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  • Jeff Zeelander

CAREFUL WHEN RELYING ON INTERNET "EXPERTS" FOR LEGAL ADVICE!

I recently came across a syndicated article online under the byline "Ask Reg" targeted to federal employees with the title "Can I receive Social Security if I’m getting workers’ comp?" I happen to know that there's not an easy answer to this question. But you wouldn't know that from the article. The guidance it provided was simplistic and was completely wrong for the vast majority of FECA claimants!! 

 

Unfortunately, it has been reposted widely across the internet as if it contains quality information. Here is a link to one instance:



"Ask Reg" provides the following "question" from a USPS employee:


“I work for the USPS, and I am presently out of work in a leave without pay status. My case was approved by the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs. I am presently receiving OWCP payments classified as ‘total temporary disability’ payments. I am 72 years old and although my full retirement age was 66, I waited until I was 70 years old to collect my SS. My question is that I am now 72 years old and have been collecting my Social Security payments for the past two years, I am collecting both my Social Security and the federal temporary total disability payment. Am I subject to an offset in my Social Security now that I am receiving both?”


"Ask Reg" gave the following, mostly wrong, answer:


Because you have reached your full Social Security retirement age, nothing prevents you from receiving both your workers’ compensation payments and a Social Security benefit.

Because you have already reached your full retirement age under Social Security, you may earn OWCP benefits without a reduction in you Social Security benefit.

 

Reg's answer is only correct in the unlikely situation that this USPS employee is in the old CSRS pension (the federal pension that was replaced by FERS in 1983) and this USPS employee has only contributed to SSA in non-federal employment. Otherwise, they are in FERS and there is an overpayment that is growing.


For virtually all federal employees, likely including the person who posed this question, there is what is called the FERS-Offset which is applied by OWCP to reduce your wage loss check. The amount of a FERS federal employee's SSA retirement derived from contributions to SSA while working in a FERS job is considered a portion of their "pension" so that amount of their SSA retirement check is subtracted by OWCP from their periodic wage loss payments.


OWCP has done a terrible job of tracking this issue and there are frequently massive overpayments that are next to impossible to get waived for most people.


If this 72 year old USPS employee was hired after the inception of FERS in 1983, or switched to FERS or otherwise ended up in FERS, they have an overpayment due to the FERS-Offset rule and should immediately follow up with OWCP to stop the further accumulation of the overpayment.


Upon receiving SSA retirement, this person should have notified OWCP which in turn sends a fax(!!) to SSA requesting a calculation of how much of the SSA retirement was earned in a FERS job. Overpayments frequently increase unnecessarily due to OWCP and SSA inaction and delays in completing this process. That FERS-Offset amount is subtracted from the OWCP ongoing wage loss payment, and there is an overpayment back to when this person first drew SSA retirement.


The opposite situation occurs when a FECA claimant receiving wage loss or schedule award payments from OWCP also receives disability payments from SSA. In that circumstance, SSA has a formula by which they reduce the amount of the SSA disability payment due to the receipt of the federal employee workers comp. For a discussion of how a federal employee in this specific situation can actually recover the cost of legal representation, please see the following blog post from some years ago:


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