Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

OWCP and retirement

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Q. I have been on OWCP for five years. I am 50. Do the years I’ve been on OWCP count toward my OPM retirement? I can retire at age 55.

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Disability retirement, rehiring and rights restoration

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Q. I was injured on the job in 1998. I applied for OPM disability retirement and Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs. OPM was approved first. I took that. Later, OWCP was approved and I spent nine years on OWCP. After that ended, I went back to retirement. Later, I was rehired by the government as a disabled annuitant. Am I entitled to a restoration of rights (5 USC 8151) for that time spent on OWCP (this would add nine years to my federal record)? I now work for the VA but was injured at INS. Can I apply to have the tenure of nine years restored by either VA or INS, or have I lost that nine years on OWCP? I note 5 CFR 353 seems to suggest I should get those nine years back not on retirement.

I applied for re-employment at INS when I recovered, and officials there never responded.

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Disability payments and survivor benefits

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Q. After 25 years of service, I was approved for OWCP disability. Now, 15 years later and at age 68, I am still receiving the annuity. If I die still receiving OWCP benefits, will my wife receive survivor benefits from my CSRS service? Should I leave the money in the CSRS or draw it out?

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Workers’ compensation rules

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Q. I have been an 1811 status (federal agent) federal employee for 16 years. I have been on leave without pay and receiving workers’ compensation for the past year due to an on-the-job injury.

I have received little if any guidance from my agency’s HR, as the representatives admit they have little or no experience with workers’ comp.

What should I do to maintain the best possible benefits for me and my family if this becomes a long-term/permanent situation and I am not able to return to work? And if I can return to work, how would the time on workers’ comp affect my retirement benefits etc.?

What survivor benefits will my spouse have if I die while on workers’ comp?

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Social Security Disability penalty and OWCP benefits

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Q. I am a former federal employee of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. I had 10 years of service when I sustained a work-related injury on federal status. This injury caused me to lose my military membership and then I was involuntarily separated from my federal job as well.

I was in the CSR retirement program when I was terminated and elected Office of Workers’ Compensation Program benefits although I was accepted for CSRS disability retirement. I accepted OWCP because I would receive military loss pay as well.  I was then put in a loss of wage earning capacity program on a permanent partial disability with OWCP.

I have worked in the private sector for the past 22 years and I was recently accepted for Social Security Disability. When my benefits were calculated, they were reduced 80 percent. SSDI stated I can not be enrolled in OWCP benefits without taking a reduction from SSDI.

Is there some type of provision which will allow me to collect SSDI full benefits, as they are basing my income on a job I lost in the federal sector 23 years ago?  I feel this is unfair and I was told by SSDI it’s the law whether they agree with it or not.

A. Unfortunately for you, it is the law.

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CSRS Disability Retirement vs. Workers’ Compensation

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Q. I am eligible for both CSRS Disability Retirement and Workers’ Compensation; therefore, I have the right to choose benefits from either.  I am receiving workers’ compensation.  I am 64.  Although medical evidence and evaluations, including second opinion examinations, show that I will never be able to work in any capacity (this has been the case for many years), OWCP does not consider me to be totally disabled according to its definition.  If I return to CSRS disability annuity, will my retirement still be considered “disability retirement”?  I know that I no longer have to provide annual medical reports; but I was told recently by an “expert” in OPM disability retirement and OWCP matters that after age 62, my retirement would not be a “disability retirement”.  OWCP is compensating me for certain medical bills.  Will OPM continue to compensate me for work related medical bills if I return to their rolls?

A. If you left workers compensation and moved to the CSRS disability retirement rolls, you’d be a disability retiree. FERS disability retirees are the only ones that are moved off the disability rolls and onto the retirement rolls when their annuities are recomputed at age 62. CSRS disability retirements aren’t recomputed.

OPM doesn’t compensate anyone for work related medical bills. If you are enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits program, any bills you might have would be handled through your carrier and treated the same as if you were a regular retiree.

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Retirement/OWCP

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Q. I represent an employee who retired with more than 42 years of service.  At one point, this employee was a WG-11. He was severely injured on the job and went under Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs. It paid his wages for a period of time. At a later date the facility created a “light duty position” around his permanent disability.  The position was set at a GS-4. This employee held this job for more than five years. Prior to his accepting this position, the facility coordinated with OWCP for it to continue to pay the “wage loss,” which was the difference between the WG-11 and the GS-4 pay. When he retired, he was told that his retirement was based on the GS-4 and that the amount continued to be paid by OWCP “wage loss” was not counted as remuneration, however, his time on OWCP all counted for time as a federal employee. The facility, by law reimburses OWCP for the amount it pays for “wage loss.”

Why would the federal government return this employee as a benefit to the government and then basically hold it against the employee for being injured on the job by not counting all his remuneration for retirement purposes.

 

A. You appear to misunderstand how annuities are calculated. An annuity isn’t based on the number of years an employee spends at a particular grade level. It’s based on a formula that uses his length of service and his highest three consecutive years of average salary, no matter where they occurred in his career. Here’s the formula:

0.0175 x high-3 x 5 years of service, plus

0.015 x his high-3 x 5 years of service, plus

0.02 x his high-3 x all remaining years and full months of service

His annuity would then be the sum of these three calculation.

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Workers’ comp and retirement

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Q: I have some medical expenses paid for under workers’ compensation because of an on-the-job accident. When I retire, will these medical expenses continue to be covered?

A: If your workers’ compensation benefits terminate or you elect to retire instead of remaining on workers’ compensation, payment for your medical expenses by the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs will end.

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OWCP and Social Security

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Q: I am a 66-year-old U.S. Postal Service employee who was born in 1944. I had planned to retire with 15 years of service this month; I thought that I would have recovered from on-the-job injuries by this time. I had already signed up for Social Security to begin on my 66th birthday (this month), but now my doctor says he needs to do more surgery on both arms before he will release me at maximum medical improvement. Also, I keep hearing that a voluntary early retirement is on the way and want to wait a little while to see.

Can I receive payments from Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs and Social Security at the same time? I know that 15 years of my Social Security benefits come from my USPS employment, but what about the other 35 years?

A: Nothing prevents you from receiving both your workers’ compensation payments and a Social Security benefit. Because you have already reached your full retirement age under Social Security, you may earn OWCP benefits without a reduction in you Social Security benefit.

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