Federal Disability Lawyer Fees

Federal employee with disabilities

Should you worry about how much it will cost you to hire a Federal Disability Lawyer?

It is a genuine worry.  There are plenty of lawyers on the Internet who say that they “guarantee” —  with a “money-back” promise  — a successful outcome.  But what good is it to give you back your money if your application is denied at the first hint of trouble, and how much work and effort do you think such a law firm will put into your case?  At first sight, a “money-back” guarantee may seem like an attractive proposition.  You’ll get your money back if a Federal Disability Lawyer can’t deliver.  The problem is:  How much “delivery” will there be to begin with?  And what good is the money returned if you have not secured your Federal Disability Retirement benefits — and more importantly, if you didn’t even put enough effort into a case to give it a fighting chance?

By the time you come to a point where filing for Federal disability retirement benefits becomes a reality, you have already invested both time and money into a career whose goal was to create a “nest egg” for retirement purposes.  You may have already invested 10, 20 or even 30 years in a Federal career, and you are about to lose everything because of an injury or a medical condition.  Taken in that context, “How much”  you will be paying to your attorney shouldn’t be your primary concern.  The attorney you hire might promise you your money back — but what good is that if you haven’t taken your “best shot” at securing your future?  In filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, you are given only one opportunity to save your 10-30 years of hard work before it is thrown out the window.  Who you hire as your Federal Disability Lawyer; how much he is willing to fight on your behalf; what effort will be expended on your behalf; whether he is accessible to you throughout the process — these and many more considerations should be part of the “investment” into your own future.  On the other hand, your “Federal Disability Lawyer” who gives you that “money-back guarantee” might realize that your case is too hard to fight for, that it was not “easy money” and he/she might therefore decide to quit on you.  Yes, it can happen.  It has happened to others.

Meanwhile, your Agency or the Postal Service might have already let you go because you filed for Federal Disability Retirement.  The potential disaster is that you were “medically separated” but you didn’t qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Yes, it can happen.  It has happened to others.

When you are struggling to survive after spending a 10-30 year career with the Federal Government, your legal fees are still an important consideration — but even this financial consideration should really be comparatively unimportant when considering the bridges you might be burning behind you.  Don’t be fooled by the “100% Money Back Promise‎”.

Be smart.  Hire the best Federal Disability Lawyer you can find.  Do your homework: Ask former Federal employees who have already successfully filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits (nothing can beat a personal recommendation); consult with an honest union steward; and research for the best attorney in the field.  Read real reviews (a tip: if an attorney can write his/her own review on his website or even in Google reviews, that might not be a good basis upon which to make a decision); go instead to reputable lawyer directories, public forums, or even the BBB after finding potential Federal Disability Lawyers.

In the end, saving a few hundred of dollars might cost you the rest of your life savings.  Be smart.  Medical conditions can become a disaster in the life of the Federal or Postal employee.  Don’t let a medical disaster become a legal disaster.

Yes, it can happen.  It has happened to others.



FERS Disability Retirement Compared To OWCP

OWCP vs. FERS Disability Retirement

The Department of Labor administers Federal Worker’s Compensation Benefits through the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP).  Such benefits are non-taxable, and are paid for temporary total disability, for injuries or medical conditions which result from, or are caused by, a workplace injury. There are many tangential factors which may be added to this basic definition, but for purposes of distinguishing OWCP from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Disability Retirement, this definition will suffice. Additionally, generally speaking, OWCP/Federal Worker’s Compensation is not a “retirement system.”

OPM Disability retirement, on the other hand, is a retirement system.  As a result of a medical condition which impacts one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job, a person is eligible to retire early, based upon a “medical disability.”  A person on OPM Disability Retirement is separated from the Federal Agency, and he or she may “move on” in life, and perhaps start another career (with certain limitations as stated below).

When is it Time to File for FERS Disability Retirement?

An individual must file for Federal Employees Retirement System/Civil Service Retirement System (FERS/CSRS) disability retirement benefits with the Office of Personnel Management within one (1) year of being separated from Federal Service – otherwise, the right to be eligible for disability retirement benefits is lost. Do not confuse this with being placed on Leave Without Pay (LWOP), or being out on OWCP for being injured.  The clock begins ticking when you are actually separated from service.  Most people, however, should not wait until they are separated to file for disability retirement benefits, but rather, should file whenever it becomes apparent that he or she can no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of the job.

Taxable vs NonTaxable Benefits

OWCP benefits are non-taxable.  OPM Disability Retirement benefits, on the other hand, are taxed.  While receiving disability retirement benefits, a person may undertake a job search, accept another position, and earn up to 80% of what his or her former position currently pays.  Individuals receiving OWCP temporary total disability may not work at another job – period.  Here is a sample scenario using FERS Disability Retirement rules:

A worker’s average salary for 3 consecutive years totals $50,000.  The individual goes out on disability retirement, and after the first year (in which he would receive 60%, or $30,000), he is eligible to receive an annual annuity of 40%, or $20,000.  The worker then applies for and accepts a job in the private sector.  The worker can accept a job that pays up to $40,000 per year (80% of the current salary), and still be eligible to receive the $20,000 per year disability annuity.

The 80% Rule Increases Over Time

The rule is “80% of what a person’s former job pays currently.”  If 5 years from now, a person’s former position pays $60,000 per year instead of $50,000, then he can make up to $48,000 per year at the job, because 80% of $60,000 is $48,000.

Filing for Disability Retirement while on Workers’ Compensation

It is often not a bad idea for those who are receiving OWCP benefits to remain on OWCP for as long as they can stand it (i.e., the persistent harassment, the constant oversight by so-called “2nd opinion doctors”, etc.) — but to always have the FERS/CSRS disability retirement annuity approved as a back-up source of income.  Individuals may file for disability retirement concurrently while on OWCP — but you simply cannot collect from both at the same time (See 5 C.F.R. Sec. 844.105, “Relationship to workers’ compensation. (a) Except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section, an individual who is eligible for both an annuity under part 842 or 844 of this chapter and compensation for injury or disability under subchapter I of chapter 81 of title 5, United States Code (other than a scheduled award under 5 U.S.C. 8107(c)), covering the same period of time must elect to receive either the annuity or compensation.”).

When OWCP terminates payments (and there is a very good chance that this will happen at some point in the near future), it is a wise option to have your disability retirement benefits approved, but held in an inactive status.  Federal workers have every right to elect one benefit over the other.  Indeed, if you wanted to, you are allowed to go back and forth between OWCP and FERS Disability Retirement.

As a secondary issue on this matter, a closer look at 5 U.S.C. Section 8106, paragraph (c) (2), (OWCP) on “partial disability” compared with the definition for disability retirement reveals: that “partially disabled employee who refuses or, neglects to work after suitable work is offered to, procured by, or secured for him, is not entitled to compensation.”  This means that if OWCP secures a job for you as a retail store greeter for instance, and pays you the difference between your salary and what retail store pays — and you decide to say “no”, OWCP has every right to cut off your payments.

On the other hand, under the laws concerning FERS Disability Retirement, 5 C.F.R.Sec. 844.103 (a)(2) states that, in order to be eligible for disability retirement, the individual “must, while employed in a position subject to FERS, have become disabled because of a medical condition, resulting in a deficiency in performance, conduct, or attendance, or if there is no such deficiency, the disabling medical condition must be incompatible with either useful and efficient service or retention in the position.”  The difference here is that, under OWCP, if you are “partially disabled,” if you are offered any job that OWCP believes you can do, you must accept it.  On the other hand, under FERS/CSRS disability retirement laws, if you are partially disabled — meaning that you simply cannot do at least one or more of the essential elements of your job — then you are entitled to disability retirement benefits, and your agency or the Postal Service cannot simply offer you any job; they must offer you a job in the same pay or grade, and one in which you are qualified or, if you are in the Postal Service, then it must an accommodation in the same craft.

Controlling Your Future

Under OWCP, you have no control over your future – OWCP determines your future. Under OPM Disability Retirement, you can obtain disability retirement benefits, and then take control of your future and work at another job of your choice, make up to 80% of what your (former) position pays and still continue to receive your disability annuity.


Robert R. McGill, Esquire
Federal Disability Lawyer


Robert R. McGill is an attorney who specializes in OPM Disability Retirement, a practice area he dedicates 100% of his time helping Federal and Postal workers secure their disability retirement benefits under both FERS and CSRS. For more information about his legal services, publications and forum, please visit his Federal Disability Retirement website.


Note:  This article was originally published in Lawyers.com