By: Elliott Andalman, Attorney at Law
Filing for Federal Disability Retirement is often a long and confusing process. My experience representing individuals seeking federal disability retirement for federal and postal workers is that most workers underestimate the difficulty of winning these vitally important benefits provided by the FERS and CSRS retirement systems. Below are suggestions to help you put together a successful application.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) processes these claims. OPM is not a user-friendly office – it is generally hard to reach by phone, even harder to get correct information from over the phone, frustratingly slow and sometimes loses your documents. Therefore, my first recommendation is to obtain an attorney with experience in this area to represent you on your application. Please know that you should be able to locate an attorney, such as at my office, who will provide a free consultation.
Preparing for and filing a FERS disability application can be a daunting task but it can be made less stressful. Here are some important do’s and don’ts to help you understand some of the key factors that help make a successful application for FERS disability retirement:
- DO make sure you have at least 18 months of service credit in FERS before you stop working;
- DON’T assume that your doctor will support your claim.
- DO talk to your doctor about your symptoms and limitations and why you are having trouble doing your job satisfactorily. And listen carefully to your doctor’s answers.
- DON’T file your application unless a treating doctor agrees to support your application that you are disabled to perform your job and that such disability will last at least a year..
- DO discuss with your doctor what accommodations may allow you to continue to perform your job duties satisfactorily.
- DON’T forget to request reasonable accommodations before you file your application. OPM will only award your application if you cannot perform your job with reasonable accommodations. There are numerous accommodations that can be requested ranging from ergonomic keyboards and chairs, to teleworking. It will be helpful to show that your request for reasonable accommodations was denied. If an accommodation is granted, try to continue working. However, if you still cannot satisfactorily perform your job with the accommodation(s), you may request additional accommodations or you may apply at that time assuming your doctor agrees that you cannot perform your job duties satisfactorily even with reasonable accommodations.
- DON’T turn down an offer of reassignment to a position you can perform if that position is in the same commuting area and at the same grade and pay as your current job. Turning down such an offer will normally defeat your application. Similarly, do not turn down an offer from your Agency to search for such a reassignment.
- DO accept an offer of temporary light duty because as long as your SF-50 position is not changed, you should be able to pursue your disability application while performing light duty work.
- DON’T wait too long to file. You can file your application up to one year after a date of separation. However, if possible, you want to file before you are separated. While OPM must consider medical evidence dated after your date of separation, OPM prefers evidence dated before any date of separation to establish disability. Further, if you file your application after your Agency has filed a proposed removal for cause, then the Merit System Protection Board (MSPB) has held that fact may cast doubt upon the veracity of the application for disability retirement.
- DO file an application for Social Security Disability and keep proof of filing and any decision that SSA issues. It is required that you apply in order to be awarded your federal disability retirement.
- DON’T resign without seeking legal counsel. If at all possible, you want to have your medical evidence put together before your date of separation.
- DO seek legal counsel if you are facing a PIP or a removal action. If your medical condition is causing problems with your performance, counsel may help you obtain a medical removal, which makes it easier to get OPM to approve your application for disability retirement.
- DO recognize that it is usually necessary to have a deficiency in performance or attendance (and even occasionally conduct) reported by your supervisor. This may be the only time in your work-life that you want a deficiency documented. If your supervisor reports that your performance, attendance and conduct are all satisfactory, OPM will usually deny your application. It is your responsibility to obtain medical evidence that shows that your deficiency was caused by your medical condition. You must establish this causation or that your medical condition is “incompatible” with useful and efficient service.
As you can see, pursuing a federal disability retirement is not simple. There are numerous strategic decisions that must be made along the way. This article is not meant to be exhaustive. My first recommendation is also my last – seek an experienced attorney to assist you on your application.
If you would like to arrange a free consultation to discuss your federal disability retirement matter, please contact me or call 301.563.6685.
About Andalman & Flynn, P.C.: Andalman & Flynn, P.C. serves clients throughout Maryland and the District of Columbia, offering compassionate, quality service and winning representation across a broad range of legal areas. With a concentration on disability benefits law and family law, the firm focuses on cases that impact the rights of everyone, and they are there for clients when responsive legal help is most critical. For more information about Andalman & Flynn, please visit http://www.andalmanflynn.com, or call 301.563.6685.