Differences Between FERS/CSRS Disability Retirement and OWCP Posted on May 1, 2005
The rabbit had been able to elude the fox, hopping safely into the arms of a briar patch and out of the immediate reach of the hungry predator. Seeing that he would not be able to have the rabbit for a meal, he decided instead to show concern. "Are you alright, my friend?" he asked, trying to put on an expression of empathy.
"Quite well, thank you," replied the rabbit, still panting from the close call and looking to and from with suspicion.
"Very well, then," said the fox, who began to walk away. He paused, turned around, and added, "I promise not to try and harm you anymore."
"Are you quite serious?" asked the rabbit, surprised at this sudden announcement.
"Quite serious," the fox replied, then walked away. As he walked, he uttered under his breath, "At least -- not for today."
-- From "More Fables, Ancient and New"
At least once a month, I receive a call from an individual who has been on total disability with Federal Worker's Comp for several years. The individual has been separated from service from the Federal Government or the Postal Service for more than a year, and suddenly the Office of Workers Compensation Program sends the individual to a Second Opinion doctor, and thereafter issues a declaratory finding that he or she is no longer disabled, and can return to work.
-- Not only has that individual lost his OWCP benefits, but he has also lost his right to file for disability retirement under FERS or CSRS.
This is because, under the rules and regulations for disability retirement, an individual must file with the Office of Personnel Management within one year from the date he or she is separated from Federal Service (See 5 C.F.R. Sec. 844.201(a)(1) , where it states that, "Except as provided in paragraphs (a)(3) and (a)(4) of this section, an application for disability retirement is timely only if it is filed with the employing agency before the employee or Member separates from service, or with the former employing agency or OPM within 1 year thereafter").
Thus, a word of caution for those many individuals who receive the non-taxable payments from OWCP -- continue to remain on OWCP for as long as possible, because it is certainly financially advantageous over the taxable annuity amount received from FERS/CSRS disability retirement -- but always remember that OWCP is not a retirement system. If they don't cut your payments off today, there is always tomorrow (refer to the fox in the fable, above).
I always advise my disability retirement clients who are receiving OWCP benefits to remain on OWCP for as long as they can stand it (i.e., the persistent harassment, the constant oversight by so-called "2nd opinion doctors", etc.) -- but to always have the FERS/CSRS disability retirement annuity approved as a back-up source of income. Individuals may file for disability retirement concurrently while on OWCP -- but you simply cannot collect from both at the same time (See 5 C.F.R. Sec. 844.105, "Relationship to workers' compensation. (a) Except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section, an individual who is eligible for both an annuity under part 842 or 844 of this chapter and compensation for injury or disability under subchapter I of chapter 81 of title 5, United States Code (other than a scheduled award under 5 U.S.C. 8107(c)), covering the same period of time must elect to receive either the annuity or compensation.").
Thus, when OWCP terminates your payments (and there is a very good chance that this will happen at some point in the near future), it is a wise option to have your disability retirement benefits approved, but held in an inactive status. You have every right to elect one benefit over the other. Indeed, if you wanted to, you are allowed to go back and forth between OWCP and FERS/CSRS disability retirement.
As a secondary issue on this matter, take a close look at 5 U.S.C. Section 8106 on "partial disability", and compare that definition with the definition for disability retirement. In Section 8106 (OWCP), the definition states in paragraph (c) (2) that "A partially disabled employee who refuses or, neglects to work after suitable work is offered to, procured by, or secured for him, is not entitled to compensation." This means that if OWCP secures a job for you as a Walmart greeter (you know, those individuals who smile and say hello to you as you walk into the Walmart Superstore), and pay you the difference between your salary and what Walmart pays -- and you decide to say "no", OWCP has every right to cut off your payments.
On the other hand, under the laws concerning FERS & CSRS disability retirement, 5 C.F.R.Sec. 844.103 (a)(2) states that, in order to be eligible for disability retirement, the individual "must, while employed in a position subject to FERS, have become disabled because of a medical condition, resulting in a deficiency in performance, conduct, or attendance, or if there is no such deficiency, the disabling medical condition must be incompatible with either useful and efficient service or retention in the position."
The difference here is that, under OWCP, if you are 'partially disabled', if you are offered any job that OWCP believes you can do, you must accept it. On the other hand, under FERS/CSRS disability retirement laws, if you are partially disabled -- meaning that you simply cannot do at least one or more of the essential elements of your job -- then you are entitled to disability retirement benefits, and your agency or the Postal Service cannot simply offer you any job; they must offer you a job in the same pay or grade, and one in which you are qualified or, if you are in the Postal Service, then it must an accommodation in the same craft.
Under the former (OWCP), you have no control over your future (OWCP determines your future); under the latter (disability retirement), you can obtain disability retirement benefits, and then take control of your future and work at another job of your choice, and make up to 80% of what your (former) position pays, and still continue to receive your disability annuity.
Experiencing a medical disability is a traumatic, life-changing event. Financial concerns are always part of this life-changing event, and it is important to secure one's financial future to the greatest extent possible. Obtaining disability retirement -- both the annuity as well as the health insurance benefits -- is often the difference between a secure future and financial poverty. It is therefore extremely important to look upon disability retirement as a lifetime investment -- one which must be obtained with an aggressive plan and approach.
I am an Attorney who represents Federal and Postal workers from all across the United States, including Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. I do not charge for telephone consultations. If you would like to contact me, you may call me at 1-800-990-7932 or email me at email@example.com.