Federal Disability Retirement under FERS and CSRS: The Postal Worker, DRAC, and Accommodations

By Robert R. McGill, Federal Disability Retirement Attorney

rrmc2014Change is an inevitable phenomenon. The anomaly of life is that change is the single stability of expectation. From ancient times, beginning with the Pre-Socratic Greek Philosopher, Parmenides, there has always been a recognition that constancy of flux is an inevitability, and beyond the proverbial certainty of death and taxes, the one thing we can count on is that change will occur in this fast-paced, technological society of ours. This is never truer than in this modern age.

For the Postal Worker of today, the concept of change has become a stability of repetitious boredom. Over the past 20 years, the downward spiral of the U.S. Postal System, both in terms of competitive service and public reputation, has been like a slow-moving film filled with scenes of agony and torturous predictability. From 1775 when the Second Continental Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin to be the first Postmaster General, to 1970 when the U.S. Postal Service became severed from being a tax-supported Federal Agency and transformed into a revenue-neutral, semi-Federal Agency (some would say “neutered”), the heyday of the U.S. Postal Service has witnessed its progressive and steady decline since. Perhaps it is in part due to the decline of a sense of community; the pervasive headache of having gained the reputation of “going postal”; the scandalous top-tiered lavishing of jaunts and stories of mistreatment of the backbone of the Postal Service – the craft Postal employee; watching the decline of an organization and entity once considered the most efficient system of delivery in the world, is indeed an agonizing process akin to the proverbial Chinese water torture.

But what does the public really know about the Postal Service, and the Postal Worker of today? Other than the brief and sporadic 2 – 3 minute encounter with the Window Clerk every so often to resolve a delivery problem; or the happenstance quick hello when the Postal vehicle comes to the community mail box to place the mail in each delivery slot; the busy world has no time for the Postal Worker of today, except to note the problems, when they occur, in the delivery of mail. And as efficiency has progressively forced the requirement of less contact between the Letter Carrier and the public being served, so the distancing of human contact has resulted in greater suspicion and mistrust.

But it is precisely within the world of change in which we live, where expectations of instantaneous delivery of information, and where the daily advance of technology has attuned and habituated the general public to expect more for less, that there exists an increasing sense of trouble looming in our midst. Postmasters and other upper level management employees receive salary increases, but in an organization where the essence of its very success is defined by the physical labor of processing, distributing and delivering mail – mechanics of physical exertions little changed from the days of Ben Franklin — it is a self-defeating endeavor to ignore and fail to reward the very backbone of the organization which suffers.

In comes the DRAC . There is always the “outside” versus the “inside” perspective. Thus, when driving around looking at various neighborhoods, the “outsider” may see pristine lawns and echoes of laughing children and gaiety abounding; while the “insider” knows of vandalism unreported, frequent break-ins, bad neighborhood schools, and a host of other undesirable features experienced only by those who reside therein. Similarly, the “District Reasonable Accommodation Committee”, by all outward appearances, would convey a sense to the public that the U.S. Postal Service is “looking out” for its employees (and, indeed, that would, and should, be one of the purposes in creating such an entity, so long as there is substance behind the public relations side of things). For, in the end, how an organization treats its employees for the long-term, provides the foundational basis for attracting potential recruits in the short-term. Both feed into each other: a company which gains a reputation for mistreating its current employees will fail to recruit good employees for the future; those who lack a coherent plan of treatment well into the future, will fail in its present course through loss of morale and retention of the best and brightest.

From most accounts and from multiple unnamed sources, the “insider” view of the Postal District Reasonable Accommodation Committee, is that it fails to seriously attempt to accommodate Postal employees who – while limited by physical restrictions and medical conditions which prevent one from performing all of the essential elements of one’s job – nevertheless desire to continue working. Obviously, every organization must attempt to strike a proper balance for its injured employees. On the one hand, continuation of employment must still bring about productivity by the retained employee; and, on the other hand, systematic dismissal without regard to age, seniority, and prior contribution to the company cannot be condoned. In more simplistic terms, a company cannot afford to have a factory full of paper-clip counters just to show the public what a good employer it is; but at the same time, one should take care not to deserve a reputation of getting rid of every employee who is a year outside of retirement, for being unable to do the same level of physical work as he or she did 20 years previously.

For the Postal Worker who has put in multiple decades of constant grinding of limbs, neck, knees and back, the conundrum of age, growing infirmity, and the battle against time, often leads to a finality of recognition that a lifetime of repetitive physical labor cannot withstand for long the inevitability of progressive physical deterioration. What are the options remaining for a disabled Postal employee? DRAC was supposed to answer such a question; so was filing a claim under OWCP through the Department of Labor, under the guise of the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA). When work-related physical or psychological harm was incurred, OWCP claims were meant to provide temporary compensatory relief during the time of recuperation from such injuries. If and when the injured Postal Worker was able to return to work, even in a limited capacity, the District Reasonable Accommodation Committee was empowered to assess, evaluate, and make meaningful determinations in matching jobs to medically-limited Postal Workers, through modifications of assignments and flexibility of hours. Or so the theory went.

The reality of the real world is quite different from the theoretical obfuscation of public relations presentations. The “outsider” view is that companies, and especially Federal and quasi-Federal entities like the U.S. Postal Service, takes seriously its societal role in attempting to “accommodate” disabled workers. The “insider” view is that the DRAC is merely a vehicle which purports to accommodate, but is really a rubber-stamp to get rid of Postal Workers by a single declarative statement: “No accommodations are possible and it has been determined that there are no jobs available within the restrictions of the Postal Worker named herein.”

What options are left? Fortunately, Federal Disability Retirement is available for the Postal Worker. While the U.S. Postal Service is no longer a Federal Entity as envisioned from the days of Benjamin Franklin; and with the transformation into a “revenue-neutral, quasi-Federal agency” in 1970, there have definitely been changes wrought within the basic structure of the U.S. Postal Service. Yet, Postal employees are still categorized as under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), or the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) – the latter (CSRS) being from the days of dinosaurs and extinct species of single-celled creatures long forgotten; as well as hybrid types such as CSRS-Offset. As such, Federal Disability Retirement is a benefit which can, and should be considered, by the Postal Worker who (A) is injured, (B) can no longer perform all of the essential elements of one’s job, and (C) abandoned by either DRAC or (D) ineligible for OWCP benefits. As to (D) – remember that OWCP is not a retirement system, and as such, even those Postal employees who qualify and are eligible for OWCP benefits should consider filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits concurrently. This is because OWCP – not being a retirement system – will often and without much warning terminate benefits based upon non-compliance issues, including sudden “job offers” which must be declined because they fall outside of the parameters of medical restrictions, or because a “second opinion” or “referee” doctor declares that an individual is fully fit for duty after a 2-minute (if that) cursory examination of the debilitated Postal Worker. Further, because the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the agency which reviews and approves/disapproves all Federal Disability Retirement applications, is taking several months to render a decision, it is prudent to file early, even if intended as a “back-up” system to an ongoing OWCP claim.

Change and uncertainty are elements which pervade modern life. To buttress such inevitability and the ongoing vicissitudes which haunt the U.S. Postal Service of today, the U.S. Postal Worker must be attuned to the multiple obstacles, potholes and proverbial bends in the road. Knowing the games organizations play is one thing; maneuvering around them is quite another. Federal Disability Retirement is a viable option which continues to provide a valuable benefit for the U.S. Postal Worker of today, when medical conditions or injuries impact one’s life to the extent that the Postal Worker is no longer able to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job. DRAC aside, when the loyalty of an organization becomes a question, it may be time to abandon the proverbial sinking ship.

About the author
Attorney Robert R. McGill specializes in securing Federal Disability Retirement benefits for Federal and Postal workers under both FERS and CSRS. He represents Federal and Postal employees from all across the United States, from the West Coast to the East, and every state in between, as well as Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Europe, Japan, etc. For more information about his legal services, please visit his Federal Disability Retirement website and the U.S. Postal Service Disability Retirement blog.

This article is an exclusive for PostalReporter.com blog

8 thoughts on “Federal Disability Retirement under FERS and CSRS: The Postal Worker, DRAC, and Accommodations

  1. I have been dealing w owcp Susan for over 20yrs, I have a lawyer for2claims I tried not to deal w one on this latest claim. Of course I have contacted the congressman. I use to be sent to their doctors for eval but haven’t been sent to one in two yrs whereas before they use to send me every 8mths. This last claim has been a doozy. You get medical paid in the beginning to 1500 the claim was accepted for what they thght was a short claim clause, my job errantly paid me vac time instead of LWOP therein is one part of the issue the other has to do w 2 drs. One who misread an FCE report and sent me back to work full time no restrictions when confronted it was “oh what a shame” because of course this error caused me the new injury.the dr I saw for the new injury was nasty, sent me to one round of therapy. When I followed up he did not heed pt recomm for more therapy, I asked for an MRI he rejected that and then I asked can I have a week off to rest the injury to my back n shoulder and was told no no no to everything. Remember also the sequester which delayed their decision making and then they turned around and told me my drs reports were insufficient so they closed that claim to open a new one for the same matter and start allover again…ain’t that grand! Oh and the MRI my new dr sent me for shows a tear in my shoulder and two bulging disc one on top, one on bottom of my neck fusion.

  2. @Little,
    Yes, I know this happens, but at the same time, from the injured people I have talked to, this is mainly for people with one or no surgeries at all. Very hard for a doctor to try and send you back to work, when your spine says otherwise. But for the injured that have had say, one surgery and can do some type of work, or the thousands of employee’s that are receiving owcp benefits that have had not one operation, then you get into a different set of circumstances. Take me, at this point, I am on my couch lying down all day, and cannot move so well, pain and other factors, and have had 12 surgeries, and it has been over 10 years since I have seen the inside of a post office (New York), and owcp has not sent me to a doctor of there choice. So that tells me when owcp sends you to one of their doctors, or even two (referee), that says to me, that it is because they are very suspicious. But you send a claimant that has had numerous operations, then you get into many lawsuits. One being total disregard for the proven and shown pain complaints. I do not think owcp and these so-called 2 and 3rd party physicians are going to put there reputations on line, for that check from owcp. But I could be wrong, just hasn’t happened to me, and I talk to my claims adjuster at least twice a year, and I ask them if they need any additional paperwork or anything. I always do what they ask, always. But again, for me, if I am ever sent and put through this, and with 20 years of operations and my 20 years of pain complaints, I would get a top New York disability lawyer and take them to court in a New York second, as they say. I think that these people they send to there doctors are the one’s they are pretty sure of faking there injuries. OWCP and these referee doctors can get into some serious trouble for going after legit injuries.

  3. (cont) The employee, person who left/leaves will never have a chance to apply for Disability Retirement again. That window will be closed for ever. There is only a one year opportunity to file as of person’s last day working.

  4. Susan, OWCP continues to send claimants to insurance whores & doctors who get paid to give reports in the company’s favor. They send you to one and then another to make final decision between you and their doctors which they call a REFEREE. It is a corrupt system and happens over and over again. That is why Federal Disability should be filed within one year of leaving. If an employee goes past that for any reason, if they were on OWCP, it doesn’t matter.

  5. @Mao,
    Something wrong with your situation. If you get medical, it means your case/claim was approved. Sounds like just a huge mistake is missing from you getting paid. Mao, you are not telling or stating the whole story. I have been around long enough to know. How come you have not stated anything about calling your Congressman, calling a lawyer, etc. ? Did you not follow a request on there part ? For you to get Health Ins, and through worker’s comp, then you have to have wages to deduct them from. I am not saying your not being honest, but something is wrong with this story of yours, and I hope to God you get it straight and you start getting paid… God Bless Mao..

  6. Typo galore please forgive me must be pain med n muscle relaxer. LOL..my body can’t take it anymore after 24yrs and 4 operations in 5 yrs and another in the future. OWCP pays my medical but then turns around and denies compensation, whatever is sent is deemed insufficient. Had to apply for public assistance today after more than 4mths with no pay and still deemed unable to return to work by doctor. Thanks for all the concern and help OWCP…NOT!

  7. Applied, my body after 24yrs and 4 operations in 5yrs and another in the future I would like to retire in one piece please.

  8. Why was this posted ? Is this a scare article to get business for lawyers ? If your on OWCP and your physician backs their patient with proper paperwork, one where you absolutely cannot work, and then you have to be seen by a OWCP affiliated doctor, then OWCP says you can work, then OWCP has the burden of proof stating you can not work. Then, and unfortunately, you may have to hire a lawyer to start getting paid again, but very few doctors will put there reputation on the line to keep a patient off of work. OWCP in court must prove one is not injured or in pain enough to go back to work. Very hard to accomplish. You have to discredit the claimants physician, and in my case, all of my surgeries, where I can work even 1 or a couple of hours, plus driving time, to make it worthwhile to get me off the rolls of pay. I am not saying it doesn’t happen, all I am saying is, at least for the injured that are off from many surgery attempts to get back to work, and that approach has not worked, that going before a board and a OWCP doctor and their findings that you can do something and for so many hours, is something that if pursued, they better prepare to have to open up the lawsuit account to pay you for what they have don’t to you. This is for a type of case that I might be in. I have been off of work, with 12 surgeries, many rounds of therapy, at least one or more surgeries to be performed in the future, and many doctors stating they would not recommend any additional surgeries to be performed, and then the 20 years of my pain complaints added to this. For them to have me come in, and for there doctors to look at me for 2 minutes and then in a week, I am notified that it has been determined I can work, just to get me off the payrolls, well, again, for me, they better think about doing this very cautiously. But for the injured that have not had one surgery, and there are many, then I am all for them getting checked out and have 2nd opinions done. Why was this posted here on the Postal Reporter site I ask ? WHY ? An article like this does not belong here, and smells of connections. This is of my opinion only, and should not be looked at as you better call some law firm. Your case is as strong as you true injury. If you are truly injured and in pain, you always need to worry every 2 weeks or every 4 weeks as to if your going to get paid, that goes w/o saying, but nobody is going to cut you off w/o merit. Your injury has to be legit, and if it is, you should in the end, always be getting your pay from OWCP. Just do everything they ask, and keep your records. Nothing against this lawyer, as I personally think he knows his business and from reading his daily published articles, I think he is one hell of a lawyer, but the people that run this website, they should in my opinion, not putting these types of subjects on this type of forum/site. In my opinion, when you do this, you lose face. The people that get owcp, they have enough to worry about.

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