Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Criteria and Proof, II

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS, it is important to pause in the beginning stages of the process, prior to “going down the road” of the long and difficult administrative process of preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application, to consider the conceptual distinction between a legal criteria and the proof which is needed in order to satisfy the eligibility requirements of the legal criteria.  

In this day and age when the “culture at large” believes that an individual who speaks the loudest, uses words which appear in form articulate, and in cadence of some eloquence, the reverberations to the legal community have been felt both qualitatively and quantitatively.  Lawyers are supposed to be word-crafters; lay individuals who have some inkling of “the law”, may have some competence in the legal arena, but in order to survive the multiple pitfalls which are inherent in any area of law, it is wise to consider “that which” must be proven, as opposed to the proof itself.  

It is thus important, in preparing to formulate a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, to review the statutes which govern the eligibility criteria for Federal and Postal employees; to read through the regulations; to research the case-laws as interpretive devices which can expand, constrict or regurgitate the statutory authority as written, as handed down by Administrative Judges at the Merit Systems Protection Board; then, upon a thorough and competent understanding of the legal criteria applicable in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, to begin to gather the “proof” which is necessary in order to satisfy and meet the legal criteria.  

Only upon an understanding of the distinction between criteria and proof can one then proceed to gather the latter in order to satisfy the former.  Early distinctions made can clarify and avoid later confusions encountered; or, as the age-old dictum goes, being penny wise is preferable to ending up pound foolish (or some variation thereof).

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Citing Case-Law

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is important to provide a guiding cover letter to the Office of Personnel Management — whether termed as a “Legal Memorandum”, a “Cover Page”, or some other designation — in order to introduce a “road map” to the OPM Representative who will be reviewing the case.  

While the OPM Representative will ultimately be able to “figure out” the documents to be reviewed (i.e., the Standard Forms are obviously familiar; the medical documentation should be self-evident, etc.), there is a distinction to be made between the documentation submitted, and the persuasive effect of the documentation.  There are times, of course, when the strength of a case is so irrefutable and unrebuttable that no guidance is needed; most cases, however, require some persuasive authority.  

The best road map will cite some relevant statutory authority or judicial cases of known precedence.  If one is to cite relevant legal authority, however, it is important to do so properly.  To mis-cite a case, its relevance, or its correct interpretive impact, can do more harm than good, especially if the case proceeds to the later stages of being argued before a Merit Systems Protection Board Administrative Judge.  

Knowing what one is speaking about is the basis for credibility; credibility in making a persuasive presentation of one’s medical conditions and their impact upon one’s ability or inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job is crucial to the effectiveness of one’s case.  Citing cases properly, forcefully, and with technical appropriateness is important in presenting a road map for OPM to follow — from the point of initial introduction, to the final conclusion of agreeing that the Federal or Postal employee is indeed eligible and entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Determining to File

Sometimes, in coming to a decision to prepare, formulate and file a Federal Disability Retirement application from the Office of Personnel Management, either under FERS or CSRS, the determination to file is made based upon external forces, circumstances and issues either beyond one’s control or, if they were once within reasonable constraints, have become unleashed.  

Thus, when a PIP is imposed upon the employee, or an injured Federal or disabled Postal employee is presented with a Proposal to Removal based upon unacceptable attendance, excessive use of LWOP, etc., then such external circumstances have essentially “forced” one to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  

It matters not whether the Federal or Postal employee has a “legitimate” medical condition; the legitimacy of the medical condition is precisely what has resulted in the Agency action, and whether such external circumstance may be deemed “unfair”, “unreasonable”, “lacking of compassion”, or any other negative theology of human action one may ascribe — the time has come to prepare, formulate and file a Federal Disability Retirement application.  

In the best of all worlds, a deliberative process of preparing one’s finances, considering all of the options, rationally constructing the foundational steps to gather all of the information necessary before determining that it is time to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits — all of these should come into play.  

But we rarely live in the best of worlds; this is an imperfect world full of imperfect individuals; and, as such, the determination to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS may well come to fruition based upon external, unreasonable, and uncontrollable circumstances.  As the old dictum goes:  That’s life.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: The Imperfect Sequence of Filing

If the Statute of Limitations is quickly approaching for a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is important to put aside the procrastination and delay (is that a self-contradiction — to “put aside” procrastination?) and just file the basic forms.  An imperfect filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application is better than no filing at all.  

As has been often stated and restated in previous blogs and articles, one cannot make a substantive argument for a Federal Disability Retirement case (let alone even a non-substantive argument) if one does not first meet the minimum criteria of eligibility by filing a Federal Disability Retirement application in a timely manner.  

The Office of Personnel Management will inform the Federal or Postal worker who files an imperfect Federal Disability Retirement application, of the “missing” items and forms which were not filed, and allow for thirty (30) days to correct the imperfect filing.  This is certainly preferable, however, to not filing at all, and missing the deadline and trying to argue with the Office of Personnel Management the reasons why you did not file on time (actually, there will be no “argument” per se — only silence and being ignored as irrelevant and non-existent).  

Thus, whatever the reasons might be — haven’t received all of the medical reports; the former agency has not returned the Supervisor’s Statement or SF 3112D; haven’t filed for SSDI yet and received a receipt; haven’t …   It doesn’t matter.  What matters is to file the three (3) basic forms on time (SF 3107 or 2801, Application for Immediate Retirement; Schedules A, B & C; and SF 3112A, Applicant’s Statement of Disability).  

Once filed, you have the basis to argue for an approval.  Without having filed, the void, vacuity and silent nothingness of nonexistence will overwhelm the ticking clock which reminds one that the tolling of the Statute of Limitations has come and passed.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Systematic Approach

It is clear from reviewing many of the Federal Disability Retirement applications which have been denied, either at the initial application stage of the process or at the Second, Reconsideration Stage of the process, that the failure to apply a systematic approach in preparing, formulating and filing the Federal Disability Retirement application was entirely lacking.  

The lack of systematically compiling and formulating the evidence to meet the legal standard of “preponderance of the evidence” in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS can be fatal to one’s efforts.  For, ultimately, it is the nature of the presentation and how it is compiled, delineated and orchestrated which provides for the effective implementation of such an endeavor.

Take the following example:  a “flail” is a farm instrument used for threshing, and in the hands of an experienced user of such equipment, it was an effective tool and implement which systematically cleared a field when in the hands of one who had the experience, knowledge and practical application of such a tool.  Used in modern linguistic terms, the concept, “He was flailing his arms” has come to mean that a person is waving and thrashing about in a manner which lacks harmony, elegance or purposeful end — in a wild and wasteful effort of energy.  

The deliberative approach in preparing and formulating any endeavor in life is an encompassing use of a particular tool in a proper manner, for the purpose for which it was created, to bring about an end for which it was designed, and to preserve the energy necessary to bring about the end in mind.

Preparing, formulating a filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is to use the flail properly, and not to flail about.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Procrastinating within the Tolling Statute

Whether by resignation or by separation by the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service, the tolling of the Statute of Limitations for filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS begins — and the statute allows for filing for a Federal Disability Retirement application within one (1) year of such separation from Federal Service.

Exceptions to the rule of the Statute of Limitations are few, explicit, and rarely allowed, and have to do with mental incompetence, narrowly defined, hospitalization for mental illness, appointment of a guardianship which shows one’s inability to attend to one’s daily affairs, etc.  Thus, once the Federal or Postal employee is separated from Federal Service, one should count on filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits within one (1) year of such separation, and not rely upon any fantasy of being granted any extension, or excused for having had periodic or episodic medical conditions preventing one from engaging in certain acts or attending to various activities.

Procrastination is a trait of luxury unique to the human animal; because animals, whether domesticated or not, have an innate sense of urgency for purposes of survivability, the ability to project into the future and delay the necessary immediacy of a present response, is an alien characteristic.  

Such an element of artifice — procrastination — would not have any meaningful foundational purpose, a “telos“, which would make any sense; except, of course, for the human condition.  Because of the complexity of the human condition — of the technological world we have created, of multiple tasks, of time, movement and being within the context of our historicity, present world and future anticipated occurrences — procrastinating has become an artificial feature of our human condition, and indeed, almost takes on an element of need for our survivability.  But in the context of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, procrastinating in filing for the benefit does one no good.

Meet the deadline by working on it steadily, steadfastly, and without delay.  Remember the dictum:  If you don’t file, you can’t argue anything; at least if you file on time, there is always a chance.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Separation from Federal Service

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management under either FERS or CSRS, the “clock” begins to run on the ability to even file, once a Federal or Postal employee has been officially separated from Federal Service.  

By “officially separated”, does NOT mean the following:  Being on LWOP does not begin to toll the statute of limitations; the date of injury does not begin the “1-year timeline”; being away from the job does not start the clock.  What counts as the beginning of the 1-year statute of limitations is the effective date of being separated from Federal Service.  

Such separation is normally accomplished by the Federal Agency and the Postal Service by (a) resignation or (b) an initiation of a proposed removal, then a decision on the proposed removal.  In either event, the result of the action by either the Federal or Postal employee or the Agency, is the issuance of an SF 50, which reflects the personnel action performed by the Agency, effectively and officially separating the Federal or Postal employee from Federal Service.  

Recognizing and knowing the date of separation from Federal Service is important in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, precisely because you only have one (1) year from the date of separation to file for such benefits.  If you file after the date, unless you fall into a very specific and limited category of individuals, you will have forever lost your right to file for OPM Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  You will likely have a “deferred retirement”, but your ability to file will have been lost forever.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Chronic Medical Conditions

The concern is often expressed in the preparation, formulation and filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS, that if a medical condition has been suffered with for multiple years, and perhaps even “pre-existing” the time of Federal Service, and further, since the Federal or Postal employee has been able to perform the essential elements of the Federal or Postal job, how can it be characterized as a medical condition which prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job?

The answer to such a concern is actually quite simple: The Federal or Postal employee has been able to manage life, activities and the essential elements of one’s job for multiple years; the chronicity of the condition is simply an inherent part of the nature of the particular medical condition; whether because of age, or slow, progressively deteriorating impact upon the body or psyche, the medical condition has ultimately taken its “toll” upon one’s physical, mental and/or emotional capacity of the Federal or Postal worker.

Sometimes, there comes a point where the wall of tolerance to stress, pain or other increasingly debilitating symptoms can go no further.  The fact that the Federal or Postal worker has been able to perform the essential elements of the job for so many years is simply a testament to the endurance of the Federal or Postal Worker.  This is why it is important to maintain a blunt, honest and forthright line of communication with one’s treating doctor.  Often, the doctor will be the one who, for years, has encouraged the Federal or Postal worker to seek Federal Disability Retirement.

It may be that the time has come to take the doctor up on his or her advice, and to begin talking about the type of narrative and administrative support needed to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esqire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Supporting the Concept

In preparing, formulating and filing a FERS or CSRS Federal Disability Retirement application, the important first step in the “preparation” phase — or, one might even term it conceptually as the “pre-preparation phase” — is to engage the treating doctor with the conceptual framework of what Federal Disability Retirement entails and encompasses.  

As has been repeated many times previously in other blogs, doctors are not administrators, and ultimately detest the need to annotate, narrate, write reports, etc.  The legal system has forced doctors to keep records, if only for their self-protection in the event of a question of malpractice, and the requirement of keeping office records and notes has had the positive corollary effect of forcing doctors to “think through” the procedural steps of what it is that they are “doing”.  

Requesting the treating doctor to support a Federal Disability Retirement application has the identical positive result of forcing the doctor into an admission that one’s medical condition has come to a crossroads:  prior treatment modalities have not proven to be effective; the chronic and progressively deteriorating nature of the physical or psychiatric condition has shown to be “treatment-resistant”; the time has come to acknowledge that a different mind-set must be embraced — one which includes a period of rest, restorative time, and a stage of recuperation away from the activities which the Federal or Postal employee spends on average 40 – 50% of the time at:  one’s job.  

Speaking to the doctor about his or her support and role in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application is the first, necessary, and vital step in the preparation, formulation and filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS.  How best to approach the doctor, the timing, the words and concepts to use, etc., are all part of that preparation.  

If it is time for the Federal or Postal worker to recognize that one’s medical conditions are preventing the Federal or Postal worker from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, it is time to think about pre-preparing the treating doctor.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire