Federal Employee Medical Retirement: The Family Doctor

One characteristic that people normally do not observe in medical doctors, is one of lack of confidence.  For, confidence, knowledge, direction, advice and assertiveness — those are the “bedside manners” which we expect from a medical doctor to whom we approach for treatment of our maladies.  

Yet, in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, often the “Family Doctor”, or otherwise identified as the Primary Care Physician or General Practitioner, will declare that he or she cannot make a disability determination because of being either ill-equipped, or because they do not possess the “speciality” of knowledge in making such a determination.  

Often, the doctor will rely upon a Functional Capacity Evaluation, and will insist that such an evaluation be performed prior to rendering his or her medical opinion on the matter of one’s capability, capacity, and ability to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job in preparing and formulating a medical narrative report for a Federal Disability Retirement application.  This, despite the obvious advantages already obtained in the course of many years of treatment of the Federal or Postal employee, the most important of which:  an intimate knowledge, gained through clinical examination and contact over the years, of the medical conditions of the patient, including the extent, severity and chronicity of the medical condition(s); as well as the consistency of complaints and review of radiological reports, the direct clinical contact with the patient, etc.  

Often, such lack of confidence is merely one of not understanding what a FERS or CSRS Disability Retirement application requires — and it is the job of either the patient or, if represented, with the assistance of the federal attorney, to clearly and concisely explain the process, the requirements, and why the family doctor is best qualified to provide a detailed medical narrative report explaining why the Federal or Postal employee is unable to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  

Marcus Welby, M.D. aside, the general practitioner is still the best source of information and proof in meeting the legal criteria in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS (and if you failed to understand the reference, you are much younger than the writer of this blog).

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Agency Actions and the Bruner Presumption

Agency actions separating a Federal or Postal employee from Federal Service often contain language which comes close to allowing for a Federal or Postal employee to assert the “Bruner Presumption” (that legal presumption which essentially states that the declaration and admission by the Agency triggers a legal presumption that a Federal or Postal employee is entitled to, by a matter of law, to Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS), but not close enough.  

Such language will instead be couched in references to medical documentation which has been previously reviewed by the Agency; will embrace an acknowledgement that the Federal or Postal employee has a “medical condition”; and will sometimes even entertain verbiage evincing sympathy for the Federal or Postal Worker’s “situation” — but still will base the removal upon other considerations, such as “excessive absences”, “failure to maintain a regular work schedule”, etc.  

The question ultimately then becomes:  Is it important, leaving aside relevance, to fight the agency to amend or otherwise re-characterize the original proposal to remove, in order to obtain the Bruner Presumption?  

The Bruner Presumption is a legal mechanism which gains greater weight and importance when a Federal Disability Retirement application has been denied twice by the Office of Personnel Management (both at the Initial Stage of the process, than at the Reconsideration Stage), and one therefore finds one’s self before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board.  But such appearance before the MSPB presumably means that there are other problems with a case — most often, insufficient medical documentation.  

The Bruner Presumption aside, the Federal or Postal employee must still prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, one’s case, by submitting sufficient medical documentation.  The Bruner Presumption is simply that “extra” ingredient that may be helpful if all other factors have been met in proving a Federal Disability Retirement case.

While helpful, it is not a certainty for an approval.  While better to have than not, one must still prove one’s case.  While triggered most effectively at the MSPB, a less-than-Bruner-trigger can still be argued at all stages of the process.  Just some thoughts.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Erroneous Information and Its Impact

A number of recent telephone calls clearly reveal that the abundance of erroneous information “out there” or disseminated by Union officials, Human Resource personnel, agency personnel, supervisors, coworkers, etc., continues unabated.  Ultimately, of course, the responsibility for acting upon information gathered — erroneous or not — is placed upon the individual who seeks out such information.  

The problem, as always, is that reliance upon erroneous information can result in irreversible consequences.  For example:  In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS (CSRS is exempted from this particular “requirement”), must one receive a denial from the Social Security Administration before one can file a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS?  Must a Federal or Postal employee be separated from Federal Service for at least 6 months before filing for SSDI benefits?  Must SSDI be approved by the Social Security Administration prior to filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS?  The common thread and answer to all three of the questions posed:  No.  

The consequences of relying upon a “yes” answer, or information which either explicitly or implicitly implies that there is a precondition requirement of filing for SSDI before the Office of Personnel Management will accept and consider a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS?  Delaying of preparing and filing for FERS Disability Retirement until a week before the 1-year Statute of Limitations was about the expire.  

The fact is that the Office of Personnel Management doesn’t much care about whether or not a FERS Federal Disability Retirement applicant filed for SSDI or not, until the time of approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  For, the only issue between FERS Disability Retirement and SSDI is a monetary one — whether an offset will occur between the two sources of annuities.

One other point:  When a caller argues, stating:  “But that’s not what X said…”  You can believe whomever you wish; just check out the source, consider the reliability of the source, and determine the consequences of such reliance.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Don’t Count Your Chickens …

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is — as has been previously stated ad nauseum in the past — a process which, once completed and filed, requires the enduring virtue of patience.  

During the waiting period, it is natural for the Federal or Postal employee to experience the anxiety and angst of awaiting the decision from the Office of Personnel Management.  Whether continuing to work in a limited, light duty capacity; remaining and waiting it out on LWOP; using up all of one’s accrued sick leave; working at a temporary assignment; or working a job in the private sector to make ends meet; whatever one’s status, there is little one can do during the long waiting period with OPM.  

Calling them will not necessarily evoke a helpful response, but calling just to “check on the status” will often calm one’s fears and anxieties, exacerbated over time because of the sense of isolation and disquietude created by the wasteland period of waiting.  

One rule to follow, however:  when contacting the Office of Personnel Management, it is best not to try and “gauge” the response of the reviewing “specialist” or “Claims Representative” (or whatever other euphemism of self-identity the person may ascribe to), whether in tone, words or verbal references.  Whether an initial denial or an approval, the status of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application should be ascertained only upon the receipt, in hand, of the actual decision.  

Don’t count those chickens before they hatch.  Indeed, don’t even count the eggs; wait until the receipt in hand of the documentary evidence showing an approval or a denial.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Affirmation, Communication & Support

Once a Federal Disability Retirement application has been thoughtfully prepared, formulated and filed with the Office of Personnel Management, it is a long engagement in something similar to trench warfare, where the long wait for the decision-making process must begin, endure, and come to fruition.  

In days prior to public access to the internet, Federal and Postal employees had very little, if any, access to the public domain of communicating to other Federal or Postal employees to get a sense of the successes or failures of others in the same or similar endeavors.  Access to other people’s experiences on public web domains, blog posts and other means of internet communication has allowed for interaction and communication within a wider community of Federal and Postal employees, in contrast to the pre-computer days (and yes, I am old enough to remember those days, when college term papers were written on an electric typewriter and space had to be calculated at the bottom of each page to allow for footnotes, as opposed to the ease of present-day cut-and-paste and automatic spacing by the computer program) when Federal and Postal employees were essentially isolated and unable to have access, let alone communicate, with others to attain a sense of affirmation by the experiences of others.  

Having that sense of isolation is one of those greater difficulties during the waiting wasteland period of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  Moreover, especially in times of greater stagnation — summer months of people’s vacations; Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, etc. — the sense of isolation is exponentially magnified.  Reach out on the web and read about other people’s experiences in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  While each case is unique and different, one may gain a sense of affirmation by learning about the experiential factors of other Federal and Postal employees.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Uniqueness & Comparisons

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, then submitting the presentation either through one’s agency (if one is still on the rolls of the Federal or Postal Service, or if separated, it has not yet been 31 days or more) or directly to the Office of Personnel Management (if one has been separated from Federal Service for 31 days or more), it is then the entrance into the dreaded “waiting period” where the dead zone begins of increasing anxiety, angst and upheaval of awaiting “the decision” from the Office of Personnel Management.  

During this time of waiting wasteland, it is difficult to remain productive if one is no longer working at the Agency, and it is easy to fall prey to the mentality of comparison — of attempting to obtain information on other filings, of other Federal or Postal employees, either current, fairly recent, or in the far past, and attempting to gauge the success or failure, the waiting period, whether some have been preferentially treated, etc.  

The problem with engagement in such comparisons, of course, is that it is almost impossible to recreate an apple in order to compare it to another apple.  Whether because the internal procedures of OPM have changed (which it has), and comparing it to a time passed when procedures reflected a more systematic methodology of review; or whether one attempts to figure out if there is a non-arbitrary system of review at OPM (there isn’t); or whether the case has been assigned to a more experienced case-worker as opposed to one who has newly come on board at the Office of Personnel Management; or whether the strength of one’s medical and other substantiating documentation makes the initial review for OPM to grant the case immediately — all are factors, and many more not delineated herein, which make for differences between cases which cannot be compared.  

Each case is unique; uniqueness is the differentiation between cases; the cases, because of each individual uniqueness, fails in all attempts at quanitification of comparative analysis.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Subsequent Actions

Obtaining Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management is a “process” as opposed to an entitlement, and this distinction has been variously explained and expanded upon in previous blogs and articles.  

But the term “process” also needs to be applied in two different ways — it is a process applied as an administrative issue involving the Office of Personnel Management, but moreover, it should remain so for the individual Federal or Postal worker who has worked so hard to obtain the Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  By this, is meant that, just because the Federal or Postal worker has secured an approval from the Office of Personnel Management, does not (and should not) mean that the “process” ends for the Federal or Postal employee.  

Obtaining the Federal Disability Retirement annuity is one part of the process; once secured, some simple steps should be set in place, such that the Federal Disability Retirement benefit is “secured” and “protected” for the future.  

Thus, the continuation of the process should minimally and necessarily include:  Keeping in contact with one’s treating doctor or doctors; making sure that any outside employment adheres to the 80% rule for earned income; maintaining an ability to justify the conceptual distinction between any job acquired after one’s Federal Service and the job previously performed; being prepared to respond to OPM’s Medical Questionnaire in the event that one is selected to do so; and other preemptive measures.  

Surprises and emergencies occur when one fails to adequately plan for the future; future planning should be a daily maintenance project, taking only 5 minutes of one’s daily process (if that); and, after all, Poor Richard’s Almanac of 1732 was right in declaring, “A stitch in time saves nine”.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire