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Friday, May 31, 2013

Receipt of SSA retirement benefits triggers offset for OWCP claimants who were in the FERS system

OWCP seems to be focusing increasingly on finding claimants who have received overpayments triggered by the conversion of their SSA disability benefit to a retirement benefit when persons attain their official retirement age. Note that when you complete and sign the Form EN1032 that your OWCP claims examiner is supposed to send you within thirty days of your birthday each year, that form asks, amongst many other things, whether you have received SSA benefits as part of an annuity under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS). That form also includes a statement where you acknowledge that "I understand that I must immediately report to OWCP...any change in income from federally assisted disability or benefit programs." If you begin receiving SSA benefits because of age (an SSA disability converts at your official retirement age to a regular retirement) there arises an offset that reduces your OWCP benefits based upon the portion of the SSA benefits attributable to years of federal service as an employee under the FERS retirement program. OWCP will receive a calculation of this amount from SSA and will reduce your benefits. Generally, you will receive a notification from SSA that you are about to be switched from the SSA disability to the SSA regular retirement. When you receive that letter, you need to send a copy to OWCP and ask them to determine if there will be any change to your compensation rate. If you do not do this, OWCP will generally treat the overpayment that arises as an at fault determination using the language from the 1032 form to impute that you were aware of this. The entire issue is very complicated. You need to be aware that when you begin receiving regular retirement payments from SSA and if you worked under the FERS retirement system, you will get caught up in this and likely find that a portion of your compensation is taken away due to the offset against your compensation benefits.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Be Careful With Your Schedule Award

There seems to be an increasing number of lawyers and nonlawyer representatives wanting to only represent OWCP claimant's with their schedule awards. There are some traps for the unwary, and it is important to understand whether someone is looking out for your interests or just their own. Firstly, you cannot collect a schedule award and wage loss benefits. I get calls from folks regularly who want to switch to their pension so they can collect their schedule award. Keep in mind that most schedule awards are not that substantial. A schedule award is most valuable to someone who is back to work, or someone drawing a CSRS pension, or someone already collecting a wage loss check from OWCP for a different injury. For OWCP claimants in the FERS system who are disabled and collecting SSD, if you switch to your pension to collect the schedule award, you are really not gaining that much: only the value of your pension check that is already being offset because of your SSD benefit. That is because whether you collect a schedule award check or wage loss check, the workers compensation offset by SSA from disability benefit recipients often significantly reduces injured workers' SSD payment and when you get SSD, OPM reduces your pension check.