Podcast #3: A Good Doctor is the Real Key to Winning:
Transcript edited for clarity:
How do you know if you are eligible for Disability Retirement?
There is a legal standard, but you probably would have a difficult time figuring out if you meet it on your own.
Everyone who calls me thinks they meet the standard – otherwise they wouldn’t be calling! Most people think they will be able to win, and without a lawyer on top of that.
Now, that could be true for a small number of people. If someone is paralyzed, have terminal cancer, or something like that, where it is 100% clear cut that they cannot do their job duties, then they probably don’t need me or a referral to another lawyer.
So what’s the standard?
The details for the standard are laid out in the blog, but for now I will say this. The standard is that you have to be unable to perform at least one critical element of your job. You have to prove that a disability makes you unable to “satisfactorily” perform a critical element of your job.
So if your work is unsatisfactory or you are unable to make it to work, then that would meet the standard?
Exactly. Unless you are lazing around watching TV!
You have to demonstrate that you cannot make it to work due to your medical condition.
Additionally, a disability must be expected to last at least one year.
And how would you demonstrate that?
Through a doctor. More specifically, through the applicant’s statement and the physician’s statement (two forms on the OPM Disability Retirement Application).
Now, writing a good applicant’s statement is a good idea, but it is basically worthless compared to a physician’s statement.
What wins a disability retirement case is what a doctor says.
When I was a kid, my dad took me to restaurants every now and then. And the way to get to the front of the line at the restaurant was to put “Dr.” in front of your name. So my dad always went by Dr. Friedman and we were always seated first.
It’s not so different at OPM. The doctor is treated better than everyone else.
So should you lie and say you are the doctor?
You should never lie! But being a doctor isn’t as good as being the federal employee who has a doctor who writes you a great Physician’s Statement!
On the other hand, if you are being treated, but you don’t have a doctor who is ready to talk about your treatment, talk about your disability, and discuss how despite your treatment, you still cannot get over your disabling condition and perform your job, then you are not going to win.
You can say all you want about being sick or disabled, and it won’t matter. You need the doctor to do it.
You need evidence.
If you want to talk to Harvey about your situation, fill out the form at the right, send him an email, or give him a call. As a semi-retired lawyer, he is here to talk with you and help as best he can – think of him as a friend you drop in on for advice.
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44. Why do application packages take as long as 9 months?
Processing time is affected by a number of factors including, but not limited to:
Incomplete preliminary application and need for additional documentation;
Delays in applying for Social Security disability or providing evidence of application or denial of Social Security disability (CSRS Offset and FERS only);
Incomplete Final package; and,
Evidence of workers’ compensation receipt. I would add number 5. And that is sometimes OPM adjudicators can't even find my client's file.
A lawyer can help you sail past these roadblocks. My take is that these are complex actions which federal employees applying for Disability Retirement often avoid just because of their complexity, or the employee's lack of knowledge as to how to fulfill them. For instance, so many clients have come to me who have been rejected because their applications are incomplete. You would think that just filling out the form makes it complete, but that's just not so. I could go on and on about why it's not so, and have done so in other parts of this blog. A lawyer who has a good deal of prior experience in taking the necessary actions and taking them in the best way to favor his client is always going to be more successful than the client going through the process on their own.
If I withdraw all of the money from my retirement fund after separation from government service, am I still eligible for disability retirement?
ANSWER: Probably, but the answer is not clear-cut. Depending on the circumstances, withdrawal of your retirement fund does not necessarily extinguish your right to disability retirement. However, since the law is somewhat unclear, you certainly should not withdraw your retirement fund at separation if you think there is any chance that you may seek disability retirement within the next year.
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.