|Federal Disability Retirement Appeals|
The Attig Law Firm represents Federal Employees and USPS Postal Workers attempting to secure federal disability retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) under FERS or CSRS. This website is designed to provide clear information to Federal Employees applying for FERS or CSRS federal disability retirement.
The Attig Law Firm represents Federal employees at all stages of the federal disability retirement application and appeal process. Attorney Chris Attig prepares and files applications for federal disability retirement on behalf of Federal Employees. In the event that your application for federal disability retirement has been denied, attorney Chris Attig may be able to represent you in an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).
Our Firm does not charge a consultation fee for Initial Disability Retirement Applications to OPM. The Firm does charge a consultation fee for MSPB appeals if you were denied disability retirement by OPM. We charge an affordable fixed fee if you hire our Firm to assist you in your initial application for federal disability retirement to OPM. If you need help on an MSPB appeal for disability retirement, the Firm has a wide variety of payment plans available.
Federal Disability Retirement Resources
Attig Law Firm - Fees and Services for Disability Retirement Claims
These are the fees that you can expect when you contact the Attig Law Firm and we agree to discuss your OPM disability retirement application with you:
Case Evaluations (Initial Applications)
Beginning on December 23, 2009, the Attig Law Firm will not charge a consultation fee for Federal employees or postal workers filing their first application for disability retirement. If you are filing or considering filing your first application for disability retirement, contact the Attig Law Firm today. Our staff will contact you to get some information about you, your medical conditions, your job, your limitations and your civil service employment history. After that, you will be contacted by an attorney who will discuss your application with you by phone.
Case Evaluations (MSPB Appeals)
The Attig Law Firm does charge a consultation fee for Federal employees or postal workers filing an MSPB appeal of OPM's denial of their application for disability retirement. We charge this fee for a couple reasons, but primarily to defray the overhead involved in previewing your case, collecting the documents to do a reasonable review of your case, and the Firm and attorney’s time in preparing to give you a good assessment of your case during an initial consultation. I think that you will find that a consultation with the Attig Law Firm is a much different experience than a consultation with any other Firm - you will get a good deal of information about the law and process, candid and practical assessments of your case, and probing questions and analysis of the weaknesses of your case.
Before the consultation, my staff will collect, from you, copies of OPM’s correspondence, your application for benefits, your position description and certain medical documents. I will review these documents before talking to you so that I am as informed as I can be about your case before our phone consultation. After reviewing these documents, I can advise you on where I think things have gone wrong for you and if (or how) the situation can be legally fixed. Check in with us to confirm our consultation fee.
Cost for Initial Applications for Federal Disability Retirement.
If the Firm is able to assist you in preparing and filing your first application for federal disability retirement, then we will quote a fixed-fee for this service. This fee will be a one-time payment to the Firm; we will prepare the forms, working with you and your medical care providers to get the relevant records and, if necessary, medical opinions about your medical condition's impact on your job duties; we will work with your Agency to get the supervisor's statement and other necessary documentation, etc. Lastly, we will submit the application and correspond with OPM throughout the application process. If you are denied federal disability retirement, we will request reconsideration and supply any additional evidence that the OPM requests.
Attorney Fees for MSPB Appeals.
If you have been denied disability retirement by OPM, and are seeking a lawyer for your MSPB appeal, the Attig Law Firm offers a variety of payment plans and attorney fee structures for Federal employees and postal workers. We will negotiate a payment plan or fee structure that meets your budget needs and our business needs. (The Attig Law Firm does not handle disability retirement cases on a contingency, nor will we ever request a percentage of your future benefits granted by OPM.) Here are examples of payment plans we have negotiated with Federal Disability Retirement appellants in the past:
1. One-Time Engagement Retainer
Under this approach, you pay a single Engagement Retainer to our Firm at the beginning of your appeal; in exchange we set aside the time for a Firm attorney to represent you throughout your entire MSPB Appeal to the MSPB Administrative Judge. The Engagement Retainer is non-refundable, but can be a viable lower-cost alternative to paying an hourly fee. Under the Engagement Retainer option, our Firm will not bill you for costs each month. The amount of the Engagement Retainer depends on a lot of factors mostly having little to do with the merits of your claim, for example: the amount of time the Firm has available to represent you, the potential length of time it will take to see your claim and appeal through, etc.
2. Monthly Engagement Retainer
This is very much like the Engagement Retainer, except you pay a smaller amount at the beginning of each month that we are handling your MSPB Appeal. This approach works well for individuals on a fixed income stream. Since most (but not all) MSPB appeals on disability retirement appeals are resolved within 2-6 months, you have a rough idea of how much your attorney will cost.
3. Hourly Billing
This is the most traditional method for attorney fees. You pay a sum to the Firm, it is held in a Trust Account, and periodically, the attorney takes payment out of that trust account for hours worked and fees expended. If the attorney doesn’t spend all of the retainer, you will receive a refund of the unused portion. The hourly rates at the Attig Law Firm can vary, depending on the attorney who will assist you, and whether or not we assisted you on your initial application. If we prepared and filed your initial application, we can offer you a very low hourly rate. The Firm's hourly rate can and does fluctuate, based on a combination of factors: our cost of overhead, our client's resources and ability to pay, and our evaluation of the strength/weakness of a case.
A word in general about the hourly rates at any law firm. An attorney's hourly rate is set by each attorney or each firm based on its own internal decision making process. Typically, the hourly rate includes the cost of running the firm (hiring secretarial staff, equipment, office space, storage space, copiers, computers, fax machines, etc.). This is why the hourly rate can vary widely from city to city. The average hourly rate of an attorney in Washington, D.C., is going to be considerably higher than the hourly rate of an attorney in Dallas, Texas, just because it is more expensive to own and operate a firm in Washington, D.C. Many attorneys are maligned for high hourly fees – the greater public thinks we get rich off our hourly rates – not true. Now, some Firms are out of control, but for most solo practitioners and small firms, the attorney fee is typically just enough to cover our overhead: staff, equipment, office-space, licenses, insurance, supplies, etc).
Cost should not be the first consideration in deciding which federal disability retirement attorney to hire. Experience, quality of representation, and your confidence in an attorney should be the primary factors in deciding which lawyer or firm to hire. However, in these trying economic times, price can often be a factor in deciding who to hire. If you have consulted with another federal disability retirement lawyer and they have given you a written offer for the cost of representation, send us a copy of their written offer. We will do our best to offer a better price. The Attig Law Firm can't guarantee it will have the lowest rate, but if we can offer you a lower rate, we most certainly will.
Frequently Asked Questions
This is, by far, the most common question that we are asked by postal workers and Federal employees interested in applying for FERS/CSRS federal disability retirement.
The scenario is often very similar, although the facts usually differ. One day, or maybe over time, you find that a medical condition is making it harder and harder for you to work. Maybe you were injured at work, maybe in a car accident. Maybe you were diagnosed with an illness or condition that you never saw coming. One day though, the thought occurs to you - should you keep trying to work (you may love your job, or you may be sick of it) or should you apply for disability retirement (you hate the thought of fighting to convince OPM or your boss that you can’t work).
Regardless of how it happened, the decision whether or not to apply for federal disability retirement or keep working is a very personal choice, for you and your doctors, not a legal one. I have seen friends and family members with the worst medical conditions work until weeks before they died. One in particular stands out in my mind - a young lady I know worked with debilitating breast and bone cancer for ten (10) years - leaving work only 8 weeks before she passed away. Of course, she had an employer that was willing to work with her and make his workplace accessible to her even though she was in pretty bad shape some days.d
I have seen others that, when faced with severe limitations on their ability to work who have decided to take time off, see the world, spend time with their families, focus on their hobbies and passions, and use the financial benefits available to them after years of federal service provide a modest income stream that others in the private sector don’t always have.
Whatever choice you make, there are some legal protections out there for you. And based on my experience working with people in the same boat as you, I can give you a couple things to think about while you make the very personal decision whether to apply for federal disability retirement or keep working.
Here are a couple things to think about.
a) Family and Medical Leave Act - allows you to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to treat a medical condition or recover from medical treatment.
b) Americans with Disabilities Act - recently amended with major changes effective January 1, 2009, the goal of this statute is to make the U.S. Government the “Model Employer” when it comes to employing disabled workers and to remove or limit the barriers that disabled workers face in the workplace.
c) Leave Donation Programs/Leave Banks - signing up for these programs can help you get leave for emergency medical treatment, etc.
d) Many more protections, including those offered by your union contracts, etc.
When you are ready to stop working, or when you are ready to keep working with some restrictions, you may want to consider contacting a federal disability retirement attorney to advise you how to go through either process.
This is from the OPM Website:
You must meet all of the following conditions to be eligible for disability retirement:
1) You must have completed at least 18 months of Federal civilian service which is creditable under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS)
2) You must, while employed in a position subject to the retirement system, have become disabled, because of disease or injury, for useful and efficient service in your current position. The disability must be expected to last at least one year.
3) Your agency must certify that it is unable to accommodate your disabling medical condition in your present position and that it has considered you for any vacant position in the same agency at the same grade or pay level, within the same commuting area, for which you are qualified for reassignment.
4) You, or your guardian or other interested person, must apply before your separation from service or within one year thereafter. The application must be received by either OPM or your former employing agency within one year of the date of your separation. This time limit can be waived only if you were mentally incompetent on the date of separation or within one year of this date.
5) You must apply for social security disability benefits. Application for disability retirement under FERS requires an application for social security benefits. If the application for social security disability benefits is withdrawn for any reason, OPM will dismiss the FERS disability retirement application upon notification by the Social Security Administration.
6) What does all this mean? The core requirement is that you are unable to perform the essential functions of your current government job due to a disease, condition or impairment that is expected to last one year or more.
To learn more about eligibility for FERS Disability Retirement through OPM, please read the Attig Law Firm Blog Entry "5 Steps to Prove eligibility for FERS Disability Retirement" by clicking on the linked text.
Do I have to apply for Social Security Disability if I apply for Disability Retirement?
Under FERS, yes. You don't have to be approved for Social Security Disability, but you do have to apply. If you receive Social Security Disability, your Disability Retirement benefits may be reduced by the amount you receive from Social Security.
If you are receiving Social Security disability, and you are denied OPM Disability Retirement, please read the Attig Law Firm Blog Entry MSPB: I’ve been approved for Social Security disability, but denied Disability retirement – what next? by clicking on the linked text.
This is from the OPM Website list of insurance benefits available to Federal retirees:
1) Health Benefits: The Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program became effective in 1960. It is the largest employer-sponsored group health insurance program in the world, covering over 9 million Federal employees, retirees, former employees, family members, and former spouses. For more information about FEHB, please visit the Insurance Programs homepage.
2) Life Insurance: Established in 1954, the Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) Program is the largest group life insurance program in the world, covering over 4 million Federal employees and retirees, as well as many of their family members. For more information about the FEGLI program visit the Insurance Programs homepage.
3) Dental and Vision Insurance: The Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP) is available to eligible Federal and Postal employees, retirees, and their eligible family members on an enrollee-pay-all basis. This Program allows dental and vision insurance to be purchased on a group basis which means competitive premiums and no pre-existing condition limitations. Premiums for enrolled Federal and Postal employees are withheld from salary on a pre-tax basis.
4) Long Term Care Insurance: The Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program provides an important benefit that can help pay long term care expenses you may incur in the future. Federal and Postal employees and annuitants, active and retired members of the uniformed services, and qualified relatives can apply for this insurance. Certain medical conditions, or combinations of conditions, will prevent some people from being approved for coverage. For more information about the FLTCIP, please visit the Program homepage.
5) Flexible Spending Accounts: Flexible Spending Accounts enable eligible employees to pay for certain medical and dependent care expenses with pre-tax dollars. Retirees are not eligible for flexible spending accounts. For more information about the Federal Fexible Spending Account Program (FSAFEDS) for employees, please visit the Program homepage.
If OPM denies your application, they will send you a letter stating the reasons for their denial. Many times, these letters are poorly written and not very helpful. Nevertheless, you will have an opportunity to request reconsideration of OPM's decision by -- drumroll - OPM. I jokingly tell potential clients that you are generously given the opportunity to have OPM deny your claim again. Humor aside, this is a very important step: if you fail to request reconsideration, you may not have a perfected MSPB appeal right. It is imperative that you request reconsideration - in the OPM letter denying reconsideration, you will be told of your MSPB appeal rights. When you file your MSPB appeal, if you do not have the denied reconsideration letter, there is a good possibility that the AJ at the MSPB will want you to prove jurisdiction - and that will be very hard to do without the reconsideration denial. Bottom line - request reconsideration if you are denied OPM Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS.
If you have to have an MSPB hearing, and OPM loses, you are entitled to recover your attorney fees and some costs incurred by your attorney. Many times, OPM will not force you to go to a hearing if the reason for your denial was something curable. OPM may also decide to grant disability retirement anytime up until the day the Administrative Judge's Initial Decision becomes Final (i.e., 35 days after the issuance of the MSPB Initial Decision). If OPM does this, then they are not liable for your attorney fees and costs. For this reason, OPM rarely settles disability retirement appeals - they simply withdraw their denial of benefits and the MSPB no longer has jurisdiction. This sounds horrible, but often times, it is the investment of some money in hiring an attorney which can make a difference in your claim. My Firm - as a matter of practice - contacts OPM within one business day of designating as a claimant's representative to find out what they need to grant disability retirement; if we can provide it, we do so immediately. In this way, we have saved many of our clients hundreds, thousands and in one case, tens of thousands of dollars in attorney fees and costs.
There is no easy answer to this question. Can you handle a disability retirement application yourself? In most cases, yes. However, there are many people who are physically incapable, mentally unable, or simply lack the desire to do the application/claim process on their own. If you decide to hire an attorney, there are a couple things to keep in mind.
First, there are many attorneys and many non-attorneys that handle disability retirement claims. While I won't mention any companies or individuals in particular, I highly recommend that you do not hire a non-attorney to help you with your application. Attorneys are licensed to practice law, and have higher ethical standards that we must follow in order to keep our license(s). Non-attorneys do not have this requirement, and, if they mess your claim up, miss a deadline, or through negligence or ignorance cause you to lose entitlement to a benefit such as this, you have no remedy. Sure you can sue, but you're going to have to hire an attorney, hope that the person you sue has money to pay a judgment, etc.
Second, in an ideal world, you should consider talking to an attorney about your eligibility for FERS/CSRS disability retirement before you apply. There are a few reasons that I recommend spending a couple hundred dollars on 2-3 consults with different attorneys that handle OPM Disability Retirement claims for FERS/CSRS employees. It is always helpful to have the objective evaluation of an attorney who makes his or her living on these types of cases, and will be able to point out obstacles, roadblocks, or potential problems with your application, etc. In the event that OPM denies your FERS/CSRS disability retirement application, it may be a good idea to know what attorney you would like to hire. Lastly, talking to attorneys early in the process gives you an idea of how much you might to save up for an attorney to represent you.
Third, make sure that your attorney has practiced before the MSPB. An attorney that handles OPM Disability Retirement claims before OPM, but who has never (or does never) represent employees before the MSPB is like a car without wheels. Consideration of a strategy for an MSPB Appeal of a denied application for disability retirement is an important aspect of a FERS/CSRS Disability Retirement claim, and so I recommend that a disability retirement applicant make sure that the attorney you talk to knows how to handle an MSPB appeal before you hire him/her.