Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Keeping it Simple

In almost all instances, stating the obvious when filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS is the rule to follow.  Another simple rule to follow:  Keep it Simple.  Except in special circumstances (e.g., where there is a nebulous diagnosis and one must interweave multiple symptmatologies in order to bypass the possibility that you may be later precluded from “adding” a “new” medical condition, etc.), it is best to stick to a paradigm of a 1-to-1 ratio or correspondence of medical conditions, symptoms, impact upon work, etc.  

Such a template can be dangerous to follow, however, because any Applicant’s Statement of one’s disability should never appear mechanical or stilted in its tone and tenor.  Emotionalism should not be stripped from an applicant’s statement of one’s disability in a Federal Disability Retirement application and, indeed, sterility should not be a goal to be sought.  

That goal should be from the treating doctor, where technical medical terms present a sense of diagnostic objectivity and scientific validity.  But such simple rules as presenting the correspondence between specific physical conditions with the physical requirements of one’s job, and similarly, between specific psychiatric symptoms with the cognitive requirements of one’s job, is an important “rule” to follow.  Remember, however, that filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is not a “perfect science”; in fact, it is not a science at all, but a mix between law, personal input, and medical facts, with the creative force of persuasion.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Stating the Obvious

Sometimes, stating the obvious is necessary.  In filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, and in dealing with the Office of Personnel Management, “stating the obvious” becomes not only a necessity, but a truism encapsulated in profundity surrounded by a simple rule:  the greater the obviousness, the more effective the Federal Disability Retirement application.  

For the applicant under FERS or CSRS who files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, who is unrepresented, it is best not to act as a lawyer.  While case-law and statutes abound as free information on the internet (and such information and discussion is certainly available on my website at http://www.federaldisabilitylawyer.com/ and in various articles I have written on the subject), misinterpretation, misunderstanding, or mis-citation of cases, statutes, rules or regulations can easily be engaged in.  

While generally harmless, and further, since many at the Office of Personnel Management are not even aware of the laws and case-laws governing the very subject which they are supposed to rule upon, what is the point (one might ask)?  The obvious point is for the future — to always predicate a case upon the simple truism that one stage in the process may not be enough, and so building a foundation for the next stage, and the stage after that, by preserving the legal and factual arguments for an eventual appeal, is always a necessary evil one must perform.  State the obvious — and state it multiple times.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Right Time to File

The proper time to file for a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is an issue which only the Federal or Postal employee contemplating such action can make a final determination upon.  The question often posed to an attorney, “What should I do?” is a difficult one when it comes to timing.  However, because the Office of Personnel Management seems to be taking a long time in rendering decisions upon a FERS or CSRS disability retirement application, such length of time must be taken into account when determining which “metric system” of filing one should rely upon.  

Further, because OWCP benefits can be cut off because of non-compliance issues, or because the Department of Labor has decided that you are fully recovered and can go back to full duties, the comfort of such payments may not be the best guidance as to determining the right time to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  The answer to the previous question is thus probably two-fold:  

The fact that you are contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is an indicator; and second, preparation should involve reading as much information on the internet by various resources, and determining which source appears to have the knowledge, credibility and insight to be able to assist you in attaining your goals.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Preparing for the Future

The problem of a “good worker” is that they rarely prepare for a future in which he or she is not as productive as in the present time.  Good workers don’t think in terms of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, and instead plow ahead despite the medical condition(s) , the pain, discomfort, or other signs of impending future consequences.

Federal and Postal employees work hard on a daily basis; many continue to work through their medical conditions, despite signs that they should heed, and despite warnings and protestations from their treating doctors.  Yet, preparation and groundwork for a potential Federal Disability Retirement applicant is often helpful.

Some simple tips:  Don’t try and mask or hide the symptoms of a medical disability or condition from your doctor.  It is important for the doctor to annotate such complaints or symptoms which have manifested themselves, first for purposes of treatment, and secondarily for purposes of establishing a history of the condition.

Further, don’t think that hard work in and of itself will engender irreversible loyalty from your Agency.  If a future time comes when you need the support of your Agency in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, don’t expect the Agency to suddenly show an undying sense of loyalty for all of those years of work and sacrifice; more likely, an Agency will show an acute sense of selective amnesia.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The PIP

Let’s be very clear:  while the designation of a Performance Improvement Plan is often characterized or defined as an “opportunity” for both the Agency as well as the Federal employee to assess the performance of an individual, in order to show areas of needed improvement, to identify areas of needed accommodation, etc., the truth of the intended placement of a PIP is one clear roadmap:  To get rid of you.  It is a way for the Agency to have an “objective” basis in which to propose a termination of a Federal employee.  It is a way for the Agency to be able to say to the Judge, “Hey, we tried; we gave him/her the opportunity to improve…”

The consequences and linkage between a PIP and a Federal Disability Retirement application, however, is almost always there to take advantage of:  The Performance Improvement Plan (a corollary for the Postal employee is the “Investigative Interview”, or other similar nonsense) is proof-positive that one’s medical conditions directly prevent one from performing all of the essential elements of one’s job.

The key is to try and document the linkage — between the initiation of a PIP and having the Agency acknowledge that there are underlying medical conditions which caused the necessity of a PIP initiation, as well as leading to the resulting failure within the PIP.  While it may be that the Federal employee wants to continue to work, and not file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the reality is that the initiation and institution of a PIP is a good indicator that filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is no longer a choice; it has become a necessity.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: OPM & SSDI

In filing an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS (Federal Employees Retirement System), the applicant must file for Social Security disability benefits (SSDI) sometime prior to the approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  This is because the “system” of FERS is tied to the Social Security System, and the Federal Government wants to see whether or not a FERS disability retirement applicant is concurrently eligible and entitled to Social Security Disability benefits.  Those Federal or Postal Workers who are still under the “old system” (CSRS — Civil Service Retirement System) — and you are getting rarer and fewer each year — need not apply.  Those who are of a “hybrid” nature (CSRS offset, etc.) also should apply.

 There is an inconsistency in the way the Office of Personnel Management “requires” the filing for SSDI.  Sometimes, OPM will insist that a FERS Federal Disability Retirement applicant file for SSDI and obtain a receipt only after he or she has been unemployed or separated from the Federal Agency; other times, OPM will be fully satisfied with a receipt of an SSDI filing obtained even while employed by the agency, even though it would mean that an SSDI denial was based upon employment, and not upon whether a person was disabled or not.  In any event, an applicant who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS should comply with the requirement by filing for SSDI, and getting a receipt showing that one has filed.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Using an Agency’s Action

Agencies will often act in predictable fashion; they act based upon prior actions engaged in; they act as an organic constituent of procedures and policies previously followed (often blindly and without thought) in the past; they act in self-interest, and often with a very narrow, myopic path and goal.  

If an agency ignores the medical conditions and the documentation submitted showing the medical conditions of a Federal or Postal employee, and removes an individual from his or her Federal position based upon reasons other than one’s medical inability to perform one’s job (whether intentionally or because no one bothered to look at the medical documentation), then the resulting action can obviously impact a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  Often, the Agency’s general counsel will be the first person to finally listen to reason, and by then an appeal has been filed with the Merit Systems Protection Board, for the sole and narrow purpose — not of overturning the termination or getting one’s job back, but — of rescinding the adverse decision of removal and reissuing a removal based upon one’s medical inability to perform one’s job.  

This course of action, however, is not always necessary.  Often, the adverse action, the delineation of poor performance, etc., can be directly tied to one’s progressively deteriorating medical condition, and the Agency’s own actions can be used to one’s advantage in proving a Federal Disability Retirement case.  Each case is different, and discretion in fighting for that which is helpful, and recognizing that what may “appear” to be adverse, is actually to one’s benefit, is the key to winning a Federal Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Influences

The fear that failure experienced in one path & process will impact and influence another process is one that is often of concern.

When a Federal or Postal employee files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, there are often concurrent and parallel paths which are undertaken — whether it is concurrently filing for OWCP (Worker’s Comp) benefits; SSDI (which is a requirement under FERS, anyway); a third-party personal injury claim; application for unemployment benefits, etc.  And then, of course, there are EEOC Complaints which may be filed; collateral lawsuits, and other administrative and judicial processes which may be entered into in parallel fashion.

Do any of these other processes impact or influence a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS?

Fortunately, Agencies are like uncoordinated hands appended to multiple personnel with different brains and different neurological centers; rarely do they communicate with each other.

Even assuming, however, that some sort of communication does occur, because the applicable laws and criteria which govern each independent administrative process is different from each other, it is rare that a denial in one administrative process will adversely impact a Federal Disability Retirement application for a Federal or Postal employee under FERS or CSRS.  Imagine that — Federal agencies not coordinating with each other.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire