Posts Tagged ‘federal employee’

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.

A Note of Thanks for a Happy New Year

Monday, December 31st, 2012 by

We have been feeling pretty thankful around here at Harris Federal Law Firm lately –so we want to share with you.

Our office as a whole is thankful for the opportunity to have a positive impact on the lives of so many federal employees every year! It is truly a blessing to offer a shred of light in a dark time for someone. This is something we strive to offer every day we come to work.

Our team speaks to thousands of injured and disabled federal employees every year about their specific situations, struggles, successes, failures and experiences. We talk with them about their lives and we sympathize with them because we know how intimidating uncertainty can be when everything is on the line.

We believe in “meaningful work” and are very thankful everyday for it.

We are thankful for the overwhelmingly positive feedback from federal employees everywhere over the last 10 years. This helps keep us going and reminds us that everyone needs positive encouragement!

We are thankful for the relationships we have built throughout the federal community. All of the welcoming and open arms from unions and agencies give us excitement to reach out and meet new ones and create relationships that will last.

We are thankful for the physicians across the country that we are friends with, and who have a special interest in federal employees. As most of you know, it can be hard to find a good doctor who understands the federal system and wants to be involved. We truly enjoy knowing the good ones and helping introduce federal employees in need to them.

We are thankful for the trust of so many federal employees. We are aware of the fact that hiring an attorney in a different state is an unusual proposition to most! To us, getting involved with the case for our client, and thinking of him or her as a real person with needs that we can relieve is not just a job we do every day, it’s a rewarding experience for us, even though we don’t necessarily get to see him or her physically.

We are especially thankful for the opportunity to give back to others. This is a part of our business DNA. Harris Federal takes pride in supporting local and national charities financially and though volunteer work. Doing so reminds our team that giving is better than receiving and brings us together.

Most people naturally want to help others… this is just part of being human. When was the last time you truly helped someone and didn’t feel good about it? Helping others is an awesome thing and being able to do so though you’re work every day is a blessing.

Thank You from all of us at Harris Federal

Federal Disability Retirement Video

Friday, November 2nd, 2012 by

Have you seen our video on Federal Disability Retirement? Have you shared it with your friends, unions or co-workers?

There are so many injured and disabled federal employees across the nation that do not fully understand this benefit or their options. This video can help. Sharing information on this subject could help change the life of a federal employee who is lost.

- Harris Federal Law Firm

Federal Workers Compensation: Choosing Your Doctors

Friday, July 13th, 2012 by

Federal employees who have been injured at work know federal workers compensation can be a complicated process with many do’s and don’ts. After an on the job injury occurs, the injured federal employee does have the right to choose the physician of his or her choice to perform their physical evaluation. As imagined, choosing the right doctor is very important for the acceptance of your federal workers compensation claim.

Once a physician has been selected and an evaluation completed, forms must be filed with the injured worker’s employing agency to determine eligibility to receive benefits. If the medical evidence is supportive of a work-related injury causing a disability then that federal worker is eligible to receive Continuation of Pay when absent due to the disability. Form CA-20, the Attending Physician’s Report, is used to document the employee’s condition.

In general, the federal agency must continue to pay COP once it has begun, however, there are exceptions. If the employee does not provide their employing agency with medical evidence of a disabling traumatic injury within 10 days of claiming COP, or if the federal employee’s doctor finds the individual to be partially disabled and they refuse or fail to respond to a suitable job offer, then COP will not continue. In addition, should the injured worker’s scheduled period of employment end, provided that the employment period or termination date occurs before the injury date, then the employing agency has the right to terminate COP.

The employing agency is not permitted to disrupt COP even if disciplinary action has been taken against the employee. This is the case unless termination, in writing, or another action was issued prior to the occurrence of injury and the termination became final during COP.

Keep this information in mind when filing your claim and be sure to gather your medical evidence promptly. We suggest you find assistance early in the process to avoid future problems and hiccups.

-Harris Federal Law Firm

Federal Workers Compensation and Continuation of Pay

Friday, June 29th, 2012 by

Like non-federal employees, those employed by the federal government are entitled to workers compensation benefits if they are injured at work. It is important, however, that the injured federal worker not confuse the Continuation of Pay (COP) benefit, a form of disability compensation, as indication that their Office of Workers Compensation (OWCP) claim has been accepted. Federal workers must know that part of the application process for COP overlaps the application process for federal workers compensation.

Although easily confusing, the COP benefit is provided by the employing agency to an employee with a traumatic work related injury. Those with occupational disease claims must use a different form to apply for federal workers compensation, the CA-2,  Notice of Occupational Disease and Claim for Compensation form, and these individuals are not entitled to receive COP.

To further understand the different benefits and determine what you may or may not be eligible for, we should explain COP. COP, or Continuation of Pay, is a benefit that allows for a federal employee to receive up to 45 calendar days of their regular pay due to disability. This benefit is paid as salary rather than compensation and is subject to typical payroll deductions like retirement contributions and income taxes. This pay rate does not allow for Sunday pay or lost overtime wages, but will include missing night differential, hazard, premium and holiday pay.

The injured employee must file the CA-1, the Federal Employee’s Notice of Traumatic Injury and Claim for Continuation of Pay/Compensation form, within 30 days of the injury. An employing agency will not authorize COP benefits or medical care without a signed CA-1.

When a federal worker suffers a traumatic injury, they do not have to use their accumulated leave time. The exception to this occurs if the employee’s COP is terminated as a result of financial circumstances and the employee then must use the CA-7, the Claim for Compensation Due to Traumatic Injury or Occupational Disease form, to apply for accumulated leave time, leave without pay and workers compensation. Remember, the federal workers compensation is non-taxable pay – 66% of your regular pay if you have no minor dependants or 75% if you do have minor dependants.

Check back next week for more information about COP.

-Harris Federal Law Firm

OWCP Schedule Award: 102 (Continued)

Friday, June 22nd, 2012 by

The most important document required to be to eligible to receive a schedule award is the impairment rating performed by your physician. This must be included in your OWCP schedule award request file. The amount an injured federal worker is eligible to receive in a schedule award varies and depends upon which extremity is permanently impaired and by how much impairment. Each limb is categorized and assigned a number of weeks of compensation for loss of use. Should your doctor determine that you have a 10% impairment of your limb, then your award would be 10% of what your federal worker’s compensation wage loss benefit would be for those weeks. Recipients can choose a present day value lump sum or for the award to be paid over a period of time.

Your rating must be conducted in accordance with strict guidelines mandated by the federal government. Many doctors believe that they are capable of determining the impairment rating for an injured federal worker because they have examined non-federal workers compensation patients in the past; however, the impairment procedure for a federal employee is far different than that of a non-federal employee and it is important that your doctor is aware of this.

A potential issue related to the impairment rating is created by surgeons becoming hesitant to substantiate the impairment for fear that it is admitting an unsuccessful procedure and possibly malpractice. Fortunately for injured federal workers, the impairment rating does not have to come from your treating surgeon.

Always check with your doctor and his staff to verify the ratings were calculated correctly. You cannot afford to lose this important benefit due to the concern that you may agitate your doctor. Good luck!

-Harris Federal Law Firm

OWCP Schedule Award: 102

Friday, June 15th, 2012 by

We previously discussed how your doctor’s reports can have the greatest affect on your federal workers compensation claim and potential schedule award. If the report is not detailed well enough this could cause your claim to be denied, not because you do not have a valid claim, but because you have not proven your claim to the Office of Workers Compensation Programs, or OWCP. To save time, money and frustration it is wise to go to your appointments well equipped with organized medical records and the knowledge of what type of information your doctor must provide.

It is essential that your doctor acknowledge that you were not experiencing any of the symptoms caused by your work injury, or any symptoms in that area of your body, prior to the incident. In addition, it is necessary that your physician explain that it is possible for an individual to have a degenerative condition without symptoms and then following an accident, become symptomatic. It is possible that a pre-existing, weakened condition can make an individual more prone to injury that one without.

Should your federal workers compensation injury exacerbate a pre-existing condition, this does not mean you are not entitled to benefits. However, stating your condition in this manner will allow your doctor to attribute your impairments and restrictions to the work incident. If your records clearly reflect no prior medical treatment for the injured portions of your body within 12 months preceding the incident, your case will be much stronger.

Check back next Friday when we discuss impairment ratings!

-Harris Federal Law Firm

OWCP Schedule Award: 101 (Continued)

Friday, June 8th, 2012 by

As we discussed last week, your doctor plays a major part in your case in obtaining a schedule award due to a federal workers compensation injury.

It is imperative that you have your doctor on your side in this and make sure his or her medical opinion is detailed in nature. For the doctors who do try to assist patients in these types of situations, often times, they are unaware how specific his or her written opinion must be.

To improve your odds of a less complicated claim, there are a few things you should know to dispute a consulting doctor’s opinion. First, make sure your doctor provides you with a detailed report to be filed in your record with the Office of Workers Compensation Programs, or OWCP. This report will be used as a rebuttal against the consulting doctor’s written opinion.

While your doctor may not be used to having his or her professional opinion questioned, it is not uncommon with this process and this is why the detailed and specific report is necessary. If your doctor is vague or ambiguous this can have a major impact on your case.

Hiring a nurse to assist with the collection and organization of medical records is another way to improve your chances of a more detailed report. Another idea is to gather all of your records, securing them in a three ring binder with tabs, and add a table of contents and summaries. This makes it easier for your physician to review the opinions of other doctors and provide an overall thorough report. For more on navigating the schedule award process, check back next week for the continuation of OWCP: Schedule Award101.

-Harris Federal Law Firm

OWCP Schedule Award: 101

Friday, June 1st, 2012 by

When dealing with a federal workers compensation injury, workers are entitled to compensation benefits if and when they prove their injury occurred while on the job. There are several benefits available to the injured worker, including: wage loss, medical bill coverage and a schedule award. A schedule award is payment for the permanent impairment to an extremity as result of an on the job injury.

The award is not available for an injury to the spine, heart or brain unless this injury causes impairments to develop at a body part linked with the nerve. For example, some lumbar injuries can lead to leg problems and some neck injuries can cause hand and arm impairments. The schedule award payment can either be paid in a present value lump sum or choose to have the payment paid out over a period of time.

As mentioned previously, to be eligible for a schedule award the claimant most prove that the injury occurred at work and has caused a permanent impairment to an extremity. Therefore, it is extremely important that your filed federal workers compensation claim be accepted by the Office of Workers Compensation Programs, or OWCP, and that your doctor provides a responsive report that is detailed and precise.

When your doctor is not precise in his diagnosis of your injury, this creates a whole new obstacle. It is not unusual for the employing agency to hire a doctor for an agency medical exam. If this doctor describes your injury or condition as pre-existing or degenerative, then he is providing the basis for the workers compensation claim’s denial.

- Harris Federal Law Firm

OPM to begin new hiring program July 10

Thursday, May 24th, 2012 by

The Office of Personnel Management will begin a new hiring program beginning July 10, 2012. Known as the Pathways Program, the three tiered program will consist of an internship for enrolled college students, a program for recent college graduates and the Presidential Management Fellows Program; a program which already exists within the OPM.

ResumeOf significant change to current hiring practices, OPM will reduce the probationary period for those in the recent graduates program to one year, as opposed to the two years which were originally suggested. OPM indicated that the federal unions associated with their department did not feel that new hires should be held to a longer probationary period than employees hired under the standard competitive process.

Several OPM managers, including former Department of Homeland Security chief human capital officer, Jeff Neal, disagreed with the new policy, stating that they preferred the two year probation period which was part of the Federal Career Intern Program; a program which is now defunct. The managers preferred the old program as they indicated that this extended time period gave them more time to evaluate new employees following their training.

Initially, OPM suggested a compromise to allow recent graduates to go through the one year probationary program, but after they completed a job specific training program. Jeff Shriver, OPM’s general counsel, explained that OPM is working to determine which jobs having training that will require a deferred probationary period.

However, the executive director of the Federal Managers Association, Todd Wells, relayed that his organization still preferred the two year period in contrast to the one year probationary period.

According to Federal Times, Wells said that OPM’s decision, “leaves a ton of leeway as to when the so-called training is complete,” and that, “In theory, it would absolutely be fine with managers. But a two year probationary period simplifies everything for everyone, and there’s no misunderstanding for any party as to when [the training] started and was completed.”

While Colleen Kelley, National Treasure Employees Union President, said she approves of OPM’s decision to shorten the recent graduate’s trial period, she expressed concern that some hires currently in training may experience longer probationary periods.
Kelley mentioned that as OPM did not provide a limit to the number or type of employees who can be hired under the new program, the potential for abuse could create conflict.

With the new system, managers can choose to either convert the recent graduate employee to the competitive service or the employee will lose his job. Under the standard hiring system, a manager must opt to terminate an underperforming employee prior to the end of their probationary period.

Individuals who graduated from college after December 2010 will be grandfathered into the Recent Graduate Program. While OPM can establish a limit to the number of individuals who may use the Pathways program, they will elect to not cap it as of now. It is expected that agencies will begin hiring under the new program this year but it is not expected to accelerate until the Spring of 2013. Agencies will be required to post jobs via USAJOBS.GOV and that these positions must be open to all qualified applicants, though veterans preference rules do apply to those vacancies.

- Harris Federal Law Firm