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The U.S. Postal Service and Federal Disability Retirement: The National Reassessment Program, the Agency and the Worker

The U.S. Postal Service has, for many years, been a “good employer” for thousands of hard-working Postal employees.  By ascribing the term “good”, of course, one enters into the dangerous territory of different experiences in a wide-range of sectors across the United States, for just as there are “good” and “bad” people, there are good and bad Post Offices, Postmasters, Supervisors, Rural and City Carriers, Maintenance and Electronic Technicians, Clerks, Distribution Clerks, Mail Handlers, etc.  Individuals determine the moral and ethical designation of “good” or “bad”; individuals collectively make up an organization, which is reflective of the type, character and tenor of the individuals within that organization.

Thus, by the conceptual term “good employer”, is merely meant that it has allowed for thousands of hard-working, productive Postal employees to earn a decent wage. “Goodness” of an agency comes about because of good people, and if goodness is in any way determined or defined by the hard work of the majority of the people of any organization, then it is indisputable that the Postal Service, all things considered, is indeed a good agency.

Changes have been in the works.  And they continue to alter the landscape of the U.S. Postal Service.

For many years, when an on-the-job injury occurred, and an OWCP claim was filed, despite the onerous provisions of the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA), it allowed for temporary compensation benefits, including wage-loss benefits for total or partial disability, monetary benefits for permanent loss of use of a schedule member, medical benefits, as well as vocational rehabilitation. Yes, FECA is a hassle.  Remember, however, that FECA was never created as a “Retirement System” – but rather, as a means to temporarily compensate the injured worker while attempting to provide for rehabilitation resulting in an eventual return to work.   To that end, even when the injured employee never fully recovered, the Postal Service, in cooperation with OWCP, would attempt to offer various “light duty” or “modified duty” assignments, so that the Postal employee could be retained in a productive capacity.

There is actually nothing wrong with the U.S. Postal Service offering ‘light duty’ or ‘modified assignments’ over the years.  Now, however, with the onerous sweep of the National Reassessment Program (NRP) which is effectively telling all Postal Workers who are not “fully productive” that there are no more “light duty” assignments remaining; no longer can you remain in a “modified duty” position.  You are sent home with a terse explanation that there is no work for you, and you may file for OWCP benefits.  However, only a fool would believe that OWCP benefits will last forever.

What is the choice?  What alternatives are left?  Because Federal Disability Retirement benefits will often take 6 – 8 months to apply for and get approved, it is a good idea to start the process as early as possible.  You may stay on OWCP for as long as you can, or for the length of time FECA allows you to receive such benefits, but there will be a day, sooner than later, when such benefits will be cut off – either through

“vocational rehabilitation” (Translation:  find you a job, any job, that pays at or near what your Postal job paid, and be able to argue that you are no longer entitled to OWCP benefits), referral to an “Independent Second Opinion Doctor” who may look at you (or perhaps not even look at you) and spend five minutes before declaring that you have no residual symptoms and you should be able to return to full duty (Translation:  no more OWCP benefits, but we all know you can’t go back to carrying mail or performing the heavy lifting, bending, pushing, reaching grasping, etc.).

Would you qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS?  Assume the following hypothetical:  X suffers from bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, or perhaps from chronic back pain, failed back syndrome, or chronic pain throughout one’s musculature; it originated from an OTJ injury, accepted by OWCP, and for a decade X worked in a modified light duty job.  The job is no longer in existence (by the way, the fact that such a job is now “no longer in existence” is precisely what attorneys who specialize in Federal Disability Retirement benefits have been arguing for years – that a ’modified light duty’ does NOT constitute an accommodation under the law, precisely because it was merely a temporary position with an ad hoc set of duties, and nothing more).  Can you qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits?

Hint:  Note what the Administrative Judges at the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board stated in the case of Selby v. OPM, Docket #SF-844E-05-0118-I-1, decided June 9, 2006:  “The fact that he was receiving two hours of workers compensation a day also buttresses his claim that his injuries prevented him from performing many of the critical elements of his position.”  In other words, any granting of receipt of OWCP benefits (in this particular case, it was compensation for 2 hours per day, but the argument can be extended to include any amount of compensation) only reinforces and supports (“buttresses”) the argument by a Postal Worker that he or she could not perform the full panoply of the essential elements of one’s job.  Being able to work the full 8 hours in the full description of one’s craft job, is what is required.  Otherwise, it is likely that you qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

The National Reassessment Program is merely reflective of a wider economic trend; technological changes have altered the landscape of labor-intensive jobs; automation is the focal emphasis in every agency and department; budgetary considerations result in the “bottom-line” approach to personnel decisions.  Where does it all lead to, and what does it all mean for the Postal Worker?  If you believe that, after 20 years of faithful service, after having shown that you are a “good” employee, that such faithful loyalty will be returned “in kind”, while your naiveté may be commendable, your may be sorely disappointed in the manner in which the Agency will treat you.  If the NRP impacts you, you need to make some pragmatic decisions, and one of them may well be to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Do you have a medical condition or disability which would qualify?  Often, the question is asked whether or not Psychiatric conditions are more difficult to qualify under the criteria of Federal Disability Retirement.  The spectrum of psychiatric conditions, from Major Depression, Anxiety, panic attacks, Asperger’s Syndrome, Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, etc., are all medical conditions which, if they prevent you from performing one or more of the essential elements of your job, would qualify you for a Federal Disability Retirement annuity.  Psychiatric cases are no more difficult these days than “physical” disabilities.

In this day and age, it is unfortunate but true, that there has arisen a contentious relationship – between “the Agency” and “the Postal Worker”.  Both are supposed to constitute a single organic entity, unified in purpose; but where the Agency has initiated a deliberate program to “weed out” those Postal Workers – regardless of the years of faithful service – who, because of an ongoing medical condition, are considered to be less than “fully productive”, then it is time for the Postal Worker, whether the Clerk, the Postmaster, the EAS Supervisor, the Maintenance Technician, the Electronic Technician, the Rural Letter Carrier, the City Letter Carrier, or the multitude of countless other important jobs performed at the U.S. Postal Service – time to tap into a benefit which has always been there, but has often been unused, underused or ignored:  Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

14 comments to The U.S. Postal Service and Federal Disability Retirement: The National Reassessment Program, the Agency and the Worker

  • Sherry Morrish

    I have been waiting for a reply from OPM post-retirement since Feb 2009. I have emailed, called, written letters, and sent requested information in a timely fashion.
    My annuity I believe is 250. less than I am entitled.

  • Cynthia Weaver

    I went out on disability retirement after a qualifying back condition as well as CTS. Now as I face my 62nd birthday next summer, I am fear-stricken with how I am to survive when they “adjust” my annuity to reflect what will then be only 18.5 years of service.After they deduct my family health plan, i’ll get next to nothing. No way would I normally have been able to retire at age 62 had I continued to be able to work. My question is can I go back to work before I reach that age and try to hold down my PTR clerk job? Is worker’s comp required to find me another part-time postions here if my job is filed now? And why was I not entitled to an award for my conditions? The back injury was aggravated by my years on the job, and the cts was directly caused by it. I am under Fers..
    I am asking why they are only required to cover me until I am 62 when normal retirement age is 65?

  • Belle Joco

    I was sent home by the management 2 weeks ago due to no work available for me. I have bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome and bilateral foreamrs tendonitis. Will I be qualified to apply for Disability Retirement? Im on modified status, so what is my chance of getting approved when I apply for Federal Disability Retirement? Whom can I get in touch with?

  • Karl Schluth

    CSRS Employee here with 32 years Federal Serivce Age 52. I needed to have my knee replaced in june (I am a letter carrier) and obviously I will not be able to carry mail again. USPS continues to keep me out of work and on comp (my medical profile states that I am able to do a desk job). My issue is since I was hurt on the job and it is a disabling condition why can’t I just retire with out penalty? I did not ask to get hurt, it is the USPS fault that I got hurt and I am suppossed to take a 6% penatly because I am not old enough? Our illustious leader is retiring with 32 years of service but because he is 55 he do not get penalized but Ihave more time than him and I get hurt on the job and I get penalized? Anyone who cares to try to help me email me xxxxxxxxxxxx@xxxxxxxx.xxx

  • I would like a copy of my retirement award letter asap thank you

  • Mary

    I have had 3 knee surgerys in the last year. I have been off work on workcomp for over a year now. With all this sending everyone home who has any problems at all how long can I collect workcomp and where would I stand with disablity retirement? I have 17 yrs in. I have permanent restictions also for having 3 shoulder surgerys. Right now even after 3 surgerys on this one knee I still have a 14 degree bend in my knee and also trouble bending my knew very far.

  • Sally Ann Adamssa

    I was wondering if I can still get benefits through FECA if I apply for disability retirement under FERS?

  • Judy Stump

    I am currently receiving CSRS/OWCP disability for total disability. I had 32 years with USPS, 11 while working a Light Duty Assignment. I am 59, have permanent nerve damage to both arms from Cubital Tunnel Syndrum (elbows). I understand that I am allowed to earn the remaining 25% of lost income. I asked my OWCP claim examiner to please explain this prosess to me but still have not received anything. I was removed from service through their NRP, 11-10-2008. I was a letter carrier but my light duty assignment was all clerk work. I was on limited Retirement/disability until OWCP accepted the claim, then switched to OWCP, this took 20 months. My work restrictions are 5 lbs, 20 occasionally, no push or pull which exceeds 45 lbs of force, no repetitive motion, can use a muscle group for 30 minutes then must switch to a different muscle group or receive 10 min break. Can I seek employment to make up the lost 25% as long as that employment is in my work restrictions like driving School Bus.

  • Linda Winkelman

    I’m under csrs with 29 yrs in the postal office.I was put on the nrp on 03-11-11. I have tenditious in both elbows since 4-1-98. This was due casing all that mail in the 80’s and 90’s. Since, 1999 I was doing a 3 hrs carrier work then did clerk work for the other 5 hrs. Now I get 4 hours of work w/hour lunch! OWCP is paying the difference at 66%. I waited for 13 months for the Union and USPS to have a hearing in my case. After the 13 months I had to wait almost 2 months for the arbitrator to decide my case. It was not favorable toward me. The ruling was for us to decide district and locally for my job in a 8 hr status. I called my postmaster to find out if he was going to give me more than 4 hrs a day and he said no. I told him over the phone that i was done and was going to retire. I use up the rest of my annual. He (pm) told me I should retire and get an office job somewhere. I’m also on light duty since 2004 when I was put on a lung transplant. I continued working up until 1-11-08 when i received the lung. May- 3rd-08 I returned to work doing the office work I was doing since 1999. I was on oxygen at work for a year before being called for lung. In Aug 2011 I had neck surgery and still having pain in that area. I told neck doctor not to put restrictions on that,so I could keep my job,even tho it was for 4hrs. Anyhow, I’m cannot get my retirement because usps didn’t offer early retirement for carriers. Now, I have to go back to work for 4hrs or less doing work my lung dr. doesn’t want me to do! Gas money costs me more that I’m earning and I feel I got stepped on pretty hard emotionally, physically and monetary plus my pride. So, my question is can I now go ahead and go out on disability.Would that be better disable or stick it out for my retirement? Yes, I am still in pain,plus I have to watch humidity – weather on lung and elbows do bother me.

  • Vicki K. Matin

    I asked my postmaster for reasonable accomadations after they jst move me to a 4am job and now have been informed they are going to perform a DRAC on me. Because of having PTSD and 10 LB LIFTNG RESTRICTIONS no bendig stooping, etc I’ve been told they will probably say they have no work available and put me off the clock but it would not be under the NRP. Im a disabled veteran and was hired with these restrictions 10 yrs ago and there has never been a problem until now. The postmaster said if they told me they had no work available that I could go out on medical disability. Dont know if I should fight the DRAC or if its true about the medial disability. If the medical disabilty is possible, what would the process be? I have twins at home and cant afford to be without income.

  • willie

    i am a disabled veteran at 70%. i work for the usps as a mechanic for 20years plus 4 years in the army.i had surgery on my feet about 2 years ago and they are still giving me problems. my supervisor say we don’t have lite duty in maintenance.so when my feet hurt to bad to go to work i stay home . he told me the other day to watch my call ins.i was wondering would it be hard for me to get diability retirement for my feet?

  • Mario Quintanilla

    I work for the Postal Service and now I’m on a limited duty assignment. I have bilateral shoulder surgery. My DR. suggested that he will give disability due to fact that the pain in my shoulder have increased due to the job requirements. My concern is that in a few month I will be 66 years of age and I read an article about how after 66 you can’t apply for OWCP Disability Retirement.

  • B BISHOP[

    My husband is 66 and had not planned on retiring untill 68. He is on sick leave due to less than
    20% function of his heart. Can he apply for Disability?

  • BEV BISHOP

    This is the first question I have ever asked of you. My husband has systolic heart failure with
    less than 20% of his heart functioning. He turned 66 in Febuary. He wants to apply for Disability is this possible?

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