OPM Disability Retirement: Often, the Option Was Always Open

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the question on Standard Form 3112A which asks for the “approximate date” of when a Federal or Postal employee became disabled from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job can sometimes be rather tricky.

For, quite often, it is not the medical condition itself which drives a Federal or Postal employee to file for a Federal Disability Retirement annuity; rather, it may be external circumstances entirely foreign to the medical condition itself (i.e., actions of the Supervisor, the Agency; changes in work schedules; reinstating other assignments and positional requirements, etc.).

In many cases, the fact is that the Federal or Postal worker may have been eligible to apply for, and successfully obtain, a Federal Disability Retirement annuity for several years — it is just that he or she never exercised the option or right to do so, because the Agency or the U.S. Postal Service allowed for light duty, temporary duty assignments, modified duties, etc. — in other words, a loose network of ad hoc duties aggregately termed as an “accommodation”, but clearly not what would constitute a legally-sufficient accommodation under the law and under the Bracey definition.  But the option to exercise the eligibility in a Federal Disability Retirement application may have been there for many years, and so the question on SF 3112A may actually require a response indicating many years and months prior to the completion and dating of the form itself.

The fact that a medical condition prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job is the qualifying factor in a Federal Disability Retirement application; when to exercise the option to obtain a Federal Disability Retirement annuity is a separate issue; and as to the latter, the compelling force may well be issues external to a medical condition.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

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