Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Reconsiderations

There is a line to be drawn between arguing the law within a boundary of integrity, and arguing the law beyond any reasonable interpretation of the law.  This principle is no less true in administrative law, which is what Federal Disability Retirement law is considered.  I often see non-lawyers make “legal arguments” in an initial application to the Office of Personnel Management, which is then denied, and I then enter my appearance in the case at the Second, Reconsideration Stage of the process.  That is fine — some applicants want to try and save the cost of hiring an attorney, and then decide it is necessary after it has been denied. 

However, as I often explain to clients:  while most mistakes in a Federal Disability Retirement application can be amended or explained, I do not have the magical ability to place “blinders” upon the eyes of the OPM Representative for legal or other arguments or statements made to them at the First Stage of the Process.  While my website and my articles & writings provide a good bit of information on filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, and anyone can use it to his or her advantage, one bit of caution:  Don’t make legal arguments if you don’t fully know what you are talking about.  To do so more often than not results in a loss of credibility, and if your case goes before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board, the Judge may not look favorably upon a case where a spurious argument was made at the initial stage of the process.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Law

Technically, the law does not have to be applied at the administrative, agency-level of the Office of Personnel Management.  Let me clarify:  one likes to always think that when an applicant for Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS is filing for the benefit, that the agency which oversees the application will review it with an overarching umbrella of criteria which is governed by an objective foundation deemed as “the law”.  Thus, in a perfect world, one might imagine an efficient line of technocrats sitting in cubicles, all with a reference book containing the relevant laws governing the eligiblity criteria for Federal Disability Retirement.  But that would be in a perfect world; and since such a perfect world fails to exist, what we have is an arbitrary sprinkling of various personnel, who collectively comprise the Office of Personnel Management, some of whom apply the law well, and some of whom apply the law less than competently. 

To some extent, the arbitrary methodology applied at the agency level is counter-balanced with the threat of a review by an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board, followed by a Full Review at the MSPB, then to be further appealed to at the Federal Circuit Court level; but it is nevertheless sometimes disconcerting that, at the Agency level, this peculiar animal called “the law” is not uniformly applied in all cases, at all times.  And sometimes rarely.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Miscellaneous

Some cases take months to win; others, merely a week or so.  In some Disability Retirement applications under FERS or CSRS, a half-page report of substantive medical evidence is enough; in other cases, it is the compilation of voluminous material which must be argued and persuasively emphasized, in order to convince the representative at the Office of Personnel Management that the Federal or Postal employee is entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits. 

Professionally, it gives me no greater satisfaction when a case takes a week, or if it is approved based upon a half-page medical report, than if it takes months or volumes of medical evidence:  an approval by any means results in the satisfaction of a client.  There a some cases in which a client “grumbles” when I am hired, paid, and am able to reverse an OPM decision within a week; but I try and explain to all clients that when you hire an attorney, you hire the attorney not only for his professional competence, knowledge and experience, but also for the reputation that an attorney brings to the forum.  I have attempted to build a reputation of integrity with the Office of Personnel Management, and there are many times when OPM will reverse their previous decision upon my entering my appearance into a case.  I share this fact with great humility, and an appreciation that one’s reputation still means something in this world.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Knowledge

It has often been noted that “knowledge is power”, which necessarily and logically implies, of course, that lack of knowledge leaves one with weakness.  Preparing a Federal Disability retirement application under FERS or CSRS requires a vast amount of knowledge.

After practicing in this area of law for over twenty (20) years (with my first 10 years involving not only Federal Disability Retirement law, but also including a heavy trial practice, appellate practice and employment law and general practice — with the last 10 years devoted exclusively to disability retirement law), the consistent and persistent need to keep updated on any changes; on case-law updates; on nuances of cases which I may have previously missed — one might think that the practice of law in a specialized field might get easier over the years.

I find that, to remain on top of the constant changes and shifts in the law is an ever-present, all-encompassing endeavor.  One cannot, and must not, put a “generic” case before a Merit Systems Protection Board Judge.  To do so becomes transparent and phony.  The same goes with submitting a generic application to the Office of Personnel Management.  There is no such thing — all Federal Disability Retirement applications must be tailored to fit the individual, and knowledge — and more importantly, greater knowledge — allows for such tailoring.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Office of Personnel Management

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the agency which reviews, approves or denies all Federal Disability Retirement applications for those who are under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), is taking an extraordinary amount of time in reviewing disability retirement applications.  This is true across the board — whether at the initial stage of the process, or at the Reconsideration Stage of the process. 

While certain individual appeals to “personal emergencies” can sometimes move an application ahead of others, the simple fact is that OPM is understaffed and overworked.  Patience is simply the only remedy, and the OPM representative will eventually get to a particular case in the order that it was received.  Now, the question as to whether a particular case is properly prepared such that it will get approved at the first review, is a separate question.  That is why it is important to prepare a disability retirement application properly, and well, at the first stage.  Because OPM is taking a long time before it is even reviewed, it is important to try and make your best case at the first stage.  However, by “best” does not necessarily mean a volume of medical records.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The “Cover” of an FCE

Most doctors are unfamiliar with the process of obtaining Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS, but are more often than not familiar with the process, procedures, and correlative headaches associated with Worker’s Comp benefits.  Because of this greater familiarity, there is often an underlying suspicion that comes along with it — that rendering any medical opinion must be accompanied by some underlying justification and “objective” methodology of supporting the medical opinion.  And this is understandable. 

In this day and age of malpractice lawsuits, of questioning every test, procedure and opinion, it is rare that a medical doctor is comfortable and secure in rendering a medical opinion about one’s ability or inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, based solely or primarily upon clinical examinations and reviewing of diagnostic results.  Enter the FCE — the “Functional Capacity Evaluation”.  The FCE provides “cover” for a doctor’s medical opinion, because the doctor can point to an apparently “objective” evaluation — a third party rendering a number of physical tests, exertional exercises, physical capacity movements, etc., which serve to provide a framework from which a doctor can render an “objective ” opinion.  Why it is accepted that pointing to someone else’s evaluation — as opposed to relying upon one’s own clinical examinations, reviewing one’s history, reviewing diagnostic test results, etc. — is any more valid, is a great mystery.  But if it makes the doctor feel more comfortable, then a person considering filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS should go ahead and agree to submit to an FCE, if that is what it takes to get the doctor on board.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire