Editorial: 10 Tips to Remember When Filing for Postal Disability Retirement Benefits
Article written exclusively for PostalReporter.com by Robert R. McGill,Esq.
Whether you call it “Postal Disability Retirement”, “Federal Disability Retirement”, or “OPM Disability Retirement”, the available options under the National Reassessment Program all lead to the same road: the injured Postal Worker is being squeezed out of the workplace, and it is time to secure one’s future by asserting the legal rights that are available.
If a gentleman tips his hat to a lady, has he given anything? If he tips his hat unaware that the lady is present, has he still tipped his hat? If you tip your hat to a waiter, have you satisfied the convention of tipping? If a man receives ‘a tip’, must it be of value in order for it to truly be a tip, or is bad advice, or nonsense, still considered a tip even if it leads to nothing? If a bill is for $1,000.00 and you leave a $100 tip, are you still a cheapskate? If the same person receives a bill for $200.00 and leaves a $100.00 tip, is he then a generous tipper? – From Top to Toe and Tip to Tip
10 Tips to Remember When Filing for Postal Disability Retirement Benefits
During this time of turmoil, when Postal employees are undergoing economic, financial, internal and structural corporate reverberations from all angles; where the Postmaster general has decided to call it quits and retire; where email and technology have altered the landscape of how a population communicates, thereby impacting the profitability of a mail service whose paradigm inception began in the days of Benjamin Franklin; during these economic times of hardship – when the National Reassessment Program is impacting Postal employees all across the United States – filing for Federal Disability Retirement is an option that Postal employees must consider.
Some common questions are often asked when contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits for FERS & CSRS (as well as “CSRS-offset”) employees. How easy is it to get? Should a Postal employee try to submit the application for Federal Disability Retirement, get it rejected, then get an attorney? Should Social Security Disability benefits (SSDI) also be filed for? Should I file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits while I am on OWCP?
These are just some of the preliminary questions which a Postal employee will face when first contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits. When contemplating this course of action, it is well to remember the following 10 “tips”:
Postal Disability Retirement Tip #1: Is there a difference between “Postal Disability Retirement”, “Federal Disability Retirement” and “OPM Disability Retirement”? Answer: No. Often, terms get bandied about, which often results in confusion. There is only one type of Disability Retirement (other than private disability insurance policies which are offered to Federal and Postal workers, none of which are “retirement” annuities), and people often refer to them interchangeably as Federal Disability Retirement, OPM Disability Retirement, or Postal Disability Retirement. These terms essentially refer to the same process: Federal Disability Retirement benefits for those under FERS or CSRS, which includes all Postal employees.
Postal Disability Retirement Tip #2: How hard is it to get Federal Disability Retirement benefits? This is not an easy question to answer. The law requires certain thresholds of proof which must be met: proper medical documentation must be attached; multiple legal criteria must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence. Finally, the Office of Personnel Management – not the U.S. Postal Service – is the determining Agency for all Federal Disability Retirement applications. OPM reviews and scrutinizes each application, and no matter how many stories one hears about how “Such-and-such filed just last week and got it approved,” each application must be prepared deliberately, scrupulously, and with thoughtful foresight.
Postal Disability Retirement Tip #3: If I am on OWCP (Department of Labor, Worker’s Compensation), should I still file for Postal Disability Retirement benefits? Because it often takes 6 – 8 months from the start of the process (obtaining the proper medical documentation; completing all of the Standard forms; processing the disability retirement application through H.R. Shared Services, etc.) to an approval at the First Stage of the Process at the Office of Personnel Management, and further, because OWCP is not a retirement system but rather a process which expects the injured worker to become rehabilitated at some point, and return to work (whether at the Postal Service or at Walmart), it is often a good idea to initiate the process concurrently while one is receiving income from OWCP. In any event, from the time a Postal Worker is separated from the Postal Service, a Postal Worker has up to 1 year to file for Postal Disability Retirement benefits. If you fail to file within that 1 year, you lose your right forever.
Postal Disability Retirement Tip #4: Does everyone get rejected by OPM at the First Stage? The answer: No. Many people confuse OPM Disability Retirement with other processes – such as Social Security of OWCP. It is important to get the process “right” the first time. Postal Disability Retirement through the Office of Personnel Management is not like Social Security – there is no “automatic denial” first, then to go and get an attorney. Remember, mistakes made in an initial submission, while ultimately correctable, cannot be wiped away. Mistakes made in medical documents, in the applicant’s statement of disability, etc., cannot be swept away like raindrops on a windshield. While such mistakes can be explained or amended, it is important to get the initial application submitted with the best chance possible.
Postal Disability Retirement Tip #5: Must Social Security (SSDI) be filed before a person can file for Postal Disability Retirement? There is much confusion in this area, but one thing is clear: there is no requirement that filing for SSDI must precede filing for Postal Disability Retirement. All that is required is that, at the time of an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application, the applicant must show that he or she filed for SSDI. A receipt showing that SSDI has been filed is all that is needed at the time of an OPM Disability Retirement approval.
Postal Disability Retirement Tip #6: What happens if I get both SSDI and FERS Disability Retirement approved? Answer: There is an offset between the two – 100% offset in the first year, then a 60% offset every year thereafter. Be careful that if one starts receiving the full amount from both SSDI and OPM Disability Retirement, without an offset – because it means that you are receiving full payment from both sources, when you should not. Overpayment will ultimately be discovered, and the recipient of such largesse will be required to pay it back.
Postal Disability Retirement Tip #7: When should I file for Postal Disability Retirement? Answer: As soon as possible. Again, because Postal Disability Retirement can take a significant amount of time (See Postal Disability Retirement Tip #3, herein), the process should be started as soon as possible. Each potential applicant knows the answer to the question, based upon the specific medical condition, based upon the particular personal circumstances surrounding the case. Each case is unique, but when it becomes clear that one’s medical condition will last for a minimum of 12 months, and that the medical condition prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, then it is certainly time to file.
Postal Disability Retirement Tip #8: I took an early retirement. Can I file for Postal Disability Retirement benefits? The answer: It all depends. Two primary issues need to be confronted: First, whether it makes economic sense to file (this is a financial decision which should be made by comparing what the early retirement annuity pays, in comparison to what a disability retirement annuity would pay; and further, for how long will the disability retirement annuity last); and Second, one must file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits within one (1) year of being separated from the Postal Service. Thus, if a Postal Worker took an early retirement 11 months ago, then he/she only has 1 month left to file for Postal Disability Retirement benefits.
Postal Disability Retirement Tip #9: If I am sent home because of the National Reassessment Program, will I qualify for Postal Disability Retirement benefits even though I can still do my Modified Job? Postal employees must understand a rather confusing concept: All that time during which the Postal employee was working at a Modified light-duty position, he or she was always eligible to be approved for Federal Disability Retirement benefits. This is because such “Modified Jobs” were never a legally viable accommodation under the law. Thus, the answer is: Yes, you should qualify for Postal Disability Retirement, so long as you meet all of the other criteria under the law.
Postal Disability Retirement Tip #10: Is it possible that the NRP will not impact some Postal Workers? Of course, anything is possible. However, just remember this: whether any class action lawsuit is successful, or OWCP benefits pick up a Postal employee and pay him or her for years to come – the potential harassment, the continuing disregard by the U.S. Postal Service for the health concerns of the Postal Worker, etc., will continue unabated. Sticking one’s head into the sand will not solve any problems; when the “writing appears on the wall”, it is time to contemplate the available options presented to the Postal Worker.
Postal Disability Retirement benefits exist precisely for those Postal workers who have incurred a medical condition such that he or she is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job. When filing for Postal Disability Retirement benefits, the Postal Worker should be armed with all of the necessary tools available in order to secure the rights, future, and financial security available. Knowing the criteria which must be met to obtain Postal Disability Retirement benefits; knowing the law; and knowing the process by which to obtain the benefits, are the important first steps. Whether you call it “Postal Disability Retirement”, “Federal Disability Retirement”, or “OPM Disability Retirement”, the available options under the National Reassessment Program all lead to the same road: the injured Postal Worker is being squeezed out of the workplace, and it is time to secure one’s future by asserting the legal rights that are available.
About the Author
Attorney Robert R. McGill specializes in federal disability retirement cases helping Federal and Postal workers secure their disability retirement benefits under both FERS and CSRS. For more information about his legal services, visit his FERS Disability Retirement Website and the U.S. Postal Service Disability Blog.