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Retirement claims processing picks up speed in July

Aug. 6, 2012 - 03:16PM   |  
By STEPHEN LOSEY   |   Comments
Ken Zawodny, OPM's associate director of retirement services, said in April that process improvements would help increase the number of retirement claims handled each month by the office.
Ken Zawodny, OPM’s associate director of retirement services, said in April that process improvements would help increase the number of retirement claims handled each month by the office. ()

The Office of Personnel Management processed 12,304 new retirement claims in July — the second-highest monthly number this year.

That brings the overall backlog of unprocessed retirement claims — a longstanding problem that has plagued OPM for decades — to 44,679 cases last month, a decrease from 61,108 in January.

The 37 percent increase over 8,964 cases processed in June could be a sign that OPM’s reforms to speed processing are starting to work.

Since January, OPM has hired 56 new legal administrative specialists to process more claims. The office said in January that by July, when the new employees’ training was completed, the added specialists would be able to process an additional 3,000 claims per month.

That appears to have happened. OPM processed, on average, about 9,500 cases per month for the first six months of the year. July’s tally of 12,304 cases processed is about 2,800 cases more than that monthly average.

It remains to be seen whether OPM can maintain that level of productivity. The agency’s most productive month this year was March, when it processed 12,386 cases.

Ken Zawodny, OPM’s associate director of retirement services, told Federal Times in April the increase was due to process improvements, such as making sure case files are complete when legal administrative specialists start to calculate pensions.

Berry and other OPM officials have, in the past, said that incomplete case files are one of the biggest problems hampering pension processing, since adjudicators often had to stop working to hunt down missing documents.

But in April, OPM’s claims processing dropped to 8,028 — its lowest point of the year. Zawodny said that processing declined in April because several experienced claims processers helped train newly hired processers that month.

OPM received 8,660 retirement claims last month — slightly more than the 8,400 it expected.

OPM has struggled for decades to process federal retirees’ pension claims quickly and accurately. As a result, tens of thousands of new retirees wait months — or in some cases, more than a year — to receive their complete annuities, and in the meantime, they struggle to get by on reduced interim pensions.

In the past, some retirees have received less than half of what they are owed. But OPM says interim pensions now average 80 percent of what retirees are eventually owed.

OPM also issued guidance to agencies this month with tips on how to submit “healthy” retirement application packages — that is, packages that are not missing key documents.

Agencies most frequently fail to include proof that an employee had at least five years of Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan coverage prior to retirement, OPM said. Such proof is needed to continue an employee’s health coverage in retirement.

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