Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Agency Independence

Each agency is tooled with a statutory mandate as to its mission and purpose, and from the origination of the statutory mandate, Federal Regulations and policies are formulated.  The independence of each agency within the Federal Government results in the anomaly of a patchwork of Federal Agencies, few of which are coordinated in their efforts or purposes.  

Conceptually, this is thought to be a good idea — precisely because by preserving the independence of each agency, it can singularly focus upon the mandated purpose and goal — and better accomplish its “mission”.  But the flip-side to the positive consequences of such conceptual formulation is that there is often an overlap between missions, and where the logical result of one action should almost automatically (logically) result in another, such is not the case because of the wall of separation between agencies, preserving their independence from each other.  

In Federal Disability Retirement issues, one would think that where a stricter standard of eligibility is imposed in one agency (e.g., the Social Security Administration for disability determinations), an approval based upon that stricter standard should automatically result in an approval by the Office of Personnel Management for purposes of evaluating and deciding upon a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  

Such is not the case, however.  

Hypothetically, it is possible to conceptualize a case where a Federal or Postal employee is deemed “totally disabled” by a doctor, but still be able to perform all of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job.  Conversely, it is possible to think of a case where an individual is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job (FERS or CSRS Disability Retirement) and yet not be considered “totally disabled” (SSDI).  The latter, of course, happens all the time; the former continues to occur — although, to actually come up with a true case involves mental gymnastics which exists only in the world of myths and language-games.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Being Persuasive

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management, there are certain “advantages” which a Federal or Postal employee/applicant may already possess from the outset, without having filed a single piece of paper with the Office of Personnel Management.  

These advantages may include:  an agency action removing the Federal or Postal employee from Federal Service based upon one’s medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; an Air Traffic Controller receiving a disqualification by the Flight Surgeon; an OWCP-accepted claim where a Second Opinion doctor writes a comprehensive report and answers definitively that the Federal or Postal employee has a permanent medical condition which will prevent him or her from ever returning to his or her former job; a Supervisor’s Statement which clearly delineates and describes the extent of the Federal or Postal employee’s medical condition based upon observation and agency-impact; and multiple other “advantages”.  However, an advantage fails to become so, and remains only in a state of potentiality, unless it is actualized by being utilized effectively.  By “effective utilization” is meant that, just as one can be persuasive only by persuading, so one can effectively utilize an inherent advantage in a Federal Disability Retirement application only by persuasively arguing that the particular agency action has a legal basis in which the action itself is legally persuasive.  

In other words, the proper legal citations which have been mandated previously by a Judge in another case, must be cited and referred to, in order to use it as an argumentation basis to the Office of Personnel Management.  One cannot persuade unless one engages in persuasive conduct — and that means that one must not go out blindly into the field and use a scythe as a hammer, but be able to recognize the tool for what it is, then to use it accordingly.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Agency Actions Are Merely Persuasive

Whether it is one’s own agency which acts, or some third-party agency, the effect of such actions upon a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is merely persuasive, and not determinative, from the viewpoint of the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS.  

Such actions may include:  Disqualification based upon a medical condition, whether because of the primary, underlying medical condition, or a secondary condition resulting from a prescription medication; determination by the Agency based upon a fitness for duty review; failure to pass certain physical fitness standards; declarative statement by the Agency that no accommodations can be accorded, whether because of one’s medical condition or other influencing factors; a conclusion reached by an Occupational Nurse or doctor; acceptance of a case by OWCP, Department of Labor; approval by the Social Security Administration, the Veterans Administration, etc. — all of these “third party” determinations can be persuasive for a Federal Disability Retirement application, but are not necessarily determinative in coming to a conclusion of approval by the Office of Personnel Management.  

Why “persuasive” as opposed to “determinative”?  Because of two fundamental reasons:  (1)  The Office of Personnel Management is an independent agency, mandated by statute, regulation and case-laws, to make its own determination of eligibility of each Federal Disability Retirement application, separate and apart from any other agency, and (2) such agencies which make such determinations are not medical facilities (although a doctor or nurse may have some involvement in the decision-making process), and this is ultimately a “medical” disability retirement, and not an agency retirement system mandated by law.  

As such, one must still prove by a preponderance of the evidence that one is eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, based upon the nexus between one’s medical conditions and one’s essential elements of the Federal or Postal job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: What If…

In inquiring about Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management, the potential applicant who is inquiring about the entire process will often engage in the never-ending, perpetual game of, “What if…”  

The answer to each such question, of course, must always be prefaced with, “Even if…” but each such question and answer can continue ad infinitum until either the questioner comes to exhaust the repertoire of his or her “What if” questions, or the answer to the last what-if question is answered with, “Even if the world ends”.  

This last answer means that it does not matter what comes after the preface; the answer remains the same.  For instance:  What if Social Security approves your case prior to OPM making a decision on a Federal Disability Retirement case — and the medical officer, EAP counselor, Postal or Federal Fitness for Duty physician, or the flight surgeon, or X, Y and Z disqualifies you from your job, and you get separated from service for your medical inability to perform your job…doesn’t that automatically qualify you for Federal Disability Retirement benefits?  No — you must still prove your case by a preponderance of the evidence, and proceed as if none of the previously-cited advantages have been obtained.  

Will all of those advantages help in your case?  Yes.  Will they be determinative?  No.  

While persuasive, such administrative decisions by the agency will not be determinative.  But that doesn’t seem logical — what if, in addition to all of the previous advantages, the Agency comes out and concedes that they cannot accommodate you?  Answer:  Even if the Agency concedes that, you must still prove your case medically, by a preponderance of the evidence.  The Federal or Postal worker:  But What if…   At this point, the answer must be:  Even if the world ends, such administrative agency actions are merely persuasive to OPM, but not determinative.  But why?  

Ah…the “why” question is also a never-ending, perpetual one, and must be saved for another blog.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: You Still Have to Prove your Case

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, many Federal and Postal employees operate under the misguided presumption that, if the Agency has acknowledged one’s medical conditions, cannot accommodate the Federal or Postal employee, and explicitly concedes that the disabled Federal or Postal employee cannot perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, that an approval of the Federal Disability Retirement application is nothing more than a mere formality beyond its submission.  

Thus, for example, the scenario as painted herein might include the Flight Surgeon’s determination for the Air Traffic Control Specialist who works for the FAA, who disqualifies the ATS for either his/her medical condition, or the medication regimen that he/she is taking; or it may involved the Postal Worker who is sent home pursuant to the National Reassessment Process; or it may be a Federal or Postal worker who has been administratively separated from Federal Service based upon his or her medical inability to perform the essential functions of one’s job, and thereby is entitled to the Bruner Presumption.  

All of these case-studies are “nice”; they are promising, and there is obviously substantive and useful evidence that the Federal or Postal employee is probably eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits — but what the Agency does or says is not enough.  The Federal or Postal employee must still meet the burden of proof and prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she is eligible and entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  

The Office of Personnel Management is an independent agency, separate and apart from the other Federal Agencies or the Postal Service.  What determinations are made by the other agencies will not persuade OPM of anything; in a Federal Disability Retirement case, you must prove your case of medical eligibility, above and beyond what the Agency says or does.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: A Semantic Battle?

One may wonder, in any process of the stage of preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, as to whether an approval is based merely on a “semantic” battle with the Office of Personnel Management.  

Inasmuch as a submission of a Federal Disability Retirement application to the Office of Personnel Management is a “paper submission” (yes, I know, we are quickly moving towards an age of paperless technology, but you know what is meant by the term), and no actual presentation or contact will be made with the personnel at OPM (unless it goes to a Hearing before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board); as such, the query is sometimes posed as to whether it is merely a semantic battle.  

In the days of Plato and Aristotle, “lawyers” were called “sophists” or “rhetoriticians” — thus, the modern terms of “sophisticated” or “sophistry”, and “rhetoric” or “rhetorical”.  Either or both of the terms imply a negative connotation, that through semantic sleight of hand, one can be fooled into being persuaded to adopt a certain viewpoint or opinion.  

While it may be true to a certain and limited extent that obtaining Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS may involve some semantic quibbling, the underlying substantive basis in granting or denying a Federal Disability Retirement application, either under FERS or CSRS, continues to remain in “the law” — based upon statutory and regulatory criteria, upon legal opinions from cases decided by the Merit Systems Protection Board and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.  

While “how X is said” may have some persuasive effect, it is ultimately still “what is said” that retains the most powerful impact.  Substance over appearance still wins the day — the identical philosophical concerns of Plato and Aristotle continues to remain true today.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Attorney Clarifications

In obtaining an attorney to represent a Federal or Postal worker who is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits for FERS or CSRS employees, various questions will often occur, which result in different answers from most other inquires concerning legal matters not related to Federal Disability Retirement issues.  For most legal matters, localization and jurisdictional limitation is the standard rule.  

Thus, where a tort occurs, or a contract is entered into, such issues will often constitute a “state” issue, and so one must often obtain an attorney who is licensed to practice law within the state that the issues arises.  However, because preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is a “Federal” issue, an attorney who is licensed in any given state — for instance, the state of Maryland — can represent a Federal or Postal employee who is living and working in any other state.

The question is often asked during an initial inquiry as to whether I have a “local” attorney in a person’s particular state or jurisdiction; the answer is “no”, but I represent Federal and Postal Workers from all across the United States, including Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Europe, Japan, etc.  Furthermore, a Federal or Postal employee inquiring about the services of a particular law firm might want to consider whether practicing Federal Disability Retirement law is merely one of multiple types of cases that it handles.  

A lawyer who is a “generalist” and has many hands in multiple pots may not have the same focus as one who specializes in practicing a specific type of law — that of preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  Just a thought.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire