Federal Disability Retirement: Filing within 1 year

Postal and federal workers who are injured or develop a medical condition while employed by a federal agency or the US Postal Service have many decisions to make. Making the right decision depends on accurate information; accurate information must be based on a combination of experience, integrity, and foresight of the particular situation of the federal or postal worker considering which benefit will be most appropriate for the specific circumstances.

Information is plentiful, and in this modern internet age, there is often an information overload. The volume of information is rarely the problem; rather, it is the sufficiency and relevance of the information chosen, to the extent that it is useful and relevant, that will determine whether that information is useful and proven.

For the federal and postal employee, the impact of the medical condition on livelihood, the ability to maintain a regular work schedule, and the need to entertain the idea of ​​a career termination all together further exacerbate the problem in addition to suffering from the medical condition itself. Either to apply for Federal Workers’ Compensation benefits under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act through the Department of Labor; or apply for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under the Federal Employees Retirement System or under the former system of the Civil Service Retirement System; or perhaps do it in sequential order, or concurrently; or not at all. This last option is normally not a viable option at all. However, in the midst of suffering from a medical condition, where supervisors harass workers who are not fully productive, and where adverse action is threatened, the weight of the world and the apparent closure of all reasonable outlets will often lead you to make irrational and reckless decisions.

Fortunately, under the laws governing federal disability retirement, a person is entitled to apply for federal disability retirement benefits for up to one year from the date of separation from service. Therefore, even for those federal or postal employees who recklessly, perhaps in the heat of the moment, or in a temporary streak of insanity due to the stress and pressure of dealing with one’s medical condition and its impact on one’s ability to continue at work, submits a resignation that triggers a personal action for separation from Federal Service, that person will still have the opportunity to apply for Federal Disability Retirement benefits for up to 12 months after separation from service.

Is it more difficult to prove a federal disability retirement case once a federal or postal worker has been separated from federal service? Fortunately, the standard and burden of proving such a case remains consistent, such that a person who recklessly, and without much thought, jeopardizes his own future by rashly saying, “I quit!” – will have the same opportunities as those who continue to work. Provided that the Federal or Postal employee has a supporting physician, who will create the necessary nexus between one’s medical condition and the inability to perform at least one, if not more, of the essential elements of one’s job; and, furthermore, demonstrate that the medical condition will last a minimum of twelve (12) months; and finally, that the medical condition that prevents the Federal or Postal employee from performing one or more of the essential elements of his or her job began to have such an impact prior to separation from the Federal Service; the chances of qualifying for Federal Disability Retirement benefits will be equal to those of those who were not involved in making decisions on the ground to separate from the Federal Service.

When filing Federal Workers’ Compensation benefits, an attorney who is knowledgeable about the laws affecting separation from Federal Service should be consulted. In general terms, however, the purpose and underlying reason for Federal Workers’ Compensation benefits is to allow a period of compensation such that the Federal or Postal worker can recover and have rehabilitation time to return to full functions. Therefore, Federal Workers’ Compensation is not meant to be used as a “retirement” tool, but rather as a means to allow the injury to heal and then continue working. That’s why many people receive temporary total disability benefits under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act, through the Department of Labor, for as long as it takes to recover.

Rather, Federal Disability Pension benefits are intended for precisely what the term implies: a retirement based on an individual’s medical condition, and thus a separation from Federal Service once an application for Federal Disability Pension is approved by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Can a person who learns of a medical condition after being separated from Federal Service apply for Federal Disability Retirement benefits or Worker’s Compensation benefits, as long as they are still under the one-year umbrella? Again, for OWCP matters, you should consult an attorney who specializes in such matters, but as a practical matter, causation can be problematic if a person only “discovers” the medical problem after being separated from the Federal Service. As for such a discovery and its impact on a federal disability retirement claim, obviously some difficulties may also be encountered.

Because, while causation is never a substantive legal issue to be concerned with when formulating and putting together a Federal Disability Retirement claim, the question that is paramount in a Federal Disability Retirement case is the extent of the impact on one’s duties in the Federal or Postal position held while a Federal or Postal employee. As a practical matter, if you resign and later discover that you have a medical condition after separation from Federal Service, how will you prove that the never-knowledgeable medical condition prevented you from performing one or more of the essential elements of your previous job? There are cases where such evidence has been effectively assembled, where unexplained cognitive dysfunctions or profound and intractable fatigue prevented one from performing multiple essential elements of the job, but where the identifying diagnosis could not be definitively asserted until after separation from Federal Service occurred. Again, as long as a sympathetic physician is willing to render a medical opinion retrospectively, there is a good chance that one may qualify for federal disability retirement benefits, after the fact.

Above all, the key is to file on time. The rule is: if you do not file your Federal Disability Retirement application within 1 year of being separated from Federal Service, you do not have the ability to present any argument at all. If, on the other hand, you file on time, you always have a fighting chance to have your case reviewed fairly, thoroughly, and hopefully with a successful outcome.

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