Editorial by Attorney Robert R. McGill, an exclusive to PostalReporter.com
In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, one of the issues which always must be confronted is whether or not the U.S. Postal Service can accommodate an individual’s medical conditions, and the letters which are issued by the U.S. Postal Service as a result of the National Reassessment Process, might give some comfort to the Postal Worker that the issue of accommodation might be satisfied, and therefore that the chances of obtaining an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application might be greatly enhanced. Such a belief, however, might result not only in a potential miscalculation, but lead one into a fatal error based upon wrong assumptions.
One would logically assume that being sent home under the National Reassessment Process, “Phase 2” , where the U.S. Postal Service asserts unequivocally and without any room for challenge, that the “District Assessment Team” has determined after a “complete search”, taking into consideration the medical conditions which the Postal employee suffers from, evaluating the necessary and essential elements of the job duties, etc., and where the Postal Service comes to the conclusion that they are “unable to identify any available necessary tasks within your medical restrictions,” that this would greatly enhance the potential success in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS. It does not.
The solution of the U.S. Postal Service under the National Reassessment Process has been to throw anyone and everyone who is not “fully productive” onto the rolls of the Department of Labor, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (DOL/OWCP). The problem, however, is that OWCP is not a long-term solution, because it is not a retirement system. It is a system designed to temporarily compensate an injured worker of the U.S. Postal Service or a Federal Agency, with the view towards returning the Federal or Postal Worker back to productivity. But that “view towards returning the Federal or Postal Worker back to productivity” obviously is not intended to include a return to the Postal Service, as the National Reassessment Process letter states explicitly that the Postal Worker “should not report back for duty unless you are contacted that necessary work tasks have been identified for you within your medical restrictions.” Don’t hold your breath on that one.
Instead, the entire focus of the National Reassessment Process is to encourage the Postal Worker to file the proper forms to qualify for Worker’s Compensation benefits. The problem, however, is that OWCP was never intended to be set up as a “dumping ground” for Agencies to shed themselves of injured workers who are not fully productive in the workplace. It was set up with a specific and honorable purpose: to allow for a recuperative period of compensation, for the injured Postal Worker to obtain the proper medical attention, and to slowly allow for rehabilitation in order for the Postal Worker to return to duty – often a process involving part-time or “light duty” in the beginning, then gradually a return to full duty. OWCP/DOL was never set up either as a retirement system or a dumping ground in order to accommodate the financial goals or positional needs of the Postal Service. As it is, the very existence of the system of OWCP/DOL has made it easy for the Postal Service to deny the ability to accommodate or reassign the Postal Worker, and instead to have an avenue of ridding itself of financial commitments to its workers. Whether or not OWCP will actually accept all of the cases which the Postal Service is attempting to relieve itself of is almost an irrelevant matter; for, the Postal Service is simply making a unilateral, unequivocal assertion that they are unable to identify any available necessary tasks to accommodate any of the Postal Workers. One might be inclined to have some suspicions with respect to such an unverified assertion: When the National Reassessment Process began, wasn’t this predictable? Did the initiation of the National Reassessment Process ever have any other mission than to rid the Postal Service of workers who were deemed less than “fully productive”? Did anyone think that the National Reassessment Process was designed to do anything but dump Postal Workers onto the rolls of the Department of Labor, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs?
But, as has been stated repeatedly in the past, the Department of Labor, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs is not designed as a retirement system. It is designed to provide for temporary compensation with the intent and mission to return injured workers back to full duty. But what if there is no “going back” to the origin of that work? What if the originating employer no longer has the desire, capacity or economic plan to continue to employ the Postal Worker? The option that must be considered, of course, is to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, from the Office of Personnel Management. However, one should be fully aware of the fact that, just as the mere unilateral assertion by the Postal Service that a “complete search” has determined that there are no “available necessary tasks within your medical restrictions” will not guarantee OWCP benefits, similarly, the NRP will not be able to enhance the chances of — let alone guarantee – an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application from the Office of Personnel Management.
The Office of Personnel Management is an independent agency which receives all Federal Disability Retirements, including those filed by Postal Workers. It does not take into account any actions which other Agencies may be initiating. Thus, whether or not the U.S. Postal Service has initiated a program called, “The National Reassessment Process” is an irrelevancy to the Office of Personnel Management in the determination of a Postal Worker’s Federal Disability Retirement application. As OPM often states, “Your agency indicated that accommodation or reassignment was not possible. However, your agency’s obligation to provide accommodation or reassignment was contingent on your obligation to document a disabling medical condition…” What the Postal Service does with respect to the National Reassessment Process may be of vital interest to each and every Postal Worker. To the Office of Personnel Management, it is merely another agency doing what agencies are good at doing: initiating a new program or process.
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 and U.S. Postal Service Disability Retirement websites