The Office of Personnel Management – known by most by its acronym, “OPM” – is the Federal Agency which determines all Federal Disability Retirement applications, whether under FERS, CSRS or CSRS-Offset. All Federal employees and U.S. Postal Workers must ultimately submit their application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under the purview, evaluation, and ultimate approval or denial from the Office of Personnel Management.
While the individual applicant must do his or her part by preparing the application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits and, further, while the Agency – whether it is the U.S. Postal Service, the IRS, the EPA, Department of the Army, Federal Aviation Administration, Customs & Border Protection, etc., and the hundreds of other agencies under the Federal umbrella – must also fill out its portion of required forms; ultimately, after being routed through the agency and the designated finance office, the Office of Personnel Management is the deciding agency which must receive the Federal Disability Retirement application. In skeletal outline, the procedure is as follows:
- Once the applicant completes his or her part, and the Federal Disability Retirement application is routed through the applicant’s Agency (unless he or she has been separated from service for more than 31 days, in which case the packet is directly sent to OPM), the application is then sent to the intake center of the Office of Personnel Management in Boyers, Pennsylvania.
- Once at Boyers, PA, a “CSA” Number will be assigned to the applicant’s file. This is a case number which identifies the applicant’s case-file and should be kept as an easy identifier when attempting to access the case, submitting additional evidence, requesting updated information on the status of the file, etc.
- The case will then be processed and await assignment to a “medical specialist”, and will often sit for a period of time, depending upon the backlog of retirement/disability retirement cases.
- If a Federal Disability Retirement application is approved at the Initial Stage of the process, then it will be forwarded to another section of OPM for payment processing. The CSA number that was originally assigned to the case will remain as the identifying claim number throughout the life of the annuity.
- If the Federal Disability Retirement application is denied at the Initial Stage of the process, then it will be placed in a “holding” file to see whether the applicant will file a Request for Reconsideration. The applicant whose Federal Disability Retirement application has been denied, has thirty (30) days from the date of the denial letter to “Request Reconsideration” of the case. If the applicant fails to so request reconsideration, then the rights of the applicant are foreclosed and the case is deemed “finished and dead”. Important note: A Request for Reconsideration must be filed within 30 days of the date of the letter — NOT from when the applicant receives the denial letter.
- If, within the thirty (30) day timeframe, the applicant files a Request for Reconsideration with the Office of Personnel Management, then the Federal Disability Retirement application is assigned to the Disability, Reconsideration & Appeals branch of the Office of Personnel Management, where a “Legal Administrative Specialist” will review the case anew.
- A “Request for Reconsideration” gives the applicant an additional thirty (30) days from the time the request is made if the applicant checks the appropriate box stating that additional medical or other documentation will be forwarded for consideration.
- If the Office of Personnel Management denies the Federal Disability Retirement application a second time, then the applicant has the right to file an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.
Thus, the Office of Personnel Management essentially has two (2) “bites at the apple”, before it is taken out of its hands and placed in the purview of an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). OPM will provide the denied applicant the address of the appropriate MSPB location with whom to file. From this point forward, the person at the Office of Personnel Management who will handle the case is no longer both “Judge and Jury”. Instead, there will be an Administrative Law Judge to hear both sides of the issue – a representative from the Office of Personnel Management to argue against approving the Federal Disability Retirement application, and the applicant to argue his or her case for approval – with or without an attorney.
Robert R. McGill, Esquire