Monday, January 25, 2010

Disability For Federal Employees

An employee of the federal government whose medical condition prevents him or her from continuing to work may seek a disability retirement under the Federal Employees Retirement System (“FERS”). FERS interacts with Social Security Disability (“SSD”) in several ways. For example, FERS benefits cannot begin until an SDD application has been filed, and there is some offsetting of benefits. If the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (“OPM”) approves a claimant’s application for disability retirement under FERS it should help the SSD application process.

To obtain SSD benefits, a claimant usually must demonstrate an inability to perform past work. If a claimant receives disability retirement benefits under FERS, then it means that the OPM determined that the claimant was unable to perform the duties of his or her past work. Decisions from other agencies, such as the OPM, are not binding on the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). However, under an SSA ruling, the decisions of other agencies are entitled to considerable weight.

A former mail handler retained me a couple of weeks before he was scheduled to appear for a hearing before an SSA Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). My prehearing submission included the mail handler’s OPM decision approving disability retirement benefits under FERS. I argued that OPM is in a better position to determine if the claimant could do his past work than the SSA. Therefore, the only remaining issue for the ALJ would have been was whether the mail handler could perform any other type of work. However, because the claimant was 50 years old, and a mail handler has no transferable skills to sedentary work, a SSA medical – vocational rule required the ALJ to find the claimant disabled. Accordingly, the ALJ canceled the hearing, and approved the claimant’s SSD benefits.

Had the claimant retained me sooner, then I could have used the same arguments in my prehearing submission that the ALJ accepted for an on-the-record (“OTR”) request. The OTR would have avoided most of the time that the claimant spent waiting for his hearing date.

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