By Peter Casciano, Esq.
When consulting with new or potential federal disability clients, I find myself needing to correct many misconceptions about the disability retirement application process. There are several main reasons for this:
I think the federal agencies do a poor job of giving employees the proper information regarding federal disability retirement, and employee benefits in general.
Some clients don’t know the difference between their Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) and federal disability retirement, and I find myself explaining that they have contributed to the TSP slowly over time, just like a private worker contributes to their 401k.
Others don’t know they have the ability to contact their Human Resources (HR) department to obtain an Estimate of Benefits (EOB), which enables them to estimate the amount of their federal disability retirement benefit for financial planning purposes.
Agencies as Advocates
There are the agencies who fail to inform their workers about the ins and outs of applying for federal disability benefits, and then there are the agencies who think they know everything there is to know about the federal disability retirement application process (and don’t). These agencies can be more dangerous because they often offer misleading advice leading to many denials.
“All you need to do is package up your medical records and send them to OPM.” This is a great example of the unhelpful advice often provided to clients who don’t know that an OPM (Office of Personnel Management) representative may be combing through each medical record looking for negative evidence. Or, OPM may simply be looking for a narrative report from the treating physician, which many claims reps. like to see prior to approving.
Either way, knowing what OPM is looking for is critical to the success of your case.
Definition of Disability
Many doctors who treat the chronically ill deal with disability benefits in some way, shape, or form. When a doctor informs a client that they support their case for disability, just what do they mean by that?
Depending on your age, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has a host of definitions for disability. If a private disability insurance policy applies to you, note that each policy defines disability in a different way. And then there’s federal disability retirement (FERS or CSRS) with a different definition altogether. It behooves each claimant to hire an experienced disability attorney who can:
- Clarify the diagnosis and recommendations with each doctor,
- Walk them through the applicable job description,
- And discuss the federal government’s sometimes complex accommodation process.
Many federal employees belong to a union. In most instances, when an employee is disciplined or the removal process begins, the unions fight doggedly for one thing and one thing only: the employee’s job back.
In many instances, this is a great check-and-balance of the entire system, and it is the reason for unions’ existence. However, in the disability realm, successfully retaining one’s job, or even providing evidence that this should be the result, can ruin your disability claim. Effectively and smoothly transitioning out of employment and into medical retirement is oftentimes the best result for all involved, despite what the unions are trained to fight for.
Get the Advice You Need to Apply for Federal Disability Benefits
When considering applying for federal disability benefits, be careful of each source of information and make sure their advice is right for you. When in doubt, at any stage of the application process, please contact me for a free consultation. You can reach me by phone at 301-244-4523 or by email at [email protected].