By Elliott Andalman, Esq. and Gabriela Alonzo, paralegal
In a January 17, 2012 publication by Office of Personnel Management (OPM) entitled Strategic Plan for Retirement Services, prior OPM Director, John Berry, stated, “The current delays in retirement processing are unacceptable and eliminating the current backlog is my highest priority. It is our goal to eliminate the current backlog in 18 months so that 90 percent of retirees will receive their full annuity payments within 60 days of retirement by July 2013.” One of OPM’s strategies for eliminating the backlog was increasing the amount of individuals involved in processing these claims, by hiring additional legal administrative specialists (LAS) to review disability retirement applications.
Unfortunately, the backlog has only gotten worse. OPM continues to experience unacceptable delays in its processing of retirement claims, especially with disability retirement applications. In 2015, an Inspector General study found that OPM’s retirement information office abandoned 28% of its calls, staff did not respond to 53% of voicemail messages; and 28% of the voicemail boxes were full.
In December of 2017, OPM published its processing data for retirement claims for the fiscal year of October 2016 through November 2017. During this period, OPM received a total of 108,229 new claims, averaging approximately 7,730 new claims per month. OPM was only able to process 7,434 claims per month, resulting in an inevitable backlog of about 296 claims per month, or about 3,600 claims for a year.
We advise our clients who seek FERS (Federal Employees Retirement System) Disability Retirement benefits (hereafter FDR benefits) that the most difficult part of this process is not the application itself, but rather waiting for OPM to review their application and make a decision. OPM is currently taking eight to ten months from receipt of the application to make a decision. Sometimes applications wait up to a year or more.
When an application is submitted to OPM, it takes one to two months for OPM to assign a CSA (Civil Service Annuity) number. After a CSA number is assigned, the application waits to be assigned to a contract physician, who is then responsible for reviewing and making a decision on the claim. The time between the assignment of a CSA number and the assignment of a physician is unpredictable, but often six months or more. Once a physician has been assigned, a decision is usually forthcoming within two to three months.
During 2017, OPM underwent a major reorganization. OPM replaced the LAS’s, who were federal employees, with contract physicians, who are independent contractors rather than federal employees. It is reasonable to have doctors review disability retirement applications. It is yet to be seen whether the contract physicians will be effective in eliminating the backlog and delays that plague OPM.
Our office speaks frequently with OPM representatives. Currently OPM staff are demoralized by the overwhelming backlog and caseload. For example, one OPM staff member reported that they had over 50 calls to return that day to individuals inquiring about the status of their claim. OPM has recently acknowledged that it was failing to timely process applications and even failing to return phone calls. We do not mean to vilify OPM staff for the delays, but Congress has failed to provide OPM the resources necessary to hire enough staff to process claim timely.
Andalman and Flynn’s Involvement with OPM
Our staff is actively involved in contacting OPM to obtain up-to-date information on our clients’ FDR claims and to ensure that OPM has the information it needs in order to make a decision. This includes performing regularly scheduled follow-up calls, obtaining additional evidence in support of the claim, and submitting letters to OPM to expedite review and argue for favorable decisions for our clients. At every stage of the process, Andalman and Flynn tries to ensure that client applications will be processed as quickly as possible. Contact us today for assistance with FERS disability retirement and more.
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- New Challenges for FERS Disability Retirement Applicants
 U.S. Office of Personnel Management. (2012, January,17). Strategic Plan for Retirement Services. https://www.opm.gov/about-us/budget-performance/strategic-plans/retirement-strategic-plan.pdf
 U.S. Office of Personnel Management. (2017, December). CSRS/FERS New Claims, Processed, and Inventory. https://www.opm.gov/about-us/budget-performance/strategic-plans/retirement-processing-status.pdf