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OPM Disability Retirement: By Understanding Its Purposive Intent, One Can Plan for One's Future

March 14, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 120

As Aristotle, in his well-known work of Metaphysics, stated that "all men suppose what is called Wisdom to deal with the first causes and the principles of things," [Metaphysics, Book I, Chapter 1, 981b, 27 - 28], so it is important in any endeavor of life to understand the underlying foundation for which something exists. Too often, there is a tendency to reflexively - as opposed to 'reflectively' - jump into a process without taking the time to understand its foundational roots. Especially when a medical condition begins to impact or threaten one's livelihood, a sense of urgency is felt to apply for Federal Disability Retirement. In most cases, there is no choice but to file. But the need to file does not mean that one should not study the purposive intent of the benefit --for, it is only by understanding the purposive intent of a process that one can then effectively plan one's future course of actions, including how best to increase one's chances at being approved for the benefit.

Federal Disability Retirement is a benefit which is available for all Federal and Postal employees who have completed a minimum requirement - of 18 months of Federal Service for those under FERS, and 5 years of Federal Service for those under CSRS (it is obviously assumed that anyone under CSRS, ipso facto, already has the minimum years required by this time). It is an employment benefit which is an attractive component for any compensation package, and indeed, one which is uniquely progressive in its approach. For, it is indeed a rare benefit which recognizes that the mere fact that a person is "disabled" from performing a particular kind of job, should not be used as a basis to penalize that person from continuing to remain productive in society. To that end, a person who obtains a Federal Disability Retirement annuity is not precluded from working in a private-sector job, so long as he (A) does not make more than 80% of what his former Federal or Postal position currently pays, and (B) the type of job is sufficiently distinguishable from his former job.

Furthermore, it is a progressive paradigm precisely because it is a "self-paying" system. While many may bemoan the individual who seems to be "gaming the system" by collecting a Federal Disability Retirement annuity while at the same time working at a job, such a view (in the opinion of the undersigned writer) would constitute an errant way of looking at things. Would you rather that the disability annuitant remain unproductive and a complete weight upon society's safety net? Or, would it not be better that the former Federal or Postal employee continue paying taxes, Social Security, FICA, etc. and thereby effectively pay into the very "system" which pays his or her disability annuity?

Criticisms applied to every system of compensatory redress contain an inherent perspective which often leaves out crucial details of the underlying purpose and intent of the original statutory enactment providing for each benefit. For instance, there is a reason why those compensated by the Department of Labor, Federal Employees ' Compensation Act (FECA) are unable to work at another job while receiving temporary total disability payments. A person who is considered disabled from his job should not be able to be compensated while concurrently working at a replacement position (an exception would be if the individual, prior to the injury, worked at a part-time position at nights or at a second job). The point of FECA is to compensate the injured worker during the period of rehabilitation in order to return him or her to full productivity back to the job held prior to the injury. Similarly, because Social Security Disability payments are based upon a higher standard of "total disability", as opposed to being disabled from performing one or more of the essential elements of a particular kind of job, as such, there are restrictive limitations on what an individual on SSDI payments can earn in any given year or month.

If a Federal or Postal employee is considering accessing Federal Disability Retirement benefits, it is important to first arrive at a rudimentary understanding of the purposive intent of the benefit, in order to appreciate what the benefit is, why it pays what it does, and what restrictions are imposed once the benefit is obtained. In order to come to such an understanding of the purposive intent of the benefit, it is instructive to remind ourselves as to the standard of proof which must be met in proving a Federal Disability Retirement case. Under 5 C.F.R. Section 831.1203, the regulatory standard sets out two ways in which a Federal or Postal employee can meet the statutory requirements of becoming eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits: By showing that he or she suffers from a medical condition which (A) causes a deficiency in performance, attendance or conduct, or (B) by showing that the medical condition is incompatible with useful and efficient service or retention in the position. Note that the first way of becoming eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits contains a fact-specific approach of evidentiary showing - i.e., an applicant "can establish entitlement by showing that the medical condition affects [one's] ability to perform specific work requirements, or prevented [that person] from being regular in attendance or caused [the person] to act inappropriately." (quoting from a recent MSPB case) It thus ties particular medical conditions to specific job requirements, but may also include more generalized conditions, such as the universal requirement inherent in most jobs that "regular attendance" is necessary as an essential element of the job. Under the second method, "an appellant can establish entitlement by showing that the medical condition is inconsistent with working in general, working in a particular line of work, or working in a particular type of setting." (again, quoting again from a recent MSPB case) From this second approach, the "inconsistency" between job-X and medical condition Y need not be a one-to-one ratio, where the medical evidence would reveal a specific impact of a medical condition upon a particular essential element of one's positional duties.

Regardless of the methodology used (just to be mischievous, one refrains from using the word "irregardless" just to infuriate the reader), the point behind the statutory framework is clearly to establish that (A) the Federal or Postal worker suffers from a particular medical condition or several conditions, and (B) the medical conditions suffered impact upon, or prevent one from, performing one or more of the essential elements of one's particular kind of job. The focus is thus upon the bridge, or "nexus", between the medical condition and the type of job one engages in. The focus is not upon the fact of a Federal or Postal employee's injury such that the medical condition can be rehabilitated in order to return him or her back to work (as in DOL/FECA cases); nor is it upon whether a person is "totally disabled, without regard to any particular kind of job from which he or she is disabled (as in SSDI determinations). Rather, the central statutory intent and purpose is upon the whole package: that the Federal or Postal employee is disabled, and disabled from performing one or more of the essential elements of a particular kind of job, and further, that the medical condition is "inconsistent" or "incompatible" with useful retention in that job.

With such an understanding of the underlying "first principles" of Federal Disability Retirement - its purposive intent - one can then (A) set out to strategize how best to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that one is eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, and (B) consider what the future holds for a second career, a part-time job, or some other vocation for this unique paradigm of a potentially "self-paying" annuity system. Knowing that something exists is indeed useful for a man; understanding why something exists leads that same man to not only recognize what to do with it, but to also utilize it for its fullest extent of productivity.

In determining that Federal Disability Retirement is a benefit which the particular Federal or Postal employee is eligible for, and further, which "fits" the statutory purposive intent of the specific situation of the Federal or Postal Worker, one can then begin to lay out a strategy to qualify for, and meet the statutory requirements of, the statutory and regulatory criteria set out by the Office of Personnel Management. For, it is only by understanding the underlying purposive intent of the statute - those "first principles" - that one can then begin to plan for one's future, in securing the benefit known as Federal Disability Retirement.

Attorney Robert R. McGill specializes in securing Federal Disability Retirement benefits for Federal and Postal workers under both FERS and CSRS. He represents Federal and Postal employees from all across the United States, from the West Coast to the East, and every state in between, as well as Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Europe, Japan, etc. For more information about his legal services, please visit his CSRS and FERS Disability Retirement Website and USPS Disability Retirement websites.

Source: EzineArticles
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