Misnomers and the OPM’s Disability, Reconsideration & Appeals Division

The problem with misnomers is not just the inaccuracy of designation which is either explicitly or implicitly conveyed, but the unintended consequences of the string of reactions and responses which can occur as a result thereof.  Sometimes, interpretive mistakes occur purely on a subjective basis; in which case it is not truly a case of a misnomer, but rather merely the misunderstanding by the recipient of the information.  Other times, a word or designation can be open to multiple meanings, where reasonable people can differ on the inferences to be made.

For Federal and Postal employees who have filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal or Postal Service employee is under FERS or CSRS (such acronyms have specific, esoteric meanings only to Federal or Postal employees, and as such, cannot constitute an objective misnomer, but rather a potentially subjective one), the complexity of the administrative and bureaucratic process can result in the failure to recognize and properly respond to various misnomers throughout the process.

For example, when a Federal Disability Retirement case is assigned to an Administrative Specialist at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and one receives a letter informing the Federal or Postal Disability Retirement applicant that X is further needed — the identification of the OPM Representative that he or she is from the “Disability, Reconsideration & Appeals Division” is both confusing and a misnomer.

For, the recipient of the letter (and just to receive any correspondence from OPM other than an approval letter or a denial letter is an amazing fact in and of itself) can well infer from the designation that his or her Federal Disability Retirement application has already been denied without notification (i.e., because it is in the “Reconsideration & Appeals Division”). In fact, all cases fall under the aegis of “Disability, Reconsideration & Appeals” section of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Misnomers may be unintended. It is the recipient and the responder who must, unfortunately, live with the consequences.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Bureaucracy

Most people, organizations and entities do not act with deliberate ill-intentions; rather, they fail to think, and actions emanating from thoughtlessness often constitutes the negation of good.  Bureaucratization often results in the unintended consequence of negating the good; for, in following a set pattern and algorithm of administrative procedures, consideration for individual circumstances cannot be excepted.

One can argue, of course, for the positive aspects of a bureaucracy — of the equal treatment of all; of applying the same standards and criteria across the board, regardless of individual needs; and there is certainly something to be said for expunging the capacity for human favoritism.  But bias and favoritism will always pervade; it will merely take on a more insidious form.

For the Federal and Postal Worker who is suffering from a medical condition such that the medical condition is impacting one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job, encountering the bureaucratic process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management will become a necessary evil to confront.

The key to a successful interaction with the administrative process will be to reach beyond the faceless bureaucracy, and to make relevant one’s own particular and unique facts and circumstances.  That is a tall order to face, in the face of a faceless bureaucracy.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: The Misinformation Center

When a government agency provides wrong information, should one be surprised?  Reliance upon a source of information is always a problematic issue; further, there is always a presumption that information issued by the original source should on its face be reliable.

Information obtain from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management on issues of retirement, disability retirement, collateral issues of survivor’s benefits, etc., should by its very nature be reliable because that is precisely the very agency which mandates the regulations and handles all matters concerning Federal retirement, disability or otherwise.  But more and more, phone calls to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management have resulted in misinformation being provided.

There is, of course, always the possibility that the caller misinterpreted what was stated over the telephone; but when such occurrences become regular encounters, one begins to wonder if such a simplistic explanation can adequately satisfy the curious mind.  Unfortunately, there may be a better explanation:  in an agency which is overworked and understaffed, replies to inquiries may come from unreliable sources who are either inadequately trained, lack the necessary information, or simply are discourteous enough to give any answer thought of to get rid of the caller.

Ultimately, the best answer one may rely upon is that which may be subject to accountability — the written word.  For, if information provided in written format on a website — whether on the official agency website, or on an attorney’s website — is relied upon, such reliance cannot later be retracted or dismissed with, “I never said that”, when it shows plainly as the day is bright that the organization or entity is the responsible agent for the information provided.  In the end, a source of information must always be verified based upon multiple elements:  Reliability of the agent; motivation for the information; longevity of accuracy; reputation for having expertise in an area; and multiple other checks and balances.

Making a phone call is a dangerous venture to begin with; for, the voice on the other end is merely that — a faceless voice with no accountability — and the source of information may be coming from a parallel universe of the absurd, called the “Misinformation Center“.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Approaching the Entrance to OPM’s Thought Process

The attempt to predict an opponent’s approach in an endeavor — whether in competitive sports; in debate; in an adversarial forum — is a practice which can have favorable results, or one which ends with disastrous consequences.  For the prediction itself must be based upon known factors, such as the applicable standards which the opponent will rely upon, relevant elements which will be utilized, and human, unpredictable quirks which seem to always come into play.

In approaching an opponent, it is always a good idea to study the opposition; but too much reliance upon attempting to out-maneuver the opposition can have the negative impact of taking away from valuable preparation-time one may need in order to prevail.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, many Federal and Postal applicants attempt to analyze the questions posed on the Standard Forms (SF 3107 series for FERS employees; SF 2801 series for CSRS employees; SF 3112 series for both FERS & CSRS employees) perhaps too deeply, in attempting to “understand” the opponent — the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Yes, the questions must be analyzed; yes, there is an implicit trickiness to many of the questions (especially on SF 3112A); and, yes, a cautious approach must be taken in answering the questions.  But such caution should never detract from spending the necessary time in preparing the crux and foundation of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application — that of formulating the logical nexus between one’s medical condition and the positional duties which one can no longer perform.

Ultimately, the substance of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application must be given the greatest of focus and effort:  attempting to approach the opponent’s thought processes — in this case, that of the “collective” efforts of multiple individuals at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management — may be an act of futility; better to spend the needed hours solidifying one’s own case than to try and understand an incomprehensible entity.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Pain and the Fallacy of Objectivity

Pain by definition is “subjective”, if by it one means that the experiential verification of the condition is uniquely possessed by the “I”, or the subject of the experience.  By contrast, that which is deemed “objective” is presumably validated by more than the possessor of the experiential condition — i.e., by third parties; by testing for the validity and verification of an event through means other than the personal narrative of a singular subject.  Yet, if verification of an experience is accepted merely by sheer volume of a collective consensus, then most scientific revolutions in advanced discoveries would never have survived.

In Federal Disability Retirement law, it is often the argument of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management that the Federal or Postal applicant has failed to provide “objective” medical evidence in presenting his or her case.  The narrative of having a condition of “chronic pain”, or “severe pain” — being “subjective” by definition — is not deemed “objective“, and therefore cannot be the valid basis alone for a Federal Disability Retirement case (or so the argument by OPM is often presented).  Even the results of an MRI will not necessarily satisfy the scrutiny of OPM; for, ultimately, an MRI can only reveal an observable abnormality — not that a person experiences “pain”.

Fortunately, there are a number of cases in law which rebut OPM in their attempt to bifurcate between “objective” and “subjective”, and such legal tools should always be cited and applied in any Federal or Postal Disability Retirement application.

While pain may indeed be subjective by definition, the objectivity of a Federal Disability Retirement application should never be based upon what OPM deems as sufficient; rather, it is the law and the long history of legal guidance by the courts which should mandate how OPM acts.  Indeed, if we let OPM’s subjective determinations rule the day, we would all be left in an existential state of pain — one which would then result in a collective consensus which may be deemed objective in nature.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Left and Right Hands

Having two hands in and of itself does not guarantee cooperation of effort or a manifestation of symphonic coordination.  If the two hands (or more) are contributed by two or more people, without a central cognitive control center, there can be an undermining of efforts precisely because each hand is attempting to engage in an activity independent of the other.

Thus it is with the attempt by an injured or disabled Federal Worker to formulate a Federal Disability Retirement application through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS; and, similarly, the identical concept of cooperative efforts applies to the agencies themselves, if seen as entities with “hands”.

The problem, of course, is that OPM is a separate agency from the Federal or Postal entity through which the Federal or Postal employee submits an application.  While the Federal Agency may believe that certain actions definitively settle an issue regarding Federal Disability Retirement, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is neither bound by, nor even required to acknowledge, the validity of any such determination.

Thus, for example, a particular agency may search for a way to “accommodate” a Federal Worker’s medical conditions, and may assert that they cannot provide a reasonable accommodation.  OPM may look at that and declare that the mere fact that an agency says so, does not mean that the Federal Worker cannot still engage in “useful or efficient” service.

Contradiction?  Inherent confusion?  Or misunderstanding of the law?

It is like the man with the bionic arm:  until the arm can become in sync with the mind of the operator, it is the same as if one only has one arm.  Ultimately, such questions are a “matter of law”, and OPM is almost always wrong with respect to the law.  It is up to the applicant, or his/her attorney, to point it out, and to make sure that the two hands become coordinated in arriving at an approval of a Federal or Postal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

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