FERS Disability Help

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Latest post Sat, Sep 3 2016 4:15 AM by AttyMcGill. 16 replies.
  • Sat, Aug 20 2011 9:51 PM

    • KCitons
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    FERS Disability Help

    I am in need of some answers.  The doctors notified my wife this week that she has a condition that will cause her to lose her vision.  It is currently effecting one eye, for which she is scheduled to begin treatment next week. She has been a mail carrier for 22 years, and with the Post Office for 28 years, and 12 years away from retirement age.

    Our state regulations require license holders to have 20/40 corrected vision in the best eye.  She is not there yet. But, we are exploring our options at this time.

    How should we approach applying for FERS Disability?  Should we apply as soon as she reaches the 20/40 stage. Knowing that she is legally not allowed to drive by state law?  or before it gets that bad.   I am assuming once she has knowledge that she is driving illegally, that she would be liable for any accident that occurred after that point.

    I have read the requirements for SSDI.  And they state that a persons vision has to be no better than 20/200 corrected in order to be deemed "legally blind"  and receive benefits.  Are we correct to believe that FERS would not use this same requirement.  It could take years for her eyes to deteriorate from 20/60 to 20/200.

    Also, what options does she have for continued Health Insurance Benefits during and after the move to FERS Disabilty?

    She is afraid to ask anyone at work for assistance at this time. As she's afraid they may take the opportunity to terminate her if given the chance.

    Thanks for any help during this difficult time.

  • Sat, Aug 20 2011 10:55 PM In reply to

    • I M Free
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    Re: FERS Disability Help

    There is no reason your wife shouldn't start the process as soon as possible. She can continue to work until she wins!  It is always important to have medical professionals who will support her case.  Certain Attorneys specialize in this as it involves some very specific legal & medical issues. I can't answer anything about SSDI, but you would  continue to receive your health & life benefits if you elect so and pay the applicable co-premiums, which are just a little more in retirement. 

  • Sun, Aug 21 2011 12:37 PM In reply to

    • msetting
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    Re: FERS Disability Help

    I agree, this is the time to apply for DR. You don't know what her vision will be like at a future given time and one of the essential elements of her job of carrier is driving. You do need an opthalmologist who will be able to write a narrative that will support her case and that a loss of vision will last at least 1 year. I don't know what the medical options are or what the condition is, but she will have problems with driving soon. I assume the vision loss is inevitable and not reversible. She could seek light duty, that doesn't require driving until she's approved for DR. But keep in mind that light duty is not an accommodation which could prevent approval.

    One thing she should not do is ask anyone at work for assistance for the reason you mention. Once she applies, management will know at some point anyway.

    As for SSDI, it is just the receipt that OPM needs as proof of application, to process her DR claim. While she may not qualify for SS in the near future, she can hold off continuing with the application for SSDI benefits. Or when and if her vision does deteriorate closer to SS's criteria (and yes, it is more stringent than FERS DR), she can always reapply.

  • Mon, Aug 22 2011 11:45 PM In reply to

    • KCitons
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    Re: FERS Disability Help

    Thanks for the quick respose.  We had another visit with the doctor this morning.  Originally, they were going to start giving her injections in one eye.  As of now the doctor wants to take a wait and see approach. Her condition is so rare that he's only seen 5 patients in his 12 years of pratice with this condition.  All but one of those patients were in there 70's and were not working.  He told us that the injections are only effective 30% of the time and that there is a chance they could make things worse or cause other problems.   On top of that he told us that the injections are not covered by insurance. (perhaps because they are not considered effective)  Normally, this condition calls for laser surgery, but with the location of the problems in her eyes, it is too close to her central vision and the surgery would be too risky.

    So, his plan of action is to wait, monitor the situation, and reevaluate in 5 weeks. If it gets worse, then he recommends the injections, since it will be worth the risk.  In the meantime he recommends waiting to get a new pair of glasses.  So, her eyes are 20/20 in the left eye and 20/60 in her right eye.  Technically, she is still legal to drive here in our state.

    On the bright side, I explained to him what I had learned about FERS Disability and he said if it comes to the point that she drops below 20/60 in both eyes he would fill out whatever paperwork needed to explain her condition and that she would be unable to drive at that time.

    We have gone through everything we can to estimate her high 3 and get a fairly close estimate as to how much her FERS disability payment will be the first year and the second year.   I am still trying to determine what deductions are taken out of the monthy payment.  I'm not sure what taxes will be withheld and how much our family health insurance will increase.  She currently pays around $150 per pay period.

    I am assuming we should wait, at least another month to see how this is going to progress.   I'm not sure if she could start the FERS D process, only to have her condition stablize for a couple of years,  would the PO allow this.

     

  • Tue, Aug 23 2011 7:27 AM In reply to

    Re: Reply: FERS Disability Help

    As your wife's condition would have to last for a minimum of 12 months in order to qualify for Federal Disability Retirement, and as your doctor is still unsure of her future medical status, you will have to wait.  Let's hope and pray that everything goes well, and that your wife can continue to work for many years into the future.

    Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

  • Tue, Aug 23 2011 12:33 PM In reply to

    • I M Free
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    Re: FERS Disability Help

    KCitons:

    Thanks for the quick response.  We have gone through everything we can to estimate her high 3 and get a fairly close estimate as to how much her FERS disability payment will be the first year and the second year.   I am still trying to determine what deductions are taken out of the monthly payment.  I'm not sure what taxes will be withheld and how much our family health insurance will increase.  She currently pays around $150 per pay period.

    I am assuming we should wait, at least another month to see how this is going to progress.   I'm not sure if she could start the FERS D process, only to have her condition stablize for a couple of years,  would the PO allow this.

     

    Deductions will be minimal. You will have Federal & State Tax taken out if applicable along with the cost for your FEHB benefits. To see the small  difference you would pay, look at your plan brochure and see what non postal workers pay for that same plan!  While I too would wait,  you might discuss the OPM disability requirements with your doctors, and make sure they will support your wife with the proper narratives indicating she will be unable to continue in her present position for a year or longer. As I mentioned before using a lawyer might really benefit you too. When you are ready consider contacting our Forum Attorney/Moderator as he specializes in working with Postal workers!

  • Mon, Mar 26 2012 5:00 PM In reply to

    • KCitons
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    Re: FERS Disability Help

    Just wanted to give an update with my wife's situation.  Since my post in August, my wife has received an injection in her right eye (the worse of her two eyes)  One month after the injection, there was no improvement from the procedure. As her eyes have gotten worse, we were referred to University of Iowa by her Dr. They are one of the leading researchers in the country for her condition.  

    After our first visit in December, the Doctors at U of I confirmed that she has macular telangiectasia (mactel)   Unfortunately, very little information is known about the cause and there is no cure.   Dr's gave my wife some medication to try for 90 days and advised her to get new glasses to help with her visual acquity.  Her eye test during the visit was 20/50 in her left eye and 20/100 in her right eye.  The local opthomatrist was able to correct her vision to 20/30 in the left and 20/50 in the right.  So, she was happy to see things more clearly.

    We had our 90 day followup visit last week.  Unfortunately, the drugs do not appear to have helped.  Her vision test shows that her eyes have worsened to 20/40 in her left eye and 20/60 in her right over the past 3 months.  This visit was with the Dr that is involved with the MacTel Project, which is a collaboration of Dr's from around the world.   He reiterated that there is no cure for this disease and the current drug has seen mixed results.   The MacTel project only has 80 patients between the U.S. and England involved in the study.   He suggested continuing with the drug for another 90 days and return for another checkup.

    I was able to find U.S. Post Office vision requirements for her job.  Employees must have one eye corrected to 20/40 or better and the worse eye can be no worse than 20/200.   With the current decline of her vision, we are concerned that her next visit may show that her vision is moved beyond that range and would be unable to fit the perameters of the job description.

    I am wondering if we should start the Fers Disability process now?  We are still concerned that management may try to find any reason possible to fire her, once they find out about the filing.  Is this something we should worry about? or will she be protected either way? 

    At her current rate of decline, she may also become eligible for SSD in a couple of years.  But, I know we have to file either way in regards to Fers Dis.  (SSD requires both eyes to be worse than 20/200 to be eligible)

    We are trying to estimate what the deductions will be from her Fers Disability Check.  Is it a percentage based on your tax bracket? (15%)  or a set amount?

    Sorry for the long post, but we have so many questions and so few places to go for answers.

  • Mon, Mar 26 2012 5:33 PM In reply to

    • Kivi
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    Re: FERS Disability Help

    Unless her physicians are on board, I would not start the FERS disability process until you are 100% positive that they will say in writing that her vision is worse than Postal standards, even with correction, and that the condition will not improve wihin the next year.

    BTW, your spouse will have to file for SSDI as part of this process. She does not need to be approved for SSDI, but she will have to file and get a reciept indicating that she has filed.

    I believe that OPM typically withholds as married with three exemptions, unless the annuitant specifies something different. Your wife also likely could just do estimated quarterly taxes and not have any withholding whatsoever.

     

  • Mon, Mar 26 2012 5:43 PM In reply to

    • KCitons
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    Re: FERS Disability Help

    Thanks Kivi

    Each Dr that has seen my wife has been very supportive in regards to working with Fers Disability. We explained our situation in regards to her not being able to work and they said they would provide whatever documents needed.  I get the feeling that they know the prognosis is bleak. 

    I understand that she will have to file for SSDi, in order for a Fers offset if she is elibible. Should both FD and SSdi be filed at the same time?

    Not sure what you mean by estimated quarterly taxes? 

    There are so many moving parts to this whole situation, it's very confusing.

  • Mon, Mar 26 2012 7:47 PM In reply to

    • Kivi
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    Re: FERS Disability Help

    My spouse is retired. He actually receives a pension from the state of California. He pays estimated quarterly taxes in  lieu of having the taxes withheld from his pension.

    In our case, we do have a tax preparer who prepares the estimates and we just mail in the voucher with the payment on a quarterly basis. There are certain due dates. I don't have them handy at the moment. I believe that our last estimated quarterly payment was due 01/15/2012 and that was for 2011. We are still awaiting the details of our 2011 return, but the estimated payments for 2012 will probably be similar to what we paid in 2012. My income has been flat and I don't believe that he got a pension increase. My spouse is also self-employed, but I believe the income from the business in 2011 was similar to what it was in 2010.

    I would file the SSDI application first so that she will have that receipt handy when she files the OPM application.

    I would not worry about the employer "firing her", but if she cannot drive, for example, it is possible that the local Post Office will not have enough office work to keep her employed on a full-time basis. So, she might have to request LWOP (or sick/annual leave), for hours between those that she actually works and the 80 hours that are typical of the biweekly pay periods used in most of the Federal government. Most agencies will carry an employee on LWOP pending a decision on an application for a disability retirement.

  • Tue, Mar 27 2012 9:58 AM In reply to

    • KCitons
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    Re: FERS Disability Help

    OK, thanks.  

    So you're just paying your taxes ahead of time. 1/4th each time throughout the year instead of paying 1/12th with each monthly check?   Is there a tax savings for doing this?  I am assuming that by paying quarterly, you avoid overpayment and a tax refund each year (keeping more money in your pocket throughout the year)  In our case, I'm wondering if the cost of paying a tax preparer would cost us as what we could save.

    She has 4-5 months of Sick Leave and Annual Leave built up.   (I have read different things on how these two benefits would be awarded for Fers Dis)  So, LWOP would be a last option. We would like to use all of her SL/AL if possible anyway, since it keeps her wage/benefits the same for as long as possible.

     I'm not sure how the Post Office would handle the situation.  As I understand it, once she applies for the Fers Dis, the post office has the option to reassign her to another position that fits within her ability.  Since every job at the post office has the same vision requirements, I don't know where they would put her.  (she could be hazard to others and herself)    I don't belive that they can just send her home without pay.   If she is physically unable to perform any task at the PO due to her eyes, then they are basically agreeing that she qualifies for Fers Disability. 

    If they want reassign her to another position that they feal she can do, we are all for that as well.   Staying at her same salary and benifits would be the best solution for us.  

    At this point, I guess we are going to have to wait another 3 months to see what her next appointment shows.  If her eyes worsen any more, she will be past the point of being able to drive, so we will have no choice but to start filing for both SSDi and Fers Dis

  • Tue, Mar 27 2012 10:47 AM In reply to

    • Kivi
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    Re: FERS Disability Help

    Yes. However, your estimates need to be fairly close to what you would owe for the year come April 15th. If you are more than 10% off on your estimates and you underpay, the IRS can impose a penalty. This one probaby would not be much of an issue for you as her income, once her retirement is finalized likely will be pretty stable. My spouse is self-employed as well as collecting that pension. If he were to have an exceptionally "good year" with the business, we might trip over this one. So far, in this economy, that has not happened.

    Just something to be aware of. Once she OPM  finalizes her retirement, figure out what your overall tax liability would be and then peg her withholding to make up any shortfall between what you may have withheld from your pay for your job and what you likely would owe as a married couple at the end of hte year. I am not a fan of big refunds form the IRS. Pay what you owe as you go, if you don't want to deal with estimates and may be add $50 bucks or so, just in case your estimate is off a litte. That way you either are getting a small refund from the IRS or you will only owe a very small amount when the time comes to file. 

    In the Post Office, there tend to be a lot of rules, some of which are related to turf issues with the various unions, about reassignments, but she might be able to snag something short term while her disability retirement application is pending with OPM.

  • Tue, Mar 27 2012 11:32 AM In reply to

    • KCitons
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    Re: FERS Disability Help

    Thanks Kivi,

    I understand your husbands business adds to the tax calculations.  With our situation being fluid, we will need to keep an eye on things.

    Our biggest concern right now is the transition period from the day her eyes become too bad to continue working through the point that we know what her monthly income (including deductions for medical/taxes/etc)   

    The good news is that we spent the last 5 years eliminating as many bills as possible.  We have no car payments, no credit cards, we turned off cable over a year ago (stream shows via computer only) and I just put the last house payment in the mail today.   So, I know we are better off than most people out there.  

    The bad news, we worked to eliminated bills so that I could go back to school and get a degree,  I have one year under my belt. We have been living off her income during this time, but it looks like I will be job hunting soon.  (not sure what type of job I can get without a degree)  We also have a 15 year old daughter that has diabetes and without insurance coverage the bills could become out of control.  

    With a little bit of calculating,  we know her FERS Dis will amount to around $2400 the first year and $2200 after that.    We had also built our savings to cover a years worth of her salary. 

    It's going to be a balancing act for a few years.

  • Sat, Jul 16 2016 8:03 PM In reply to

    • KCitons
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    Re: FERS Disability Help

    Just wanted to give an update on our situation. During the doctor visit last fall, my wife's vision moved beyond the 20/50 requirements and was issued night driving restrictions on her drivers license. She notified her manager on Nov 23, 2015 of her condition and requested reasonable accomodations. After losing her original paperwork, the request was resubmitted. We had to respond to additional requests for medical documentation, and had a phone call where there was some discussion about reassigning her to a different position. Only for them to realize all Postal positions have the same minimum vision requirement. We have yet to receive any formal documentation approving or denying the request for accomodations. In March we submitted paperwork formally requesting Disability Retirement. We've had the phone call with the rep that is handling our case and have been assigned a case number. 

    We filed an EEOC complaint at the end of May, due to there being no response to our request for resonable accomodations. We gave EEOC a 30 day extension. But, as of this week, they are telling us that the request is still in review by legal and there is no word as to when it may be completed. We are under the assumption that the DR request should go through, but we have yet to receive any payment at this time. She is currently on LWOP since the end of April.

    I'm wondering what would happen if she was to show up for work one morning? Would they have to admit that she can't do her job and send her home? Or would they put her on light duty until a ruling is made?

  • Wed, Jul 20 2016 3:56 AM In reply to

    Re: FERS Disability Help

    Unfortunately, there is no predictable answer to the question you pose.  From your scenario and description of the agency, it is likely that they would simply send her home.  As a practical concern, however, going back to work would mean that the agency would pay her for the time there, even for an hour.  If she has been on LWOP since the end of April, she would be entitled to back pay once her disability retirement is approved, back to the last time the agency paid her anything.  As such, if she were to show up and they paid her anything, all such potential back pay would vanish, as her "last day of pay" would be moved up to the day she appeared at work.

    Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

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