Early Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: Areas of Practice

Invisible demarcation lines exist within each area of law, and if one envisions each such area of law somewhat like circles in a Venn Diagram, one can picture an overlap (sometimes quite significant) within the various areas of law.  

Thus, while the generic designation of “Administrative Law” might represent the primary demarcation, there will be subsets of legal practices, which include Social Security benefits, OWCP/FECA (Federal, as opposed to state OWCP attorneys), Veterans Benefits, EEOC, employment disputes, Federal Civil Rights violations, etc.  Some attorneys and law firms have specialties which include and embrace multiple disciplines; others attorneys or firms specialize in a single and exclusive area of law.  

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, there are very few attorneys “out there” who are either experienced or have the requisite knowledge and experience to adequately represent Federal or Postal employees in putting together a compelling Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  

It must be clearly understood that while preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS may be “similar” to other areas of legal practice, the practice of Federal Disability Retirement has its own unique sets of laws, rules, criteria and statutory authorities.  Knowing one circle in a Venn Diagram does not mean that such knowledge automatically translates and crosses over into another circle.  Beware of anyone who expresses expertise in multiple areas of law; it might be that traveling in too many circles will result in a circularity of abilities.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Statute of Limitations

In filing a Federal Disability Retirement application with the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, one must file within one (1) year of being “separated from service”.  That is what is often referred to as the “statute of limitations” — a limit placed upon the ability of a Federal or Postal worker to file for a claim, based upon pragmatic policies of making sure that a claim is “recent” enough to allow for evidence which is neither stale nor outdated.  

There is sometimes a level of confusion as to what it means to be “separated from service”, and it often appears that such confusion arises from mixing issues with other administrative claims.  Thus, OWCP/FECA has its own sets of rules; Social Security has its own set of rules, etc.  For Federal Disability Retirement applications under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management, to be “separated from service” and thus to trigger the 1-year timeframe, means that a Federal or Postal worker is terminated, taken off the rolls, and an SF 50 and PS Form 50 needs to be issued showing that a person has been effectively separated from Federal Service.  

For Postal Workers, a good indication that this action has been effectuated is when one stops received the “0”-balance paystubs.  Further, one must remember that, once separated from the Agency, after 31 days or more of such separation, any Federal Disability Retirement application must be filed directly with the Office of Personnel Management.  Filing with the Agency after the 31 day period and waiting for them to process the case, and relying upon them to forward it to OPM may result in a case simply sitting on someone’s desk…until the year has run out.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Delays

Often, the answer to a question posed depends upon how accurately the question is presented.  Such are the tools of the trade of an attorney, and it is often necessary to rephrase, reassemble and rearrange a question in order to suit an answer.  

In a Federal Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management, the question posed is:  How long does the process take?  This all depends upon a number of factors — how quickly the treating doctor will respond; how long will the Agency take in completing their portion; what is the “wait time” at the Office of Personnel Management.

Unspoken within the original question, however, is how many months of delay has already occurred on the part of the potential applicant prior to coming to a point of determining that filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is a necessary event.  Unfortunately, the very emergency nature of having to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS results quite often because the Federal or Postal worker has continued to delay for months and months — and sometimes years — prior to coming to a decision that filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is a necessity.  

Such delays and procrastination are often part of the medical condition itself, and cannot be helped.  But during such delays, it is important to make an assessment as to whether the procrastination has a detrimental effect, or is it for positive reasons?  If it is irrefutable that one’s medical condition is progressively and irreversibly deteriorating; if delaying is simply dwindling finances needed to endure the long administrative process of waiting for an approval from the Office of Personnel Management; if putting off the inevitable is simply a result of not wanting to face the event; such reasons for delay constitute a self-defeating action.  If, on the other hand, delaying has meant securing one’s financial future, or because it has had positive psychological benefits, then that is a different matter entirely.  

To delay is not necessarily a negative decision, but each individual must bear the personal responsibility of his or her part in such an act, by making a forthright assessment of the underlying reasons and justifications.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

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

Discretion” is little used term and concept in the world we live in.  Instead, the focus is always upon one’s “right” to speak about anything, to expose everything, to assert one’s demands, etc.  But the conceptual applicability of the term should not be ignored in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS —  one must be “discrete” as to which issues to include in such an application.  

By “discretion” is not meant to imply any attempt to hide or obfuscate an issue; rather, because Federal Disability Retirement is an administrative process with its own inherent rules and laws, there is a containment of the types of issues which one should stick to.  For example, one should minimize and stay away, as much as possible, from such issues as “workplace harassment”, “hostile work environment“, “employee harassment”, etc.  Such issues might be relevant in an EEOC case, but potentially detrimental to a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

There are Federal and Postal employees, however, who will insist that such issues “need to be brought up” in order to “expose” such injustice.  But everything has a proper time, place, and jurisdictional forum.  Discretion is always a relevant concept — but to recognize that discretion is a necessity in and of itself requires discretionary judgment; something that is sorely lacking in this day and age.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Preexisting Conditions

The Office of Personnel Management will sometimes make the following fallacious argument:  “Because your medical condition appears to have preexisted the time of your Federal Service, and you have been able to perform your job, you are not entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits.”  

This argument may take on various forms, with embellishments on the language used, but the argument as quoted represents the essence of what OPM will often state.  While the argument itself makes one scratch one’s head, there are implicit sub-arguments which, if extracted, extrapolated and projected/assumed, may bring one to a better understanding of what OPM is trying to say, and thereby be able to rebut and address such an argument.  The expanded version of the argument goes as follows:  “You had a diagnosed medical condition X prior to beginning your career with the Federal Service (often evidenced by a VA disability rating, or an MRI showing such).  You were placed in job Y, which you were able to do all of these many years.  From the time of your Federal Service to the present, there has been no defining moment or event which reveals that your condition worsened; only that you now state that you cannot perform your job.”  

This expanded version is what OPM is often attempting to argue.  Inasmuch as “pre-existing conditions” are not supposed to be a factor in Federal Disability Retirement cases (as opposed to being one in FECA cases), how does one address it?  By pointing out to the progressively deteriorating nature of the medical condition; by having a discussion with the treating doctor that, over time, a chronic condition can progressively deteriorate the human body, through fatigue, longevity, and chronicity of pain (or a chronic nature of Major Depression, Anxiety, stress, etc.), and such progressive deterioration often arrives at a critical point where, once passed, there is a sudden decline in the ability of a Federal or Postal worker to continue to perform a certain type of work.  

The key to an argument is to reframe the argument, so that one may understand and address it.  Only upon understanding the argument, can one begin to address it.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Being Effective is the Point

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is important to bifurcate the various and multitudinous issues, assign (implicitly) the import, relevance and correlative significance of each issue as it relates and satisfies the criteria for eligibility; then, to proceed to systematically delineate each such issue, yet present them in a narrative fashion such that they constitute a sufficiently human narrative to convey the impact of the medical condition.

As the Office of Personnel Management often attempts to rebut and argue, the “mere existence of a medical condition does not warrant approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application.”  That being said, a clinical approach to listing a set of diagnosed medical conditions obviously is insufficient to persuade and convince the Office of Personnel Management of one’s eligibility and entitlement to Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  For, isn’t that ultimately the point — to get it approved?

It becomes an act of futility to stand on a hilltop and repetitively declare, “I have a medical condition,” without being effective in presenting such a condition and obtaining an approval.  Of course, this is an administrative process; as such, it will often take more than the First Stage of the process before all of the factors coalesce with a resultant approval — the right balance between persuasion, facts, narrative form, medical documentation, legal argumentation, clinical notes, statement of disability, etc. Being “effective” means attaining that right balance between the medical, the legal, and the personal.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Misreading the Law

As the old adage goes, a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.  The Bruner Presumption is one of those legal tools which is often misunderstood and misapplied. The legal presumption stems from a Federal Circuit Court of Appeals opinion which basically declared (among other things) that when a Federal or Postal employee is separated from Federal Service for his or her medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, that there is a “presumption” that the Federal or Postal employee is entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management.  

Does this make it a certainty that one will receive an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application from the Office of Personnel Management?  No. Does it enhance the chances of obtaining an approval from the Office of Personnel Management?  Maybe.  

One must remember that the Office of Personnel Management, at least for the first 2 stages of the process, does not assign attorneys as Case Managers to review a Federal Disability Retirement application.  As such, relying too heavily on the “Bruner Presumption” would be a mistake.  Further, to wait for the agency to terminate you based upon your medical inability to perform your job so that you can argue that you “have the Bruner Presumption” would be foolhardy.  It is a legal tool.  In order to use it, you must apply it in the right manner.  It would be like using a screwdriver to open up a can of peas.  As another old adage goes:  “Leave it to the professionals“. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Clarifying Misconceptions

Information is interesting.  But not all interesting information is useful.  And, further, not all information, even if interesting and (potentially) useful, is accurate.  Ultimately, in order for information to be of practical use, it must be accurate, useful, and purpose-related.  Thus, when inaccurate (partial or complete) information is placed into the public domain, it often becomes useless, but remains interesting to the extent that people continue to rely upon such information.

In filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, it is important to obtain, process, and apply useful and accurate information.  Two sets of basic information need to be clarified:  First, many Postal and Federal employees have been confused about SSDI and its impact upon Federal Disability Retirement and the application process in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS (CSRS exempted because an SSDI receipt is not necessary).  Showing a receipt for having filed an SSDI application is all that is needed.  An approval is not necessary; and, indeed, for most Federal and Postal employees, one will not ordinarily qualify for SSDI precisely because it has a higher standard to be eligible.

Further, a sequential showing is NOT necessary — i.e., one does not have to first file for SSDI in order to file for FERS Disability Retirement benefits.  All that is necessary, from OPM’s perspective, is that at the time of an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS, a Federal or Postal employee must show a receipt showing that one has filed for SSDI benefits.

The Second informational error to be corrected:  While somewhat redundant based upon the first, a Federal or Postal employee does NOT have to be approved for SSDI in order to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS.  That would be pointless and illogical, if one stops and thinks about it.  Again, all that is necessary is that one files, and one shows a receipt at the time of an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS.

Yes, this is the information age; but it still comes down to a human being who places the information into the public domain, and the

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Fallacy of Objective Medical Evidence

The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has already addressed the issue of the Office of Personnel Management’s unjustified adherence to making a distinction between “objective medical evidence” as opposed to what they deem and declare to be “subjective” evidence.

The distinction has no statutory basis or authority, but OPM continues to make the same, repetitive and tiring arguments concerning such a distinction.  Of course, when there exists a plenitude of “objective” evidence, then OPM will often sidestep such evidence and argue that it wasn’t “compelling” enough.  

The fallacy of “objective” versus “subjective” becomes most apparent, of course, when it addresses the issue of “pain”.  Pain is by definition a subjective state of experiential encounter.  If there is any “objective” evidence of pain, it is a misunderstanding of what constitutes such evidence.  Thus, for instance, one might point to an MRI showing a multi-level disc degeneration from L3-L4, L4-L5, etc., and state, “There, we have objective evidence of pain.”

Not quite.  What you merely have, if one stops and considers it, is simply a parallel set of observable facts:  A:  an image which reveals an abnormality of the spine, combined with B, which has an individual who conveys a sensation of pain.  However, inasmuch as there are many people who have similar or worse states of “A” (multi-level disc degeneration), but go through life without any apparent pain, one cannot therefore argue that A is “objective” evidence of “B”.  There may be a parallel correlation to be made, but no causal connection.  

Regardless, the Federal Circuit Court has already declared OPM to be in error for making such a distinction.  However, despite the law, OPM continues to deny Federal Disability Retirement applications under FERS & CSRS by adhering to the false distinction.  Imagine that.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Those Chronic Medical Conditions

Often, in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, there is the concern that because a particular medical condition has had a “chronic” nature to it (whatever the particular diagnosis is, to include Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Failed Back Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain, etc.), that somehow it will impact the chances of being approved for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  

The argument and concern goes somewhat as follows:  X Federal or Postal employee has been able to work for Y number of years for the Agency or the U.S. Postal Service; the medical condition has not prevented the Federal or Postal employee from performing the essential elements of the job all these years, because the Federal or Postal employee has simply endured the chronic nature of the pain; therefore, the medical condition (it is feared) cannot be cited as a basis for an approval from the Office of Personnel Management.  

However, the mere rationale that a particular medical condition is chronic, inherently or otherwise, is not a basis for being concerned about a denial.  The fact is that a particular Federal or Postal employee was able to perform the essential elements of his or particular job for many years; the chronicity of the medical condition is often the case; but at some point, the constant, chronic pain comes to a point where the Federal or Postal employee is no longer able to physically, emotionally or mentally tolerate the extent, duration and severity of the pain.  At such a critical point, it is time to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire