How long will it take to prepare my application for submission to OPM, and how long thereafter can I expect to wait until OPM approves my application? Also, how long will it be before I get any money?
ANSWER: That part of the application that you must complete yourself (Applicant's Statement, Form 3112 A) requires several hours' work. However, getting the "Physician's Statement" (Form 3112 C) into just the right shape often takes weeks and sometimes months. Thereafter, the agency's bureaucracy can take an additional six to eight weeks before the application can be transmitted to OPM.
The timing of OPM's approval appears related largely to happenstance and apparently the whim and fancy of those running the show. For instance, OPM has no procedure whatsoever for expediting applications due to financial need. It claims to expedite the applications of the terminally ill on an ad hoc basis, irrespective of financial need, but refuses to expedite the applications of those threatened by financial ruin.
In my experience, case approval time varies from 10 weeks in a tiny minority of potentially news-sensitive cases (e.g. those concerning AIDS), to an average of five or six months. Some applications, however, languish inexplicably for a year or more, and have required complaints to the Inspector General to get the cases processed.
It may take up to several months, after winning, before you receive any money from OPM. By this time, if you've stopped working and are on LWOP, you will be owed a good deal of annuity back-payments. Usually, OPM makes an initial lump sum distribution of part of the back-payments owed. Thereafter, there may be another lump sum distribution of any other back-payments owed, usually together with the first of the regular monthly annuity payments.
We have a real problem with Physician’s Statements from doctors who are too busy to spend time writing them and unwilling to go out on a limb to say it like it really is. So you have to work around this.
When it comes to doctors, you have to…
Following up on my earlier post about getting fired for misconduct:
If you are fired for misconduct, that does not mean your agency can wash its hands of you and not cooperate with your claim for Disability Retirement. Your agency is still required…
Which is more important in getting disability retirement, the nature of my disease or injury, or the symptoms from which I suffer?
ANSWER: The disabling symptoms matter most, although diagnosis of a fatal or very serious disease can certainly be expected to have some impact on the disability decision. For instance, people with cancer do not automatically qualify for disability retirement unless they are presently suffering from the disabling symptoms of that disease. On the other hand, you don't have to suffer from any particularly serious disease, or even from any diagnosable disease in order to qualify for disability retirement. You only need to make the appropriate showing that you are suffering from disabling symptoms, even if the cause of the symptoms is unknown.
The rules are tough in not allowing a mere diagnosis to serve as a ground for disability retirement. But the rules are also lenient in permitting you to qualify for disability retirement on the basis of disabling symptoms which may appear to be minor or which effect you only on particular occasions. A person whose job requires travel by plane on occasion, but who is unable to fly on account of chronic back pain may well be eligible for disability retirement, even if an asymptomatic cancer patient is not eligible.
Do I have a right to keep the nature of my medical condition confidential from my agency? From OPM?
ANSWER: Yes and no. You have a right to the strictest confidentiality regarding your medical condition at your agency but not at OPM. Despite that right, in some instances it takes a special effort to keep the matter confidential. Since OPM, rather than your agency, determines your case, the agency only needs to know the nature of your disabling symptoms and how they prevent you from performing. Except in unusual circumstances, the agency should not need to know the diagnosis or cause of those symptoms. In the event that it demands such information, you have a right to provide it through the agency physician, who must treat it as privileged information and maintain your confidentiality.
If I refuse to accept an accommodation or reassignment, will I lose my right to disability retirement?
ANSWER: Yes. You will lose your right to disability retirement if you turn down a reasonable accommodation or reassignment. If the agency is able to accommodate you in your current job or to reassign you to another job, within the legal strictures explained above, you must accept it or you will lose your right to disability retirement. On the other hand, if you do accept either an accommodation or a reassignment, you will of course lose your opportunity to gain disability retirement (unless it doesn't work out for you, in which case you can try again). In short, the last thing that most people applying for disability retirement want is for the agency to accommodate or reassign them.
But not to worry. In the vast majority of cases, the agency has neither the desire nor the ability to accommodate or reassign an employee. For the most part, accommodation and reassignment of those who are disabled, like accommodation of other handicapped individuals, is treated as a joke by the federal agencies.
One exception: many non-management Postal Service employees fall under a different rule and, under certain circumstances, they can turn down reassignments to a different craft (or those which violate collective bargaining agreements) without jeopardizing their disability retirement rights.
Can my agency influence whether or not I get disability retirement?
I have represented Federal government employees and Postal workers seeking OPM Disability Retirement for a long time. I also represent them in agency leave problems such as AWOL, FMLA, LWOP, etc. Leave problems often come along with being sick and disabled. I have stuck to this area of the law for more than 30 years of the 50 years I have been a lawyer.