Archive for the ‘Federal Employee Benefits’ Category

Can I Continue to Work While I Wait for OPM?

Thursday, December 19th, 2013 by

The simple answer is “Yes, you can.”

This can get complex, but the basic reasoning is that the OPM federal disability retirement is given to anyone with a medical condition that prevents them from being fully successful at their job. They must have a deficiency in service with regards to performance, attendance, or conduct. In the absence of such a deficiency, there must be medical rationale stating that continuing in the job would cause the deficiency.

That is a complicated way of saying that if you are not missing work regularly, or have been performing all of the essential functions of your job, or your conduct has been acceptable, you need to show that your medical condition is making it impossible for you to sustain that. Your doctor needs to be able to state that your medical restrictions are not compatible with your job, or that your medical conditions are worsened — to the point of disability — by the job duties.

The overarching concept is that you do not have to forfeit your right to work just because you apply for the benefit. If you are denied for the benefit, you can continue to do their job as best as you can. You can even reapply for disability retirement as long as you still work for the agency.

Understanding that applying for benefits does not bar you from continuing to work at your current job is an important part of making your decision. If you have questions about how and when you should file for federal disability retirement, call Harris Federal for a free case consultation. We can help you understand your rights and options so you can make the best decision for your future.

How Do I Know When it’s Time to Go?

Sunday, December 15th, 2013 by

Perhaps the hardest part about deciding to file for disability retirement benefits from the OPM is knowing when it is time to leave. We get calls from hundreds of federal employees every week and while many of them know that they can’t keep doing their job on a full duty basis, they have a very difficult time walking away.

Federal disability retirement is often the last resort. Most federal employees that we come into contact with love their jobs and had every intention to continue to work there until they reached their full retirement age. A disease of injury that has hijacked their career is not only a surprise, but also goes against everything that they had hoped for. Many try to stay in their current jobs too long and work against their doctors’ restrictions and recommendations. It is understandable because these people love what they do for a living. However, it can be damaging to their long term health and leave them in a worse financial position.

You see, while supervisors and the employing agency applaud the mindset of the “good soldier” who fights on even when they are not healthy, in the end the only one who ends up paying the price is the employee themselves. Continuing to put your body through an adverse health risk and exposing yourself to added perils are not constructive to your overall well being. Whether the medical condition is purely physical, or if there is a mental health element involved, following your doctor’s advice is often the most advantageous to you, the employee.

We have spent a lot of time on this blog, and on this website, teaching you about the eligibility requirements of federal disability retirement, but understanding when it’s time to go can be the hardest part of your decision. Many people don’t want to be labeled as “disabled.” It may not be good for their mental makeup to think about spending the rest of their lives sitting on the couch. Well the good news is that filing for disability retirement benefits doesn’t mean any of that. It simply means that you can’t keep doing that particular job. You can be employed anywhere in the private sector and earn an income on top of what you receive from the Office of Personnel Management. Don’t let your stigma cause you to make an unwise decision about your health.

Remember to listen to your body, and your doctor. If you have any type of medical condition that keeps you from fully completing the essential functions of your job, it may be time to explore your rights. Call Harris Federal today to learn more about your options.

Most Common OPM Denials

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013 by

The Office of Personnel Management adjudicates applications for federal disability retirement for all career federal employees that apply. A large number of the applications are denied. The reasons can vary greatly, but they generally seem to have a common thread.

While our office rarely has denials from our client’s cases, we often take claims that have been denied before we became involved. When we review denial decisions, many claims are denied because the claimant failed to establish that their disability was of the severity to warrant an approval.

Simply put: They want to see more evidence.

The confusing part here is that overloading your Legal Administrative Specialist with additional paperwork and “evidence” is not the way to convince them that your medical condition is disabling. We work on so many cases every year, and have for so long, that we feel that we know what the OPM is looking for. They are generally referring to the type of evidence you are submitting.

What is important to remember, if you don’t hire a representative to help you with your claim, is that all of the evidence that you submit should lead directly to your medical condition causing you to be unable to fully perform your job for a sustained period of time. Just sending every piece of paper that you have collected over the past number of years is not your best bet.

Make sure to evaluate your own evidence harshly. You should be able to convince someone who does not know you, and won’t ever know you, that you have a disabling medical condition that precludes you from provider full service in your current job. It sounds easy, but there is a very strict set of rules and guidelines that the LAS’s follow to make sure that they approve appropriate claims.

Please call Harris Federal to get a free consultation about your claim for federal disability retirement. Just because you have a strong case, or a very serious medical condition, does not make your claim easy to get approved. Approvals are not only based on the medical condition, but how the evidence is compiled and submitted to prove the residuals are strong enough to keep you from fully performing your job.

Let us know if you need any help. For over a decade, Harris Federal has been representing federal employees nationwide with their federal disability claims. We can answer questions for you, or take on your case from the beginning if you meet the eligibility criteria. We look forward to serving you.

Do I Have to Apply for Social Security Disability?

Thursday, November 14th, 2013 by

Short answer: Yes!

If you are a FERS employee and are filing for federal disability retirement, you are required to apply for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. A copy of the receipt from the SSA, or the award letter from SSA must accompany your application to the OPM.

The key here is understanding that these benefits are separate, your eligibility is determined under separate rules and you can be approved and receiving benefits from both sources simultaneously.

This is complex, but let us explain:

A federal employee is eligible for FERS disability benefits because they spent at least 18 months working and paying into the FERS retirement system, and now they are not able to continue to work for the federal government in that job any more (and the government can’t find them another job that they can do). A federal employee is eligible for Social Security Disability benefits because they pay Social Security taxes and can no longer perform any gainful employment work at all.

These differences are huge. You could be unable to perform your federal work, but able to work somewhere else in the private sector, making you eligible for FERS disability, but not SSD. If you are eligible for SSD, you generally should meet the requirements of the FERS disability from the OPM. However, the OPM DOES NOT automatically approve benefits based on the Social Security Administration’s findings. They will certainly remind you of this if you ask.

The reason the OPM requires that you file an application for SSD is to determine if they can lower their responsibility to you based on the two benefits existing simultaneously. If you are approved for both benefits, the important thing to remember is that the SSD is the primary benefit and will not be reduced. During the first eligible year (the 60% year) from OPM, your FERS payment will be reduced by whatever you get from Social Security. Every year after (the 40% years), an amount equal to 60% of your Social Security benefit will be taken out of your FERS payment.

I know that is very confusing to read! Click Here to view our handy offset chart. It can make a big difference to see it in a chart, rather than just read it in a paragraph.

So the short answer really is yes! You must apply for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration while filing for FERS disability retirement, but their decision doesn’t affect whether or not you will get benefits awarded from the OPM. It will only affect your federal disability amount if you are approved for both benefits, and then for the better.

Please call us for a free consultation or to speak with someone on our staff about how Harris Federal can help you get the most out of your federal benefits.

Federal Disability Retirement – How Does the OPM Affect Me?

Monday, October 28th, 2013 by

The OPM, or Office of Personnel Management, functions as an extension of each federal agency’s human resource department. They administer all of the federal employee retirement benefits, insurance programs, as well as assist each agency with their hiring processes. The OPM also defends the merit systems of all civil servants to ensure fair employer practices.

What that means for you, is that the OPM is the overarching agency to service your federal benefits. If you begin the retirement process, whether it is for a regular or disability retirement, your application and annuity will be processed by the OPM. Your federal group health insurance and group life insurance changes are all made with the OPM from that point on. They also perform the routine changes to your address and banking information once you retire.

If you are seeking employment with the federal government, the OPM posts many of the federal jobs that are available. They also perform the background checks and screening processes before the hire is official.

The Office of Personnel Management has two main locations; one in Washington, DC and another one in Boyers, PA. Most retirement processes occur in the DC office. Determinations for disability and the calculations of your annuity also take place there. Once the claim is approved and payments have commenced and been finalized, your file is transferred to the Boyers office. That office is located well below ground in the bottom of an old quarry. They provide maintenance and minor changes within the file after you have retired.

Our office works with the OPM on a daily basis. All disability files are forwarded to the Boyers office to get a CSA number. CSA stands for Civil Service Account. That number will identify your file for the remainder of its time with the OPM. It may go on to be the one number that is used for the remainder of your, or your spouse’s life.

Once the Boyers office has assigned the CSA number, the file is forwarded to the DC office for adjudication. The claim is assigned to a Legal Administrative Specialist (LAS) in the Disability unit. The LAS will read the evidence and make a determination based on the medical file. We work hard to ensure that all of the necessary information is in the file for an approval. Once the claim is approved, the file is sent to the Payment Processing Department, where they take all of your payment history while in federal service to calculate your annuity benefits and make the proper deductions for your insurance and spousal annuity.

If the claim is initially denied, you can appeal with Reconsideration. New evidence can be submitted for consideration by a new LAS. If approved, the claim follows the same procedure as an initial stage approval. If denied, you are afforded one more appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). The MSPB is more formal and is overseen by a Administrative Judge. The OPM assigns an in house attorney to defend their denial decision.

We work hard to maintain an excellent relationship with the OPM and their representatives. They are often flooded with cases and are significantly understaffed. Our goal when representing federal employees with their disability retirement applications is to present their information and evidence in the most organized and succinct way possible. While no representative can supply you with medical evidence, having your evidence in the right order can help the OPM make their decisions.

OPM is the only agency that can approve or deny your claim for disability. Understanding what they do can help you as you begin the long journey to receiving your hard earned retirement. We devote our time to helping federal employees answer all kinds of questions about the Office of Personnel Management and their federal employment benefit options. We even have Chartered Federal Employee Benefit Consultants on staff to better help you understand your rights. Contact Harris Federal for a free consultation today.

How Quickly Do I Need to Act?

Friday, October 25th, 2013 by

We get this question all the time! Pay attention here… this can be a little tricky and it is very important to fully understand if you are a federal employee who is considering OPM federal disability retirement.

You have one calendar year to apply from the date of separation of service. This is the most important rule that you must remember because if you neglect it and attempt to apply after one year, you will not be eligible for federal disability retirement.

Our office we speak with thousands of injured and disabled federal employees from all across the country looking for help and answers and we are honored to do so. One of the hardest things to do is deliver the bad news to a potential client that they have already missed their deadline for their claim. It is heartbreaking for us because they may be very qualified for the benefit, but they may have been given bad information about the rules for applying and proving their case.

Again, you only have one year to apply for federal disability retirement benefits after you have been separated from service. I may sound repetitive in this post, but it is worth it. Please write this down folks.

Another commonly misunderstood concept is when a federal employee has an accepted OWCP federal workers compensation claim and they are receiving monthly wage loss benefits. The one year rule still applies here! If you have missed worked and been on OWCP wage loss for over a year, your employing agency can separate you from service. Many federal employees misinterpret the fact that they have been separated because they are still receiving their monthly wage loss benefits from OWCP and they accidentally let the one year slip by.

The biggest take away here is to always be aware of your date of separation from service. If you have any suspicion that you injury, disability or illness will kept you from fully performing your job as a federal employee, this date may affect you more than you realize.

We would be honored to help you through this process and answer any questions you may have about your benefits as a federal employee. Our office is here to help and offers Free Consultations. Call us today!

What Role Does the MSPB Play?

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013 by

The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) plays a major role in a federal employee’s disability retirement claim… but only if the applicant has been denied twice by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). What does that mean?

If a federal employee is injured, ill or develops a medical condition or conditions that prevent that employee from fully performing his/her job duties, then they may be eligible for federal disability retirement benefits. Think of it as an early retirement due to your disability or inability to perform your job. Of course there are other eligibility requirements that must be met and proven, but this post is about the MSPB!

An employee’s claim for disability retirement benefits is always initially considered by the OPM. Once the application arrives at OPM, it is assigned to a legal administrative specialist who ultimately will make this initial decision. If the claim is denied, the applicant can appeal and have the application reconsidered by a different legal administrative assistant in the same office. If the claim is denied again, then the applicant next appeal option is to the MSPB.

If a claimant does elect to appeal the reconsideration decision and is successful at getting their case before the court, their claim to the MSPB will feel much more formal. The appeal will be assigned to an administrative judge who will facilitate this appeal. The perspective of your claim for disability retirement benefits will change significantly. You will now be you trying to prove that the OPM made an incorrect decision and the OPM will be trying to prove they made an accurate decision.

Remember that this post is how the US Merit Systems Protection Board applies to a federal disability retirement appeal. The MSPB is an independent, quasi-judicial agency in the executive branch that serves as the guardian of federal merit systems. The MSPB is used for resolution purposes with the EEOC, FLRA, OPM, OSC, FBI and OARM.  Its mission is to “Protect the Merit System Principles and promote an effective Federal workforce free of Prohibited Personnel Practices.

Harris Federal has successfully represented federal employees through these stages of appeal for federal disability retirement claims for over 10 years. If you or someone you know if considering applying for federal disability retirement or already has and needs help, call our office today! We are here to help.

Nationwide?

Friday, September 13th, 2013 by

We speak to many federal employees every year from all around the country and one common question we get is “How can you help me if you’re in a different state?”

Federal Disability RetirementMost people naturally assume that a lawyer or advocate assisting with their Federal Workers Compensation, Federal Disability, Veterans Disability or Social Security Disability claims would need to be local. However, this is not the case at all! All of the above mentioned types of disability claims are not state specific. They are regulated by our federal government and no one is bound to only have assistance from an in state attorney or advocate.

Harris Federal began representing injured and disabled people over ten years ago! We have grown to now represent federal employees and veterans in all 50 states as well as Puerto Rico, Guam and even Germany! This is an accomplishment that we are very excited about and it continues to inspire our team every day.

If you or someone you know has questions about federal workers compensation, federal disability retirement, veterans disability or social security disability, call Harris Federal today for a free case consultation! We are here to help.

OPM Backlog to be gone by March?

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013 by

In a new article on Government Executive, author Kellie Lunney says the Office of Personnel Management is moving their target date of July 2013 (already a month overdue) to March of 2014 to work through the over 25,000 retirement claims and eliminate the backlog at OPM.

OPM cites mandatory budget cuts as the reason for the backlog and is now stating that retirements should be processed in under 2 months.

Now remember, this article and the content is referring to regular retirement, not disability. Hopefully, the OPM office is also working out a more efficient way to process federal disability retirement claims. Disability files are taking upwards of 9 months from the time they are assigned to a Legal Administrative Specialist before a decision is made on the application.

Disability claims processing at OPM is actually one of the quicker disability processes within the government. Social Security Disability can take years and requires a 6 month waiting period before a claim can even begin to be processed. VA disability can take 2-3 years before a decision is made.

Even still, the OPM process is lengthy. Due to a short staff and large case volume, the LAS’s in Washington are seeing a rising backlog. While they are trying new procedures, don’t expect disability retirement packages to speed up significantly. Be sure to call or email us if you have questions about federal disability retirement.

 

- Harris Federal Law Firm

 

Federal Employee Retirement vs. Divorce

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013 by

If federal employees finds themselves in the situation of a divorce, there may be some financial concerns associated with their work that shouldn’t be disregarded. Along with the tough emotional issues that must be overcome during a divorce, federal employees must also start thinking about their legal rights to financial assets and maintenance related to their work. Because of a divorce, federal employees must begin to consider not only the right to their expected retirement, but also the right to retirement benefits they didn’t expect – their Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Federal Disability Retirement.

At the beginning of federal employment, employees typically enroll in a Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or Federal Employees’ Retirement System (FERS) retirement program. Generally, this retirement program, which accrues throughout their work life, overlaps with a marriage and sometimes a divorce. Under the U. S. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 5, Section 838.101 (a) (1); if a divorce decree awards a portion of the federal employee’s CSRS or FERS retirement benefit, the OPM must comply with this decree. Divorces, marriage annulment, and legal separations of members, employees, or retirees of CSRS and FERS are all included under this code.

The OPM should receive a copy of the divorce decree official court order to ensure that the order was created in an acceptable manner. Because of this, it is important that the divorce decree includes the proper clarification of any asset award. For instance, the decree may state that a former spouse or survivor should receive the same amount they would have received if the marriage had never ended. In which case, the OPM must comply with this court order.

It is notable that should the federal employee leave their federal job and die before retirement that no survivor annuity be paid. In a situation like this, only a refund of contributions is to be paid; and this goes to the person named as a beneficiary (or close relatives if no beneficiary is named).

It is important to get these matters squared away at the time of a divorce. Having a divorce lawyer that is competent in matters of federal employee retirement benefits and rights will save time and effort trying to amend court orders. It is both difficult and expensive to do this and may sustain unintended consequences between you and your ex-spouse. Planning early for retirement rights is overall beneficial in the long run in case of divorce.