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Three Basic Questions to Ask in Filing for Federal Disability Retirement Benefits Under FERS or CSRS

Federal Disability Retirement benefits under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) or the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) is a benefit available for all Federal and Postal employees who have a minimum of eighteen (18) months of Federal Service (or, alternatively, 5 years under CSRS, which is generally assumed as a “given” inasmuch as it has been over two decades since the changeover from CSRS to FERS). Serious considerations must be contemplated before a Federal or Postal employee engages the possibility of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, especially because of the severe economic distress which can result for many applicants. For those under FERS, Disability Retirement benefits pay an annuity of 60% of the average of one’s highest three consecutive years of pay for the first year, then 40% every year thereafter, until age 62. At age 62, the disability retirement annuity is recalculated as regular retirement, based upon the total number of years of Federal Service, including the years the annuitant has been on disability retirement.

Because disability retirement benefits will severely reduce the income of the Federal or Postal employee, one can assume that a person who is contemplating filing for such benefits is doing so out of necessity, and not out of choice. The benefit does, however, have an inherent “incentive” to encourage the Federal or Postal annuitant to remain productive and active in the workforce. A Federal or Postal employee who is receiving Federal Disability Retirement benefits can go out into the private sector, and work at another, different kind of job, and earn up to 80% of what his or her former position currently pays. Why would this be allowed? Essentially, because Federal Disability Retirement is a benefit which declares that a Federal or Postal employee is merely disabled from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job – not that he or she is “totally disabled”. Such an incentive encourages the disability annuitant to remain productive (and a continuing taxpayer) in another capacity.

When considering preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability benefits, three basic considerations should be entertained, as prerequisites. They are:

First, Do I have a “supportive doctor”? Before a Federal or Postal worker should even consider filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the most basic and essential question of whether he or she has a “supportive doctor” must be asked and answered. For, without a supportive doctor, there will be little to no chance of successfully filing for the benefit of Federal Disability Retirement. While it is theoretically possible to be successful in filing for, and obtaining, Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS without a compelling medical report, and to base such an application merely upon medical records, diagnostic test results, and operative reports; nevertheless, it increases the likelihood and chances of a case if one has garnered the support of a medical doctor.

By “supportive” is meant: will your doctor be willing to write a narrative report which delineates the elements necessary to successfully meet the multiple criteria of eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits? Will the doctor take the administrative time and effort necessary to provide the applicant with the necessary preparatory paperwork? Thus, this is not just a “pat on the back” type of support, of a doctor giving the “thumbs up” and being “in your corner”. Rather, it would be a good idea if the potential Federal or Postal Disability Retirement applicant had a blunt discussion with the doctor, to make sure that the doctor possesses not only “good bedside manners”, but will he or she support a medical disability retirement application by putting in the necessary time and effort?

Second, Is an Attorney necessary in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS? Each Federal and Postal employee must answer the question based upon the medical, personal, financial and professional factors which all coalesce and must be considered in preparing for the entirety of the process which constitutes a “Federal Disability Retirement application”. Some subset questions which might be asked in approaching this second question are: How complicated is my case? Will it be more difficult for an attorney to correct at the Second, Reconsideration Stage of the process if I prepare the application myself and it is denied at the First Stage? How objective can I be in evaluating my own case, and in formulating the necessary bridge between the medical condition and the essential elements of one’s job?

Caution: the old adage of the fool who has himself as a client – beware of attempting to represent yourself, because the general sense of objectivity is lost, and especially when attempting to formulate and describe one’s medical conditions and their impact upon the essential elements of one’s job, there is the added danger of becoming too emotional and losing a sense of proper perspective concerning one’s medical conditions. And, finally, if obtaining Federal Medical Retirement benefits is an investment for one’s future, how important is it to have legal representation in order to obtain, protect and preserve that investment?

Third, How effective will I be in formulating my case? Remember that a Federal Disability Retirement application is a “paper presentation” to an entity which is separate, apart, and independent from the Agency or the U.S. Postal Service for whom you are employed. Thus, as a paper presentation, it must appear professional, knowledgeable, streamlined, coherent, and coordinated in all aspects of the presentation: the medical reports and records must be reconciled with the applicant’s statement of disability; and legal citations must be carefully annotated to support the evidence which is presented. Further, has the formulation of the case proven one’s eligibility and entitlement by a preponderance of the evidence? Will the fact that the subjective “I” who is formulating the paper presentation, be able to convey a sense of “third person” objectivity necessary for a persuasive argument?

These are three basic prerequisite questions which any and all Federal and Postal employees who are contemplating beginning the process of preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS, should be actively asking. These questions are far from exhaustive. Ultimately, each Federal or Postal employee must make the necessary decisions which are in the best interests of the individual who is contemplating filing for Federal Employee Disability benefits. As thoughtfulness leads to effective action, so prior preparation and careful formulation requires a period of asking the right questions. In order to prepare, formulate and file an effective delineation of a compelling case for approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application, to be submitted to the Office of Personnel Management, one must take the time to ask, and have answered, the basic questions.

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