Posts Tagged ‘federal disability retirement lawyer’

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.

What are the OPM Requirements for Federal Disability Retirement?

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013 by

The Office of Personnel Management adjudicates federal disability retirement claims on the initial and reconsideration levels. When making a decision on a specific file, the OPM Legal Administrative Specialists have to make a determination based on seven different criteria. If the applicant satisfies all of the qualification standards and supports it with adequate evidence, then the claim is approved. If the evidence is insufficient, or the applicant doesn’t understand what the requirements are, a denial decision is issued. If the claim is denied at reconsideration, the applicant must file their appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board. The MSPB is a more formal process that is overseen by an Administrative Judge to determine if the OPM’s decision was correct.

Working with an experienced representative, like Harris Federal, can give you a trusted resource to ensure that your case is presented in the most positive fashion possible, and give you the best chance for success. Anyone is allowed to represent themselves, but for most federal employees, it will be their first time dealing with these specific forms and agency procedures, as well as working with the medical providers and understanding what kind of evidence is necessary.

The seven main questions that a federal employee must answer are:

  1. “You became disabled due to a medical condition that resulted in a deficiency in performance, conduct, or attendance.” Sometimes a deficiency has not fleshed itself out yet, as you have been ignoring symptoms, or your doctor’s orders. In that case, you may still qualify. Call us to get your free case consultation to determine if you are ready to apply.
  2. “A medical condition is defined as a disease or injury.” This one is pretty self explanatory. If you have not been diagnosed with a medical condition, this benefit may not be for you.
  3. “The relationship between your service deficiency and your medical condition(s) must show that your medical condition caused your service deficiency.” If you have a medical condition, but it isn’t the cause of your inability to do your job, it won’t satisfy the requirements.
  4. “Your disabling medical condition must be expected last for one year from the date you file your application for disability retirement.” If your disability is temporary, this is not for you. Your physicians must believe that your problems are of a more permanent nature.
  5. “Your inability to render useful and efficient service began while serving under CSRS or FERS.” This doesn’t mean that the condition has to be work related, only that you were not disabled when you began your federal career.
  6. “Your employing agency was unable to make reasonable accommodation for your medical condition.” This can be complex, speak with a professional to discuss accommodation options or request them from your agency.
  7. “You did not decline an offer of reassignment to a vacant position within your employing agency and commuting area at the same grade or pay level and tenure for which you are qualified.” Modified duty does not count as a vacant position, so don’t let a limited or light duty job offer deter you from pursuing your rights.

Call or email us to get more information about how we can help you determine if it is time to begin your application. Having a professional on your side can make the process be a little easier.

What happens to my Group Benefits on Disability?

Saturday, November 9th, 2013 by

Lots of questions surround federal employee group benefits when the employee has to retire early due to a disability. Federal employees all have the opportunity to take part in group health and life insurance, as well as long term disability insurance and other programs. Once the employee is no longer working for the government, the question arises, “What happens to my benefits?”

The short answer is simple: You can keep them!

The group benefits can continue into retirement whether you finish your career on disability or meet the qualifications for a voluntary immediate retirement. The rate that the employee pays can change some at the retirement point, as well as throughout the retirement period, as can any insurance premium, in accordance with the risk that insured poses to the carrier. For instance, the FEGLI (Federal Employee Group Life Insurance) Option B coverage is an annually renewal term coverage and the rates can and will climb as you age. However, the Basic coverage can be kept at a minimal cost with options to quit paying for it at all once you turn 65.

Health insurance can be continued into disability retirement as well. If you are a postal employee, you can expect to see a rise in the premium whenever you retire. The reason is that the collective bargaining for postal employees has the USPS paying a slightly higher percentage of the premium than any other federal agencies do. Once you retire, the government portion will fall to the normal, non-USPS rate.

All retirees can expect costs associated with group benefits premiums to rise. That is a fact whether you are applying for disability retirement at age 40, or finally stepping away from the workforce, still healthy at age 75.

One other benefit that is cause for a lot of questions is the TSP (Thrift Savings Plan). The TSP works like a 401k for federal employees, and the federal agencies match employee contributions up to 5% of the employee salary. Once the employees separate, they do not lose that money. As long as they are fully vested, that money is theirs forever. However, due to tax restrictions, they cannot access it before turning 59 ½ without a stiff penalty.

However, once the employee is separated, the agency will cease to provide the matching funds. The new retiree can leave the money in the TSP, or move it to a private IRA, a new company’s 401k, or similar retirement account.

Call Harris Federal for answers to your retirement questions. With Chartered Federal Employee Benefit Consultants available to help you understand the decisions you will face upon retirement, especially federal disability retirement.

When is it time to file for Federal Disability Retirement?

Thursday, November 7th, 2013 by

Our office gets hundreds of calls every month from federal employees that have questions about their options for federal disability retirement. Often, it is very clear that the caller needs to take the disability benefits and move on to a new stage in life. Sometimes, their employment status or medical condition can make that decision unclear. Here, we are going to outline some of those general questions about when it’s time to move on.

If you are currently working full duty, but you are struggling with a medical condition that is making it very hard to continue to perform all of your job’s requirements, it may be time. Most of the people we speak to genuinely love their work and want to continue. When they began working for the federal government, they had visions of working until they turned 62, or beyond. Stopping before they get there was never part of the equation. But no one anticipates that a medical condition will be a reason that they don’t make it. It happens.

Whether a work related injury, disease, or some other condition, medical advice may be to stop working at your current position. If your medical providers are telling you to stop working in your current capacity, it may be prudent to listen to them. Continuing to “soldier on” may be causing you more damage that either eventually cause you a work stoppage, or even debilitate you further in your retirement life.

You can be eligible to file for disability retirement and receive benefits. You need to weigh your options and your health and make a decision based on your long term future. Sometimes it makes more sense to go into the private sector and work a job that doesn’t aggravate your conditions, or allows you to find new employment that isn’t as demanding, while using the disability payments to supplement your income and keeping your federal group benefits.

If you are working a Limited or Light duty, modified job assignment, you could be putting yourself at risk. Limited and Light duty assignments are given by the agency, but are not guaranteed to last. They do not offer long term security and can be withdrawn. They also can lead to situations where you, the injured employee, are asked to go outside your medical restrictions. If you are working a modified assignment, you are eligible to apply for disability benefits. A modified job is not the same as your regular job, even if you are receiving your full pay. Consider your options, but understand that you may work outside of your federal job and earn an income on top of the disability pay while keeping your health and life insurance with the federal government.

If you are entirely out of work due to your medical condition, and your doctor does not believe that you will return to full duty within the next year, you definitely need to consider federal disability retirement. The disability benefits are designed for anyone that is not going to be able to continue in their full duty position for at least the next year due to a medical condition. This is not short term disability, meaning if you are about to return to full duty, this isn’t for you.

Call Harris Federal for a free consultation to learn more about the benefits and eligibility requirements. We help thousands of federal employees every year find the solution that suits their needs. Call us today, we look forward to serving you.

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.

Federal Disability Retirement – Represented VS. On My Own?

Friday, October 11th, 2013 by

p126-1-jpgIf you are asking this question to yourself, friends, co-workers or your agency… Good Question! Our answer is simple here. We believe that having an experienced professional involved with your claim from start to finish is the absolute best way to go about applying for federal disability retirement. Proven results over an extended amount of time equal security.

One fun way to think about it is what would you do if your transmission needed to be replaced in your vehicle? One answer might be “I’d rather just buy a new car!”. While that might be an option when having car problems, it’s not an option when we’re talking about your career. The point here is this is a major problem and decision that is vital to the longevity of your future… like getting from A to B.

Someone could probably research online or buy a manual and spend a very long time learning how to take apart their car and replace the transmission somewhat successfully. Some may even get half way through this process and give in. And some may make the decision to hire a professional… one who has successfully handled this issue for thousands of others.

The decision to hire a professional is a choice that is entirely up to the applicant… not your agency. In fact, your agency plays a very small role in the process of applying for federal disability retirement. Remember, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) decides whether an applicant is approved or denied… not your agency.

Putting your best foot forward is something we strongly believe in and having an experienced representative on your side is one way of doing so. The ability to foresee bumps in the road can help to ensure that your claim is properly processed and the correct decision is made by OPM. Experience and understanding of OPM’s procedures, familiarity with complex medical issues and legal arguments also gives the claimant a supreme advantage.

Harris Federal has been successfully representing federal employees all across the country for over a decade with their claims for federal disability retirement. Our team has an extensive reputation with OPM and trust among the federal employee community. This is our passion! We carefully consider all elements of our client’s injuries and illnesses and have the capability to comprehensively get you from A to B.

If you need professional help with your claim for federal disability retirement, call Harris Federal today. We offer Free Consultations and can help you make the right decision for your specific situation.

Common Federal Employment Injuries

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013 by

USPS WorkerUnderstanding common injuries for your industry can help you keep a watchful eye while performing your duty. We are constantly seeing similar physical and emotional conditions arising out of the same types of employment. Most lawyers and advocates across the country would probably agree that certain types of work often cause the same injuries.

For example, a common injury to a USPS letter carrier would be to the rotator cuff tendon. Between casing their mail route and repetitively reaching above their heads and carrying a heavy mail sack, letter carriers are extremely susceptible to injury in their shoulders.

They are also, however, highly exposed to ligament damage in their knees. Carrying the mail satchel up and down stairs, often in poor weather, can certainly lead to twisting or wrenching of the knee. Sometimes these injuries are minor, but after many years on the job, a postal letter carrier may require a surgery or even a joint replacement. ACL,MCL, or meniscus tears are the most common, but the knee is vulnerable joint and the added stress from carrying the mail can certainly lead to injury.

Another example of a common injury associated with a particular type of employment would be soft tissue injuries to the spine with Federal Law Enforcement agents. Due to the highly dangerous nature of their jobs, law enforcement officers are frequently exposed to altercations with assailants. If the situation deteriorates into and grappling match or fight, the officer could potentially suffer a variety of injuries, including a bulging or herniated disc in their spine.

Disc injuries can be minor. They can also cause extreme amounts of pain as they are so close to the spinal cord as well as the nerve roots that spread out to the rest of the body. A bulging disc in the lumbar spine (lower back) can press on the nerve roots that extend into the lower extremities, causing significant pain into the legs. Injuries to the cervical spine (neck) can do the same into the upper extremities. While the extremities themselves may not have any real damage, the nerves are being impinged upon as they enter the spine, sending signals to the brain that there is something wrong.

Another common injury is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS). Carpal Tunnel is an inflammation of the tendons in the wrist that pinch the nerves running into the hands. It causes pain and weakness and impedes the person’s ability to grasp and do fine manipulation. Often seen in employees who do repetitive motion with their hands like typing and sorting of documents, CTS can be chronic and require surgery. Even still, in extreme cases, it can be career ending.

Another extremely common injury that can be found in all types of employment are emotional conditions. They can be primary, meaning that they are caused by outside factors, or secondary as a result of chronic pain from a physical condition. Many injured employees develop depression and anxiety secondary to the problems they are facing with their injury and how that affects their employment.

Harris Federal helps injured and disabled federal employees all over the country with all types of injuries. The ones mentioned in this article are some of the most common, but there is no end to the potential injuries a person may face during their career. We strive to help anyone who is suffering from an on the job injury, as well as non-work related conditions to understand their rights and make the best decisions about how to deal with their federal benefits.

Whether you have questions about a federal workers compensation claim with OWCP or you want to know more about federal disability retirement options, call Harris Federal to get a free case consultation and learn more about you rights. We look forward to serving you.

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.