Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Understanding the Doctor

A question I often ask the treating doctor at the end of a Hearing before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board (obviously for Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS) is:  Do you have an opinion as to whether Mr. X/Ms. Y is a malingerer? The reason I ask such a question is to establish in the mind of the Administrative Judge, that after all of the clinical examinations, the treatment modalities, the diagnostic testing, etc., does the doctor have a personal opinion about the individual who is seeking to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits

Obviously, there are multiple questions which I ask as a follow-up; and, indeed, the question as to the status of the client/applicant requests a professional opinion about the patient — but implicit in that question is also a rather personal one.  It goes to the heart of who the patient/applicant is, and what the doctor believes about this particular applicant/patient.  For, to resolve any doubts about the underlying motive of the patient is not only important to the Administrative Judge in a Federal Disability Retirement application; it is equally important that the doctor is comfortable in his own mind, as to the clear and honest intention of his patient.  Conveying that comfort from the voice of the treating doctor to the ears of the deciding Judge, is no small matter.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: The Chasm between Denials

From the perspective of an individual Applicant for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, the individual applicant does not normally observe some other person’s Federal Disability Retirement application, and therefore never has the opportunity to see the “greater process” at work, or patterns of behavior on the part of the Office of Personnel Management.  Yet, there are indeed patterns, and that is why an experienced attorney who has seen literally thousands of Federal Disability Retirement cases over numerous years, has an advantage in responding to OPM’s denials.  Experience lends itself to greater observation.  Experience over time reveals certain patterns.  And patterns of behavior can reveal important principles. 

Certain OPM Representatives provide detailed and (often) irrelevant factual references which can be ignored; others like to “cite the law” and believe that such citations appear irrefutable and authoritative; and still others give scant discussion to laws or to facts.  Thus, there often appears to be a great chasm between the types of denials.  Whether or not there are such differences, an applicant who has received a denial for his or her Federal Disability Retirement case needs to respond to any such denial with a three-pronged attack:  Medical refutation; Factual correction; Legal assertion.  Such an attack will cover any chasm which might exist between the different individuals who send out a denial letter.  More importantly, it will cover the necessary elements for winning a Federal Disability Retirement case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Preempting OPM’s Arguments

It is important at all stages of a Federal Disability Retirement application for FERS & CSRS employees to predict, anticipate, and preempt the arguments which the Office of Personnel Management may make, will make, and can be expected to make.  Obviously, the three main areas of such concern are:  Sufficiency of medical documentation; Agency efforts for accommodation and reassignment; the impact and interconnection between one’s medical condition(s) and the positional duties of one’s job. 

However, there are multiple other areas, and it is the job of an applicant filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, or his/her attorney, to anticipate the areas of OPM’s concerns, and to address them both factually and legally — the latter, by pointing out statutory authorities and case-law holdings directly or implicitly touching upon those very areas of concern.  Further, one should never be fooled if, in an initial denial of an OPM Disability Retirement application, the substance of a denial is fairly short or if it is detailed and lengthy; the content of a denial letter should not determine the extent of a response by an applicant at the Reconsideration Stage.  Instead, whether short, of “middle length”, or extremely detailed, a response should anticipate all areas of concern, and the applicant who is attempting to secure an approval for his or her Federal Disability Retirement benefits should always preempt any potential areas for a further denial.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Unequivocal Doesn’t Mean That One Is “Right”

In a denial letter from the Office of Personnel Management, the Claims Specialist/Representative will often make statements in confident, unequivocal terms.  “You have not…”   “The medical evidence fails to show…”    “Your doctor never…”   “The law requires that you…”  Such a voice of unequivocal confidence often leaves the impression that there is no room for argument; that the case is lost; that there really is no point in even attempting to argue with the Office of Personnel Management.  Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Merely because an individual makes statements in an unequivocal manner, is not a basis for determining the truth or falsity of his or her argument.  In a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, there is almost always room for disagreement.  We are speaking about interpretation of medical documents, the significance of what is said, etc.  We are talking about the different and proper application of the OPM Disability law, and the multitude of case-law which would be applicable.  Don’t let the voice of a statement fool you as to the validity of the statement.  In a Federal Disability Retirement case, the Office of Personnel Management is rarely right; they just like to sound like they are.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: Always the Initiator

In preparing, formulating and completing a Federal Disability Retirement packet under FERS & CSRS for the Office of Personnel Management, it is important to always be the initiator of all issues, real, implicit or potentially existing.  Nothing should ever be “hidden”.  To hide is to admit that something is wrong; to paraphrase a Shakespearean verse, to object too strenuously is to admit to something that you think needs objecting to.  Or, to put it in elementary terms, honesty is always the best policy

Aside from the obvious penalties for lying upon a Federal Application for Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, there is the practical reason:  rarely is an issue of such ominous importance that it would preclude a Federal or Postal employee from obtaining Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  Certainly, some issues can become temporary impediments; other issues — often relating to performance issues, misconduct during Federal Service, a perception that an employee did something “wrong” — will lead a potential applicant for Federal Disability Retirement benefits to “color the truth” in an application for Federal Disability Retirement.  There is no need.  Certainly, some issues need to be highlighted more than others, and other issues need to be left in the periphery; but openness is the best policy, and honesty is always the only avenue to success.  It is merely how you state it, that matters.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: How to Handle those “Second-Class” Medical Conditions

Attitudes toward various medical conditions change over time.  This has certainly been the case with psychiatric medical conditions:  Major Depression, Anxiety, panic attacks, Bipolar Disorder, Agoraphobia, PTSD, OCD, etc.  At one time in our society, the heavy stigma placed upon such medical conditions essentially made them unacceptable.  Over time, however, as greater numbers of such conditions came to the forefront, and greater success at treatment of such conditions became evident, the validity and acceptance of such conditions have resulted in other medical conditions taking their place. 

Thus, certain conditions such as Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic Pain, Chemical Sensitivity cases, etc., have become the psychiatric conditions of a prior age.  Perhaps it is because the medical profession treats such conditions as afterthoughts — where, through a process of elimination of saying that the medical condition is not X, Y or Z, therefore it is A. 

Whatever the reasons, in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, a Federal or Postal employee who is applying for such benefits who is suffering from any of the Second-Class medical conditions must formulate and compile his or her case in a thoughtful, deliberate and forceful manner.  Such an application must include adequate medical support; a clear and concise bridge between the symptomatologies experienced and the type of job which one must perform; and legal arguments which support the basis for an approval.  To some extent, this approach is no different than with any other medical condition; it is merely a reminder that one must cross all “T’s” and dot all “I’s” with that much more care.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Those “Second-Class” Medical Conditions

We all know what the “Second-Class” medical conditions are:  Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Diffuse Pain, Chemical Sensitivity issues, etc.  To some extent, such medical conditions have always been a paradigm of a society — at one time, one could argue that all psychiatric conditions were treated in a similar manner:  accepted at some level as a medical condition, but stigmatized as somehow being less than legitimate.

In a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is patently obvious that the Office of Personnel Management treats certain medical conditions as “second-class” conditions.  They often deny such cases at the initial stage of the process, and unless you point out a compendium of established case-law authorities, OPM will often get away with their groundless assertions.

Words matter, and which words and arguments are chosen to rebut the Office of Personnel Management matters much in a Federal Disability Retirement case.  Such medical conditions are not second-class medical conditions, and OPM should not be allowed to treat them as such.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Another Day to Fight

I often tell young people who are contemplating going to Law School that, to become a lawyer, one must accept a life of constant contentiousness.  While “professional courtesy” in the field of practicing law is often spoken about, and courtroom decorum is indeed important to maintain, it is nevertheless a profession which faces controversy, contentiousness, debate, disagreement — and, yes, disagreeableness.

One might think that in the field of Administrative Law, such as Federal Disability Retirement law, where the singular issue is whether a Federal or Postal employee is eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, that the level of confrontation and contentiousness may be limited.  It is not.

This is because the emotional, mental, financial and future security of an individual is at stake.  At any given moment in time, the client who is counting on getting an approval from the Office of Personnel Management, may feel the anguish of the wait.

It is up to the Attorney who represents the Federal or Postal employee to win the fight, and to know that so long as there is another day to fight, there is always a chance that the client will obtain the Federal Disability Retirement benefit that he or she rightfully deserves.  Today or tomorrow is another day to fight, and it is another day of contentiousness which is worth it, because that is what we are paid to do.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: The "Lost Cause" Case

Often, an approval for a Federal Disability Retirement case will come in the mail, and the client will state, “I never thought I would see it approved.”  It is the job of an attorney who specializes in any area of law, to win the case.  In representing Federal and Postal employees to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the ultimate “win” is to get the approval from the Office of Personnel Management

Some cases are harder to get approved than others; then, there are the “Lost Cause” cases — ones which, for one reason or another, seem to encounter greater obstacles:  from agencies which attempt to undermine the Federal Disability Retirement application, to adverse termination proceedings prior to the filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application; to insufficient medical documentation; and multiple other reasons, there are cases which appear to be lost causes.  Yet, so long as there is another stage of appeal, and so long as there is sufficient merit to a case, one should never give up.  Lost causes are especially triumphant moments for the attorney representing a disabled Federal employee.  For an OPM Disability Retirement case, it is especially sweet to obtain that letter of approval from the Office of Personnel Management, for that case which the client himself/herself believed as a “lost cause”.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Fairness

“Fairness” is a difficult concept to set aside, even when it is in the best interests of one to do so.  The underlying list of supporting reasons may be many — that the Agency engaged in acts X, Y & Z; that the Agency or named Supervisor did certain things, etc.

In a Federal Disability Retirement case, it is often not a good idea to focus upon issues of fairness.  In representing clients, my focus is upon proving by a preponderance of the evidence that a Federal or Postal employee is eligible and ultimately entitled to receiving Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Issues of agency actions; whether a Federal or Postal Worker was treated “fairly”; whether the National Reassessment Program is “fair”; all of these issues become peripheral, and sometimes harmful to the process of filing for and obtaining Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

To paraphrase an old adage, it is my job to keep that which is central to the issue, my center of attention, and to sweep aside the superfluous as just that —  distractions which should not be allowed to impede or otherwise impact the purpose of the entire process:  to get an approval from the Office of Personnel Management for one’s Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire