Federal Disability Retirement benefits for Postal Employees: The OWCP Option versus OPM

The National Reassessment Program’s (NRP) primary option for Postal employees who are not “fully productive” (interpretation:  anyone who cannot perform the full panoply of all of the essential elements of one’s job) is for the Postal employee to file for OWCP benefits.  A letter from the NRP will allegedly state that they have searched for all available work and have concluded that the Postal Service is unable to accommodate the Postal employee based upon the medical conditions identified.  The option:  file for benefits from the Department of Labor, Officer of Workers’ Compensation Programs.

Complacency allows for a period of peacefulness and peace of mind.  The operative concept (and critical juncture of concern) is that such peace of mind exists “for a period” of time.  OWCP compensation – designed as a mechanism to allow for a Postal employee to recuperate from an injury or a medical condition incurred while “on the job” or during the course of performing his or her occupational duties – is primarily meant for a temporary period of time.  Thus, TTD (temporary total disability) payments are made to Postal employees during the time of medical treatment and temporary disability, with the goal being that the Postal employee will return to work.  Further, compensation for the permanent disability suffered (identified as a “scheduled award”) is determined once a Postal employee has reached “Maximum Medical Improvement”, and when a percentage disability rating can be ascribed to an individual.  The paradigm of OWCP is therefore based upon the projected conceptual framework that it is temporary, compensatory for a set period of time, in order to allow for the eventual return of a Postal worker to his or her craft duties.

The reality of the situation, of course, is that many Postal workers in every craft imaginable – Letter Carriers (Rural or City), Mail Handlers, Mail Processing Clerks, Maintenance Workers, Sales, Service & Distribution Clerks, etc. – can be placed (and have been placed) on OWCP rolls and often “forgotten” for years, and sometimes decades (note the plural).  Such long-term payments, generous by some standards (75% of the gross salary for those with dependents; 66 2/3% for those without), can lead to a sense of complacency and comfort.

The problem with complacency and comfort, however, is that a Postal Worker can remain on the rolls of OWCP, receive the “temporary total disability” payments for years and years, and suddenly be informed that he or she is no longer disabled, has recovered, and therefore is no longer entitled to OWCP compensation. Perhaps the Postal Worker is directed to undergo an “Independent Medical Examination” – identified, compensated by, and directed to, by the Department of Labor, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs – to determine the feasibility of going back to work, and to establish the extent of the disability (if any).  Suddenly, the Postal worker who has enjoyed the complacency of being on the OWCP rolls for these many years sees a sudden termination of benefits.  Yes, there are appeal procedures.  Yes, there are recourses and the right to have a “referee doctor” make a further determination.  But after months of such appeals (during which time the former Postal Worker has received no compensation), while reinstatement of TTD benefits may become a reality, one often realizes that OWCP is not a permanent solution – precisely because it was never designed or meant to be such.

The further option that every Postal Worker must consider, of course, is to prepare, formulate, and file for Post Office Disability Retirement benefits under either FERS or CSRS, from the Office of Personnel Management.  This can be done concurrently with receiving and being on the rolls of OWCP – by filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, then opting to stay on OWCP and placing the approved Federal Disability Retirement annuity into an “inactive” status – as a back-up system in the event of termination of OWCP benefits.

The problem of complacency in receiving OWCP benefits is that there are too many Postal Workers who are unaware of the distinction between OWCP and OPM Disability Retirement.  The mere fact that OPM Disability Retirement pays less than OWCP benefits is not a reason not to file – if not to replace OWCP benefits, then to at least obtain them as a back-up to OWCP.  Failing to file for the benefits in a timely manner results in foregoing – forever -the right to file for such benefits.  At some point, Postal Workers on the rolls of OWCP become “separated from Federal Service” – meaning thereby that the Postal Service takes the Postal Worker off from the rolls, stops sending the “0-balance” paystubs, and issues a PS Form 50 of generating an administrative personnel action separating the Postal employee from the U.S. Postal Service and the Federal Service.  At that point of separation, the Postal Worker has 1-year to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under either FERS or CSRS, from the Office of Personnel Management.  Failure to file within that 1-year timeframe results in abdicating a right to ever file.  Then, many years later, when that letter arrives from the Department of Labor directing the Postal Worker to undergo an “Independent Medical Examination” by a doctor who seemingly is a Fellow and Member of every qualifying medical association, and is compensated by OWCP for his time and energy – the Postal Worker’s concerns about possible termination of benefits will not only become a reality, but a potential financial crisis.

Further, if a Postal Worker wants to work at another job, one who is on OWCP is unable to do so.  On the other hand, those who receive a Federal Disability Retirement annuity from the Office of Personnel Management are, under the law, allowed to go out and make up to 80% of what one’s former Postal job currently pays – on top of the Federal Disability Retirement annuity one receives.  Thus, while OWCP payments often engender complacency, there is a built-in incentive to the Postal Worker to prepare, formulate, and file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management – and then to start a second career, while having the time on disability retirement count towards the total number of years of Federal Service, so that when the disability annuity is recalculated at age 62 and converted to regular retirement, the time on disability retirement is counted.

These are all factors which must be thoughtfully considered.  Whatever the decision made, a Postal employee who fails to understand the distinctions between OWCP and OPM Disability Retirement may rue the day sometime in the future – far or near, one never knows based upon the capricious whim of the Department of Labor, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs – when that termination letter arrives in the mailbox.  All options should be considered, and preparing, formulating and filing for OPM Disability Retirement benefits is an option which should not only be “considered”, but concretely filed for.

14 thoughts on “Federal Disability Retirement benefits for Postal Employees: The OWCP Option versus OPM

  1. My husband is a USPS letter carrier with 17yrs service. He is also a military retiree rated 50% with a 10% rating on his back. He fell out of his mail truck while loading and injured his back. He has been treated by doctors under an approved claim and they are now seeking approval with OWCP to fuse some vertebrae. He is currently out on TTD (temp. total dis) pending surgery. He has 2 VA appeals in process at this moment, one for PTSD from Vietnam and one for his back. He has a 10% rating on his back and is now under an approval claim for back injury from USPS. If he receives compensation from VA for the back and then also OWCP compensation (work LWOP status) will he subsquently be asked to return compensation to one or the other entity?

  2. Thanks for all the information. I has hesitated to file for disability until i read your coloum. I just recieved my approval letter and wonder does this go into affect immediatelty or do i have the option to stay on owcp roll? Thanks for your help.

  3. January 2000 I fell down the equivalent of 2 flights of steps. I filled out a CA-1 went to TUH immediately afterwards & to Novacare for follow-up care. I returned to work. I need help! My supervisor crushed me between my postal vehicle & her car in 2004. Since then I have been limited-duty. September 2010 my back was dropped from the case & my knees were given 5% disability and my case was closed. I still have back problems! I began going to a chiropractor on my own, he tells me the osteophytes that are lining my spine are consistent with the traumatic injury of falling down the steps 10-12 years ago. XXX-XXX-XXXX

  4. Continued
    I need to know what do I do next, I am 45 & constantly in pain. I want to sue EVERYBODY the DOL, the P.O., the people with the painted steps(11 years ago), the doctor that has me addicted to narcotics since 2004 & allowed osteophytes to festering & grow along my spine & the owcp doctor that tried to sway other doctors by stating there is nothing wrong with me. I really want to run my car into him while he stands behind his vehicle and see what type of injury he sustains.

  5. Where do I start? Iam 95% sure I will not be able too do my job.I am a mail carrier and there is no light duty, if I were be able too return with limitations I would not be allowed too. I really need to start whatever I am going too do. I have been out of work for four months. I have been told I could lose my job if I am for a year. Where do I start?

  6. I filed with OPM within the one year time limit and opted to stay on OWCP as I did not want to be penalized for taking my disability retirement too soon, as I’m under age 62. I am presently in a “inactive status”.

    After 9 years on OWCP I got the OWCP Second Opinion doctor who saw me for 3 min. and said he understands I cannot do my original job BUT I can do some other job sitting for 8 hours a day.

    my back and hips are shot and there is plenty of medical documentation, x-rays, etc. to show that. Should I now file AGAIN to get my OPM disabilty retirement, cuz they say I can’t get it while I’m on OWCP.

    Also, will they even still allow me to have it with this new 2nd opinion report. I did 20 good years in the military and I’m eligible for retirement, Haven’t I put my years in as a dual status employee???

  7. I have been off work since 2008 and have been on s.s. disability due to an altercation from my postmaster . I filed first with OWCP , due to the doctors taking a very long time with testing / different doctor exams / treatments , I had no diagnosis and my claim was denied , it became clear after I was finally diagnosis that I would not be returning to work . I refiled with owcp again , I have yet to hear back from them or have ANY of my medical bills paid which have caused alot of problems . I filed for disability retirement from the postal service and it was accepted , however , they are only going back to the date of my filing , not the date of my occupational injury , nor do they, pay the medical bills . The doctors that diagnosis me as perm. disabled , I developed ( fibromyalgia ) the following day after the postmaster verbally attacked me in a threatening manner which was witnessed as it was on the open floor . The medication I have been taking for fibromyalgia has caused me to develope liver diesease as well , which added to my medical billing . S.S. disability and OPM both accepted my claim immediately , why is owcp causing more stress , this only aggravates my condition . I have sent them NUMEROUS doctor reports , medications list , doctors I seen , test taken , witness reports to the postmasters actions ( one was even from the officer in charge ) ” postmaster assistant ” , my report , a letter of what my duties are , why am I being denied and what more do they want or need and if they denie again , shouldn’t opm have to go back to my last day of work rather than last year , 2008 was the date of injury , 2010 of Sept was the date of my opm filing and acceptance , it is also when the postal service seperated me . My owcp claim is still open in this matter , I have not allowed it to close , I DO want my medical billings paid , I want the money due me from my last day of work until opm began , the delay is REALLY causing additional problems . Thank you , Pat

  8. I was sent home under NRP, OWCP sent me to school for rehab. I’m now working and would like to stop my OWCP payments and recieve my OPM so that I can get my schedule award payment. Already approved right when I was sent home under nrp. I’ve already been approve for OPM, will owcp take my schedule award money for payments they were sending me?

    Thanks

  9. I have been off work since June 2011…had 3 surgeries on my should….have reached MMI, have had FCE stating that I cannot lift over 5 lbs with my left arm EVER again. Permanent disability, two doctors agree (one is my doctor, the other is the OWCP’s 2nd opinion doctor). I am not back to work as the post office has nothing for me to do. On roll with OWCP, just got a letter saying that I am to see a Vocational Rehab Specialist. Can I file for my Schedule Award NOW?

  10. Is a common law wife of a late USPS disability retired person, has survivors benefits? There are no other susvivors.

  11. I was injured on duty I was given permanent restrictions from my doctor stating that I could walk/stand 2 hours and rest for 15 min. I had bilateral plantar fascia surgury. My last surgury was in 2011 since since then my problem worsened I stared to receive constant burning pain my doctor related to me that I have Periheral Neuropathy he change my restrictions on 1 Aug 2013 to walk/stand 15 minutes out of a hour. When I gave these restrictions to my manager she said she did not have work available for me and sent me home. I asked her for a CA7 and related to her that she needed to send a letter to OWCP stating she did not have work available to me in regards to my new restrictions. She will not send the letter, department of labor cannot process my CA7 because of this. I have spoken to Injury comp and left phone calls with my managers boss he will not return calls. What can I do, I have been out of work since 6 August 2013.

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