Board of the Office of Special Counsel, with some limitations. “An employee or applicant for employment may appeal an adverse personnel action only to a single agency and may not thereafter bring an appeal pertaining to such dismissal before any other agency”, the legislation says.

Immediate Suspensions

This bill would allow agency heads to immediately suspend federal employees for misconduct or poor performance “if the head determines that the misconduct or performance of the employee warrants such suspension”. The agency must give the employee a written notice detailing specific reasons for the suspension, no later than 10 days after the first day of the suspension. Only after the suspension could the employee respond and provide evidence in their support, get a lawyer, and then review the agency’s final case.

Pay Raises

This legislation would prohibit annual pay raises if an employee didn’t receive at least a score of 4 or 5 out of 5 (or equivalent rating with respect to a performance appraisal system that does provide for such a scoring system) on their latest performance review under the performance appraisal system. Further, at least 50 percent of all employees in the agency must receive a 4 out of 5, or equivalent, rating on performance evaluations to receive a pay raise in any given year.

Official Time

Finally, the bill would not authorize official time for an employee serving as an exclusive representative when negotiating a collective bargaining agreement, and that employee would be prohibited from using government property in carrying out any activities relating to the internal business of a labor organization.

Federal employees could only do union work if designated as performing in a nonduty status. It also states that employees who do solicit new membership, collect dues, or engage in union election activity must maintain records of that work for up to two years or for the term of the collective bargaining unit.

Learn more about this by clicking the link below.

Will Federal Workers Soon Become “At-Will” Employees?

 

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Common Forest Service Worker Injuries

commonConcluding our spotlight this month of the U.S. Forest Service, we will look at specific cases we have assisted with regards to Forest Service employees.

Law Enforcement Officer

The job duties of this position include investigating crimes on National Forest Service lands. This means apprehending, detaining, and arresting individuals is necessary. The position requires the person to work in “hazardous and arduous” conditions that require walking, climbing, reaching, pulling, crouching, and running over rough terrain. Strenuous activity is frequently required and the worker must remain in good physical condition to effectively perform field duties.

This client suffered from a meniscal tear and osteoarthritis and was unable to perform duties such as running, jumping, walking, climbing, or squatting.

Criminal Investigator

The duties of this position include hiking steep and arduous terrain while carrying a heavy pack of supplies and equipment. Exposure to the elements is a daily hazard. Another aspect of this job is to apprehend suspects when necessary and entering drug sites and having exposure to pesticides at times.

This particular client was suffering from atrial fibrillation, cardiomyopathy, myocarditis, among other conditions, and had a bi-ventricular pacemaker. Due to these conditions, he was unable to apprehend suspects effectively and couldn’t stay in the field for long periods of time alone. His heart conditions made it difficult for him to hike the rough and uneven terrain.

Contract Specialist

This position requires a person to create partnerships, build relationships, and draft proposals. It requires extreme focus to detail, the ability to be a self-motivator, and cultivate relationships.

In this case, the client was suffering from anxiety, deep depression, and panic attacks. She was unable to find purpose in her position and couldn’t be around people for any extended amount of time because of her anxiety. She became ineffective at work and could no longer perform her essential job duties at an efficient level.

Forestry Technician—Fire Engine Operator

The job duties of this position include entering arduous terrain and dangerous situations. The worker must drive the fire engine to the fire or incident location and put out the fire. The position requires the employee pass a Work Capacity Test because the job is so physically demanding. One part of the Work Capacity Test is to complete a 3-mile hike in 45 minutes while carrying a 45-pound pack. Other requirements of this position are running, walking, bending, hiking, shoveling, chopping, throwing, lifting, and scaling uneven terrain.

This client was suffering from spondylitis (inflammation of the vertebra) of the lumbar spine, PTSD, bilateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow), a hernia, and hearing loss. He was unable to squat, kneel, climb, jump, push, pull, or lift more than 10 pounds. It’s easy to see how he was unable to perform the essential duties of his job. Without passing the Work Capacity Test, he was no longer qualified for this position.

To read more about cases we have helped with, click below.

Agency Spotlight—Common Injuries of Forest Service Workers

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Taxes You May Face in Retirement

taxesOnce you retire from federal service, you face new tax issues. This could affect whether you change tax brackets or not. Retirement generally means lower income, so that means lower taxes, right? Maybe. But retirement can also mean multiple sources of income, which can complicate tax payments. You may have Social Security income, distribution income from retirement accounts, military retired pay, and/or income from investments, property, part-time work, etc.

Each one of these comes with its’ own set of tax rules.

Social Security

When the Social Security Act was passed, these benefits were never intended to be a primary source of retirement income. According to the Social Security Administration, today payments replace approximately 40 percent of pre-retirement wages for retirees. Initially, Social Security payments weren’t subject to taxes. That’s no longer the case. Those who rely primarily on Social Security to pay their bills to escape taxation, because their overall income is too low.

However, for the high-income recipients, 15 percent of benefits are tax-free and 85 percent are taxed. The amount that is taxable depends on how much income you have in addition to Social Security. Another thing of note regarding Social Security is where you live. This determines how your benefits are taxed at the state level. There are 28 states, and Washington, D.C., that don’t tax Social Security income.

IRA and 401K Withdrawals

Except for Roth IRA withdrawals, all other income from retirement accounts is taxed in some way. Once you reach age 70 ½, you are required to start withdrawing money from your retirement accounts each year. This includes IRA’s, 401k, 403(b), and 457 plans. The government requires you to take a Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) so it can collect taxes on this income.

The IRS imposes a 50 percent tax penalty on amounts that aren’t properly disbursed from your 401k account. The amount of tax you pay depends on the total amount of income and deductions you have and what tax bracket you’re in for that year.

Roth IRA disbursements aren’t taxed because those contributions are taxed when they are deposited into the retirement account. To withdraw tax-free, you must wait until age 59 ½. These accounts don’t have a required distribution, so you can let the money grow tax-free your whole life.

Pensions

Benefits from pensions and annuities are taxed. If the money went into your fund, by you or your employer, before it was taxed, it will be taxed when you withdraw it. Most pension accounts are funded with pre-tax income, which means the entire amount of your annual pension income is included in your taxable income each year.

Annuities

Tax rules for annuities purchased with after-tax dollars are determined by the type of annuity you own.

  • Immediate annuities—payments from an immediate annuity include principal, as well as the interest-only interest portion. Both are considered taxable income.
  • Fixed and variable deferred annuities—If you put money in a fixed/variable deferred annuity, you don’t pay taxes on the gain in the annuity until you take withdrawals. If you take withdrawals before age 59 ½, any gain withdrawn is taxed at your ordinary income tax rate and is subject to a 10 percent penalty tax.

If your annuity is owned by an IRA or another retirement account, then the tax rules of those retirement accounts apply to any withdrawal or annuity payments you receive from that annuity.

Other Taxable Retirement Income

Other income accrued during retirement is also taxed. Interest income, dividends, and capital gains on investments will be taxed just as they were before you retired.

However, not all retirement income is taxed. If you own a bank CD, and it matures, that extra money isn’t considered taxable income. Only the interest it earned must be reported.

The main thing to remember is your tax rate in retirement depends on your total amount of income and deductions.

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Do I Need a Lawyer for Federal Disability Retirement?

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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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What is Reassignment and How Can it Affect Federal Disability Retirement?

reassignmentQuestion of the Week: What is Reassignment and How Can It Affect Federal Disability Retirement?

Last week, we looked at accommodation regarding federal disability retirement, and what qualifies as accommodation and what does not. This week we will look at a similar term: reassignment.

A: Federal policy states agencies must make every effort to retain an employee through reassignment to other available positions. Since federal disability retirement is the last resort, reassignment is important to discuss.

When you begin the process of federal disability retirement, your employing agency must review all vacant positions in the same grade/pay level and the same commuting area to determine if you meet the minimum qualifications for any vacant position. An agency is not obligated to create a position and the position must be a real, vacant position.

Time Limit on Search

OPM offers no minimum time for which you must be given special consideration for placement in a vacant position because a reasonable attempt to place you depends on your individual case. However, consideration for placement should continue at least until your agency receives OPM’s notification that the disability claim has been allowed.

If your agency is successful in reassigning you, your application for federal disability retirement and supporting documentation should be returned to you since there is no eligibility for it when reassignment is successful.

Refusal of Reassignment

Now the question becomes do you have to accept a reassignment. And will a refusal do to your eligibility for federal disability retirement?

The answer to “do you have to accept a reassignment?” is simply yes. If your agency locates one or more vacant, available positions at the same grade/pay level and in the same commuting area for which you are qualified for reassignment, and you refuse that reassignment, that terminates your agency’s obligation to identify any other vacant position as an alternative to federal disability retirement.

A couple other ways your application for federal disability retirement will be terminated from consideration by OPM is that you voluntarily accept a position at a lower grade/pay level or you are placed in a position at a lower grade/pay under adverse action before submitting your application to OPM.

To learn more, click below.

What is Reassignment and Does it Affect Federal Disability Retirement?

 

If you are facing the possibility of federal disability retirement, please don’t hesitate to call us at 877-226-2723. Our firm has more than a decade of experience helping federal employees with their disability retirement applications. Our consultation is always FREE. You can also fill out this INQUIRY form.

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Common Causes of NPS Employee Injuries

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Concluding our agency spotlight on the National Park Service this month, we will look at common causes injuries of NPS workers.

Of the 133+ federal agencies, the NPS consistently has one of the highest injury/fatality rates among its employees, losing 86 employees (Line of Duty/On Duty) in the last 25 years. From 2005-2010, over 3,800 employees were hurt in a way that caused them to miss at least one day of work. It’s not hard to understand why this is the case. Dangerous wildlife and rough, steep terrain contribute to this being a potentially dangerous agency to work for.

Section 1.9.1.4 of the 2006 NPS management policy states “the safety and health of employees, contractors, volunteers, and the public are core service values”. The policy is further defined and requires each NPS employee to:

  1. Adhere to established occupational safety and health procedures.
  2. Work collaboratively with supervisors to develop and use Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) or the equivalent for all routine tasks, and help develop and use site-specific safety plans for non-routine, complex, multi-phase jobs.
  3. Properly use and maintain required clothing and/or personal protective equipment.
  4. Maintain a level of personal wellness and fitness as needed for assigned work tasks.
  5. Identify, and where appropriate, correct unsafe conditions and work practices.
  6. Report unsafe/unhealthful conditions and/or operations to an immediate supervisor or appropriate chain of command.
  7. Report mishaps, including minor accidents and “near misses” ASAP.
  8. Participate in establishing a safe working culture, and practice safe work procedures, even when working alone.

We have helped many NPS employees throughout the years with their federal disability retirements.

Student Trainee—Electro Technician

This employee had 3-level spine neck fusion, cervical myelopathy, and had 25 percent whole person impairment. Their position required them to climb towers and stairs and crouch over in tight spaces to repair electrical systems. Due to these injuries, among others, this person was not able to stand or walk over rough terrain for long periods of time, couldn’t lift radio transmitters or electrical equipment, work in remote locations where there was climbing mountainous terrain, or climb radio towers for inspections and repair.

Chief Park Ranger in Oregon

This person suffered from PTSD, depression, and anxiety. They had a hard time detecting real/perceived threats. This job position requires an employee to serve Law Enforcement Commissioned Rangers. Some responsibilities include performing law enforcement duties to ensure protection and safe use of national park resources, assimilation of state laws, conducting investigations, participate, and assist agencies and law enforcement officers, and perform search and rescue missions. This employee was unable to complete these tasks at an acceptable level.

To read more about how we’ve helped NPS, employees, click below.

Agency Spotlight—Common Injuries of NPS Employees

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