Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Preparing the Case

As in everything in life, preparation is the key to a successful endeavor.  In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the Federal or Postal employee under FERS or CSRS has the affirmative burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that one is eligible and entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management.  

By “affirmative” is simply meant that it is not the responsibility of the Agency, the Office of Personnel Management, or any other bureaucracy to obtain and submit the necessary evidence, documentation or forms to meet the burden.  While it is true that the Agency must complete certain forms, it is still the responsibility of the Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement to request their completion.  

Further, by “burden of proof” is meant that there is a certain set of legal criteria that the Federal or Postal applicant must meet in order to become qualified for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  Unlike Social Security, where the Agency itself will contact the doctors, set up medical reviews and consultative examinations with appointed doctors in order to establish the extent of one’s medical conditions, etc., under the legal criteria set up by the Office of Personnel Management, it is entirely up to the Federal or Postal employee to gather, obtain and submit the evidence to meet the burden of proof.  

That places a significant responsibility upon the potential applicant, and in order to meet that burden, it is well to take the time to prepare each and every aspect of a Federal Disability Retirement application, and not just blindly leave a form with a doctor, or anyone else, hoping for the best.  To prepare means time; expending the time at the forefront will often save time in the end.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Letting Go

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS, it is often normal to have concurrent “cases” filed — an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board in response to an adverse action or termination by the Agency; an EEOC case proceeding against the Agency; and other judicial and quasi-judicial forums.

At some critical point, however, there comes a time when a decision must be made — a bifurcation, an “either/or”:  Either one wants to continue litigating to get one’s job back, or the preparation of the Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, as an admission that one is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, must proceed.  But not both.  

For the most part, concurrent judicial proceedings can continue without a conflict between the two.  Lawyers can talk out of both sides of the mouth, and beyond — sometimes out of three or four sides of the mouth.  It is well that an attorney’s mouth is circular and not triangular, thereby failing to restrict and contain how many sides there are.  

Given that, however, there often comes a time when a Federal or Postal employee cannot credibly state that the Agency had no right to terminate one’s employment, yet claim with the Office of Personnel Management that one can no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  

Indeed, as a practical matter, it is often a good negotiating point — of persuading the agency that the Federal or Postal employee will be willing to drop the adversarial proceedings in return for the Agency restating the basis of the removal, based upon one’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job.  Furthermore, it is often a pragmatic “health reason” — to let go of the adversarial proceedings, and allow for a Federal Disability Retirement application to get approved, so that one may begin the process of recuperating one’s health.  Just some thoughts.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: The Syndrome of, “I Can’t Understand It”

In all aspects of life, both professional and personal, it is easy to get stuck in a rut where one cannot walk away from a particular irritant.  

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, one cannot afford to engage in the luxury of pausing for too long in attempting to understand the reasoning, rationale, or alleged justification for a denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, as issued by the Office of Personnel Management.  

It is easy to get caught up in attempting to “figure out” the foundational basis of an OPM denial.  One can get stuck in a self-pity mode of asserting to one’s self that everything had been carefully gathered; the medical documentation was impeccable and irrefutable; even the Agency supported the Federal Disability Retirement application by acknowledging and conceding the fact that (A) the Federal or Postal employee’s medical documentation was of a severity such that (B) it prevented him or her from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  

Yet, while listing each of the medical evidence and recognizing the extent of the symptomatologies, the prior surgeries, the medication regimens, etc. — despite all of that, the concluding sentence by the Office of Personnel Management states:  “We cannot determine by the evidence presented that you are disabled under the law,” or, “The medical evidence submitted is insufficient to meet the criteria for Federal Disability Retirement purposes.”  

What?  However, it is best to simply “move on”.  

It does little to no good to remain entrapped in the syndrome of, “I can’t understand it,” because that same syndrome inevitably leads to, “I am going to waste my time trying.”  Extract what can rationally be understood; present updated medical information; prepare the best and most compelling legal arguments, and prepare for the long haul of the legal administrative process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Against Reason

One can put in all of the necessary and requisite effort into preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, obtain a comprehensive medical narrative report with supportive office and treatment notes, verifying MRIs and other diagnostic evidence, follow the informational guidelines from various research sources — and provide a compelling case based upon rational and reasoned argumentation — and still get a denial from the Office of Personnel Management.  

This happens often enough, and one must conclude that, even when a Federal Disability Retirement application is prepared with the utmost of care and effort, a decision of denial can be issued against reason, or the reasons provided are selectively chosen and manufactured.  It is therefore well to understand the entirety of a Federal Disability Retirement process as necessarily involving multiple stages, with internal checks and balances to ensure the “fairness” of the administrative procedure.

Thus, the first two stages of the process (the Initial Stage; then the Reconsideration Stage) are internally reviewed by the Office of Personnel Management.  The Third and Fourth Stage of the process (an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board; a Petition for Full Review) may be considered as “administrative judicial review” stages.  Then, an appeal to the U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.  

Each stage allows for a “check” upon the other stages of the process, and by imposing the right of the disability retirement applicant to access such “checks”, it allows for the “balance” of the process — thereby (hopefully) negating and nullifying what may have initially been an irrationally-based decision.  

As Western Culture has a history of recognizing the power of rationality, it is well that an institutionalized process of “checks and balances” attempts to supersede legal decisions which go against reason.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Cycle of Patience

It is a common element, now, in a Federal Disability Retirement case to require patience in surviving the bureaucratic process, and while recognizing the cycle of the process does not make it any easier, understanding the entirety of the process can help one to prepare.  

There is initially the preparatory process, which is almost exclusively within the purview of one’s control — of preparing and formulating the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A); of obtaining the proper medical narratives and documentation (although, here, the time frame is obviously dependent upon the availability of the treating doctor to prepare the narrative reports) and any introduction of legal argumentation in support of the Federal Disability Retirement packet, etc.

Then, submission to the Agency takes it partially out of the control of the individual Federal or Postal applicant — although, because of the obvious employment connection to the Agency, the Federal or Postal employee can often make phone calls or other contact to attempt to persuade the expediting of the secondary bureaucratic process.  

Once it leaves the Agency Human Resources Department, or the greater Civilian Personnel Office, then it is out of the hands and control of the Federal or Postal employee entirely, and must wind itself through the bureaucratic maze and morass of the National Finance Office and the Office of Personnel Management.  OPM, like any other agency, is subject to seasonal delays based upon Federal workers who take vacations and time off — Christmas, New Years, Easter, and Memorial Day weekend/week, and throughout the months of June, July and August.  A week’s delay in a Case Worker’s assigned cases can exponentially quantify the delay-time, because upon return of the worker, there are other administrative functions which must be attended to which further compounds the ability to take up where he or she left off.  

Patience is a virtue; as such, Federal and Postal Workers must be the most virtuous of human beings.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire