OPM Disability Retirement for Federal and Postal Employees: Administrative v. Adversarial

That is often the line of argument:  Since it is an “administrative process”, it is not adversarial.  This presumes quite a bit — such as, the term “adversarial” is constrained to applying only in such cases where a trial, a courtroom, and witnesses exist.  But if that is the case, then doesn’t that occur in a Hearing before the Merit Systems Protection Board? But that, too, is an “Administrative Process.” 

Such an argument, of course, is often used by Human Resources personnel to attempt to dissuade Federal and Postal workers of the necessity of retaining an attorney to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  Yet, further presumptions & assumptions would have to be made if one were to accept the argument that an “administrative process” is “non-adversarial”, such as:  the personnel who review and evaluate Federal Disability Retirement applications are “objective” and have no interest in approving or disapproving a case (this assumes that having or not having an interest in X makes the process “non-adversarial); or, that the Office of Personnel Management is merely applying the law in reviewing a Federal Disability Retirement application (this presumes that such application of the law is performed and accomplished correctly).  The concept of determining that a process is “administrative” does not exclude the reality that the same process is also “adversarial“; the two concepts are not mutually exclusive, and is not defined only within a universe where there are two or more contrary or opposing interests involved. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: RIF

If a person is separated from Federal Service pursuant to a Reduction-in-Force, can he file an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS?  As with all such questions, “It Depends”.  If a person has a medical disability prior to the separation from service, and the doctor will state that prior to the separation, the Federal or Postal employee could no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of the job, then the answer is that he has a Federal Disability Retirement case.  Whether from a RIF or for some other reasons is ultimately irrelevant; the point is that one must ultimately show that prior to separation from Federal Service — any type of separation — the connection between the medical condition and the type of job one has, must be made.  Remember, further, that during the time of Federal Employment, if a person was receiving OWCP partial disability payments for an hour, two hours, three hours, per week or per day, that is further evidence that the Federal or Postal employee was unable to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job.  For, as with any full-time Federal sector job, being able to work 8 hours per day, 5 days per week, is part of the essential element of such a job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Why Up to 1 Year?

In filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, why should a person be given up to 1 year after separation from Federal Service, to file for the benefits?  The underlying legal rationale can be conflicting, but there are multiple pragmatic reasons why such a statute allowing for a person to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits up to 1 year after separation from service, is “reasonable” and “sound in judgment”. 

Often, Federal and Postal employees get fired before the proper forms or medical documentation can be completed or gathered; proposed terminations and determinations on the proposals can come about quickly; a Federal or Postal employee who is focused upon getting treatment (surgery; psychiatric treatment, etc.) can be left with a sense of being overwhelmed, and incapable of filing for a benefit which requires rational thought, procedural organization, and an ability to be systematic in approaching the entire process; a person may not fully comprehend or appreciate the extent of a medical condition, and may quit, resign, or file for early retirement with a lesser annuity, feeling isolated and beset with a sense of hopelessness in not “having any other choice” but to walk away from the Federal or Postal job he or she loved; suffer from a Reduction-in-Force (RIF), and think that because of the RIF that disability retirement was not an option (it often is); and many other reasons.  Indeed, there is a rational and logical basis for allowing for the 1-year timeframe of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, after the Federal or Postal worker has been removed or separated from Federal Service.  On top of it all, to allow for it is simply “fair”.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement for Federal and Postal Employees: Defining Terms

In proceeding through the administrative and bureaucratic maze of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, one of the most frustrating encounters is the lack of an ability to concretely “define terms”, such that any disagreement with the Office of Personnel Management can be narrowly curtailed in order to allow for a proper response.  It is often contended that 99% of arguments and disagreements are non-substantive.  That is, because neither side defines the terms utilized in the argument, each side will argue at cross-purposes, never agreeing because there has been no prefatory attempt at defining the terms which are being used in the first place.  If you can, take the opportunity to sit and listen to two people arguing:  Are each using terms interchangeably and loosely?  Is person A using the terms in the same way and meaning as person B?  It is unfortunate that there is never an opportunity to have a “conversation“, in effect, with the Office of Personnel Management, before an Initial Decision is made. 

When one looks at an OPM denial, denying an initial Federal or Postal Disability Retirement application, the terms used, the criteria declared, the arguments made (if any), there is never a static point of reference in the terms defined.  Ultimately, of course, the point of needing to “define the terms” comes about at the Third Stage of the Process — at the Merit Systems Protection Board, where an Administrative Judge will be an arbiter and (hopefully) finally force a more stable use and definition of terms.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Selective Reality

The problem with an unrepresented Federal or Postal employee who files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, is that because this is the one and only encounter with OPM, any response from them will be a narrow, one-dimensional perspective.

Thus, if the Office of Personnel Management denies the Federal or Postal disability retirement application, such a denial, the manner in which it is written, the content, the apparent delineation of “the law”, and the loosely-stated declarative statement while vaguely referring to the insufficiency of one’s medical documentation, will result in a narrow perspective, in a vacuum of reality created by OPM.

OPM’s denial letters are notorious for its selective reality.  Such selective reality will completely ignore all medical statements which seem to support the OPM disability retirement application, while selectively focusing upon every tidbit of medical notations which favor the denial.

Thus, be careful if on any given day, you arrive at the doctor’s office and the doctor asks you how you are feeling, and you respond with, “I’m feeling pretty good, today.”  Such a conversational statement may nullify the fact that, in its proper context, what the reality of your statement meant to convey was:  “I’m feeling better today in comparison with yesterday and the entire month before, but in no way could I perform my job even today.”  But OPM will selectively pick upon that one statement, and run with it — to a complete and total basis in denying your Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Strategy of Disheartening the Opposition

When Federal and Postal employees who have filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, and have been denied at the initial stage of the process, many are sincerely disheartened.

In my initial contact with the denied applicant, there are multiple levels of reactions, including:  the denial letter points to legal criteria which they were unaware of; it refers to doctors notations which are taken completely out of context; they have completely ignored major portions of what the doctor has stated; OPM points to legal criteria which has been met, but which OPM simply denies that it has been met.

What can be done?  This is the strategy of disheartening the opposition.

In other denials, it is simply a matter of referring to a doctor’s report here, and to a medical notation there; then to simply declare:  You have not submitted sufficient medical documentation and fail to meet the legal criteria to be eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  What can be done?  No explanation; just scant references, then a unilateral declaration.  Again, this is the strategy of disheartening the opposition.  What to do?  Don’t get disheartened.  Respond.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Tyranny of Logic

The general concept of ‘tyranny’ is normally reserved for extreme cases of autocratic emblems of dictatorships, governmental overreaching, denial of due process, etc., and is rarely used in addressing issues arising in Federal Disability Retirement laws governing Federal and Postal workers who are attempting to access an employment benefit which is part of the Federal and Postal employment package — that of Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  In this use of the term, however, it is in conjoining two independent concepts:  that of ‘tyranny’ and that of ‘logic’.  The compounding of the terms results in a concept which is applicable in a positive sense.  Allow me to explain. 

In the course of filing for Federal or Postal disability retirement benefits, when one is denied at any level of the administrative process, one has a right to a further appeal.  Thus, if the application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is denied at the First Stage of the process, then you have a right to have it ‘reconsidered’ (called the “Reconsideration Stage“, appropriately).  If it is denied a second time, you then have the right to file an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board — and beyond.  At each stage of the process, one hopes that in the review and evaluation of the Federal Disability Retirement application, first by the Office of Personnel Management, then by an Administrative Judge, then by a Federal Appellate Judge, that a set of legal criteria is fairly and uniformly applied, such that the ‘tyranny of logic’ rules.  In this sense, ‘tyranny’ is meant to apply in a positive sense, in that a logical, fair and uniform application of the law is applied to the set of facts presented by the Federal or Postal disability retirement application.  This all assumes, of course, that somewhere along the line of the ‘food-chain’ of review, that someone has been exposed to either logic, logical argumentation, or the ‘rules of logic’.  Hope springs eternally.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: An Additional Problem with Answering an OPM Denial

Spring and summer are finally upon us; the warmth of the sun finally brings some hope that the multiple series of snowstorms may be finally behind us (now that I have said it, the chances are exponentially multiplied that we will accumulate an additional 20 inches of snow in March).  Thoughts of the beach will soon become visually real, as opposed to virtually experienced.  Sand.  The metaphor of the “shifting sand” is one which is applicable to the Office of Personnel Management in its denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  Those of you who have followed my stream of consciousness on the issue of templates, denial letters and the arbitrary nature of OPM’s decision-making process, will not find it surprising to find that OPM merely shifts, changes positions, and dances around (albeit, not always gracefully) any attempt to “corner” the argument which purportedly is the basis for a denial of a Federal or Postal Disability Retirement application

Do not, however, underestimate the importance of properly, directly, and clearly answering the concerns of an OPM denial.  It is not enough to gather more medical documentation and sending them in.  It is not enough to address, point by point, the basis of a denial letter.  One must corner, clarify, and clearly define the basis of an OPM denial, then refute them.  This way, if it is denied a second time, and the case goes before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board, the AJ will see that the issues previously brought forth by OPM have already been addressed, and that any necessity for a Hearing may be avoided by clarifying any remaining concerns which the OPM representative may need to search for and articulate. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire