By: Elliott Andalman, Esq. and Zubaidah Haamid, Senior Paralegal
Although we never give up, our dealing with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) over the past few years has been a source of sheer frustration for us and our clients. “We are doing what we can to process federal disability retirement applications as quickly as possible, but we are so backlogged and short staffed that it is taking much longer than it used to.” These are words that we hear all too often when following up with OPM on the status of our clients’ applications for disability retirement annuity. In the past, OPM was taking 2-4 weeks to assign disability retirement applications to specialists for adjudication and, after assignment, the specialist would take 2-3 months to issue a decision in the case. Over the past 5 years, we have watched the processing time gradually increase to the point that OPM is now taking 3-4 months to assign claims and 4-8 months from assignment to issue decisions. To add insult to injury, after OPM has approved an application for disability retirement, annuitants are waiting 8-12 months (sometimes more than a year) to go into final pay status to be paid much needed accrued benefits owed to them as well as reinstatement of health, life and other important benefits to which they are entitled. To no avail, we frequently follow up with OPM with telephone calls, letters and emails to the specialist and their superiors and we have even had our clients contact their senator or representative for a congressional inquiry to OPM.
We are pleased to hear that OPM Director John Berry has “identified fixing the broken retirement process as his top priority for this year.” See Joe Davidson’s January 18, 2012 Washington Post (WP) article titled OPM chief formulates a plan to fix retirement program: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/federal-diary-opm-has-plan-to-fix-retirement-program/2012/01/17/gIQAy2nj6P_story.html
According to the WP article linked above, Director Berry has submitted a plan to Congress that includes “four pillars” – (1) people; (2) productivity; (3) partnering with agencies; and (4) partial, progressive information technology improvements.
Our fingers are crossed for the success of the efforts of Director Berry to fix the problems at OPM and shorten the retirement processing time back to the norms of the past.