Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Apparent Independence of Each Stage

In some ways, the fact that each “stage” of the process of Federal Disability Retirement is independent from each other, is a “given”.   When a Federal Disability Retirement application is denied at the Initial Stage of the process, then again at the Reconsideration Stage of the process, it is considered a positive part of the administrative process that the Merit Systems Protection Board will evaluate and decide the case “de novo”, or “anew” or “afresh”, without regard to what the Office of Personnel Management stated, decided, affirmed or concluded.

To that extent — to have an independent eye and an evaluation unbiased by prior analysis — is a good thing.  However, when one reads the decision of the Office of Personnel Management at the Initial denial of the application, then again at the Reconsideration denial of the application, it is somewhat disconcerting that neither OPM Representatives relied upon the analysis of the other.  What this allows for, of course, is an independent review by both the Initial Stage of the application and the Reconsideration Stage of the application, and while such independence of review can be seen in a positive light (again, that one OPM Representative is not influenced or biased by the views of the other), more often than not, what happens is that the Reconsideration Stage OPM Representative merely comes up with new and previously unfounded arguments upon which to deny the application a second time.

In short, it is difficult to stabilize the arguments upon which OPM relies, in order to answer and refute them.  That is why the MSPB’s approach of viewing a case de novo is important.  For, by ignoring the malleability of OPM’s reviewing process, one may get an objective and truly independent analysis and evaluation of the case.  Independence is an important component of “fairness”; objectivity is an integral element; and integrity is the filament which holds the law together.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Concern of Age

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, a multiplicity of factors must be considered in coming to the initial decision of deciding to proceed forward — some concerning the immediate impact; others focusing upon an intermediate journey of some years hence (for example, a future time of a year of two, of whether to find another job, whether to seriously apply for SSDI with its offset provisions and its restrictive components on outside earned income, etc.); and still other issues with ultimate “end-goals” in mind.

As for the latter issues, the concern of age can be a tripartite one:  Is being young, with the minimum of 18 months of Federal Service (or 3 – 5 years, say) a concern when it comes to the scrutiny of OPM?  The short answer to such a question is that, whether one is 35 years old or 55, the primary basis of a Federal Disability Retirement application is whether one has the proper and effective medical support in order to consider filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

A secondary concern regarding age focuses upon the other side of the spectrum — if one is 59, 60 or 61 years old, is it worthwhile to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, if only because at age 62, when OPM recalculates the Federal Disability Retirement benefit based upon the total number of years of Federal Service, is it monetarily worthwhile?  This is a simple issue of calculating the options — Can one wait until regular retirement?  Does the comparison between regular retirement and disability retirement warrant filing for Federal Disability Retirement?  What is the financial comparison, and since OPM Disability Retirement takes 8 – 10 months to get (minimum), is it worthwhile?

A third factor to consider concerning age, has to do with the longevity of a worker’s lifespan:  since the time on disability retirement counts towards one’s total number of years of service, the extra percentage of annuity — even if it amounts to 1 or 2% — will compound exponentially over the course of a person’s lifetime, if a person lives to be 80 or 90.

Age is always a concern — one which is never reflected upon in the reckless days of one’s youth; and one can only hope that as youth fades and age creeps upon us, a parallel universe of wisdom also accompanies the wrinkles of time.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Goal of Perfection

The problem with perfection is that it requires the imperfect to fail to act.  Fear of failure is a pervasive problem resulting in inaction.  The unrealistic paradigm which society imposes both in explicit ways as well as in not-so-subtle ventures, leaves the rest of us wondering whether there is any distinction anymore between the “real” world and the virtual world.

Have you ever noticed, for example, how foreign actors actually have crooked teeth?  It is doubtful that there exists an American actor with a tooth out of place, but that is the standard we are presented with, in this world of perfection.  But the need to be perfect, or the thought that X should not proceed until and unless perfection is achieved, can be both an excuse, as well as a psychological obstacle, in acting at all.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, while the goal to attempt to achieve is to put together the “best” Federal Disability Retirement application for submission to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, such a goal should not be hindered by a false concept of perfection.

If the Statute of Limitations is about to run out, it is better to submit an imperfect application, than to submit nothing at all.  A Federal Disability Retirement application can always be supplemented with additional information; and as life itself is never perfect because human beings are imperfect beings (excusing those entities in the virtual universe), it is best to accept a level of reality, and proceed to ensure that one has prepared, formulated and filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits with the “best” application possible, and not necessarily the “perfect” one.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Agency Actions prior to Separation

The question is often asked as to whether there is an adverse or detrimental impact upon a Federal Disability Retirement application if the Agency or the U.S. Postal Service initiates an adverse action, places an individual on AWOL, or administers a similar type of administrative sanction, action, etc.

The general answer is that such agency actions will not prevent or influence the prevention of a Federal Disability Retirement application from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, but such a generalized answer contains within the “details” certain implicit assumptions — the primary one being, that the medical support which would accompany such a medical retirement will be strong enough to withstand and effectively refute such an adverse action.

By “supporting medical documentation” is meant, at a minimum, two issues which the treating doctor of the applicant must address:  That, prior to separation from Federal Service, the Federal or Postal employee could no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, and further, that the medical condition is expected to last for at least 12 months.

Additionally, a third element would also be helpful — that the medical condition or disability began before the adverse action, or conversely, that the behavior or acts of the Federal or Postal Disability Retirement applicant which precipitated the adverse response of the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service occurred after the origination point of the medical condition, and such an origination point can be ascertained.

This is because OPM will sometimes argue that the underlying motivation and purpose of the Federal or Postal applicant filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits was based not upon the medical condition, but because of the adverse action.  Further, the Merit Systems Protection Board has stated that such circumstantial evidence of underlying motive or intent can indeed be reviewed.  Rebuttal of such implied intent can best be proven by a doctor’s assertion.

Motives are a peculiar thing, but the casting of such underlying motives are often difficult to refute, unless a timeline of facts can counter them.  Motives are found only in the depths of one’s consciousness; and like the air we breath, the fact that we assert its existence does not necessarily prove otherwise, especially if the doubter is receptive to the poisonous whispers of finger-pointing.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Recent MSPB Clarification

A recent Merit Systems Protection Board Decision has retracted and clarified a misinterpretation of the legal standard needed to meet in order to qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS.  An expanded article explaining the clarification, impact and relative significance to Federal and Postal employees who are filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management will be forthcoming (from the undersigned writer) in the very near future.

Essentially, an evolving misinterpretation of the legal standard was expanding with unforeseen implications, and indeed, this may be why the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, in recent years, has been invoking terms and concepts which have gone far beyond the applicable standard of evidentiary requirements.  To make such a claim, of course, may be giving OPM too much credit — that they are actually following the cases-law which is handed down through the MSPB and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals; but if not, then there has been a coincidental use of onerous language which has been rather puzzling.

What the MSPB has “clarified” and retracted, is the growing misunderstanding that one of the legal standards to be met in becoming eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, is to provide “unambiguous” and evidence, or evidence which is “uncontradicted”.  Such a standard is an almost impossible one to meet, obviously, and to allow for such a requirement to remain would have placed a greater — almost impossible — burden of proof upon the applicant.

When the “system” of statute-to-case-law-interpretation works, it is a wonder to behold.  Justice works slowly; but then, great works of art can never be mass produced and time is always the friend of the masterpiece.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Cornering OPM’s Malleable Stance

At the initial stage of the process identified as “Federal Disability Retirement” from the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is often difficult for the Federal or Postal worker to grasp the various components which must be gathered, formulated, prepared and consolidated, in order to meet the legal criteria for eligibility.

Once submitted, if an approval is received from the Office of Personnel Management, then one need not be further concerned with whether or not the legal criteria was “met” (although one should still be vigilant in doing those tasks and preparatory work in order to retain and maintain one’s right to Federal disability retirement benefits).

If a denial is received from the Office of Personnel Management, then it is necessary to file a Request for Reconsideration within the thirty (30) day time period, and begin to determine which of the multiple issues OPM has delineated as being the basis of a deficient Federal Disability Retirement application.

Some attempt to do this via a “shotgun” approach — of spraying every answer available and hoping that some of the arguments, supplemental documents, statements, etc., hit the mark in some way.  A different approach is to selectively choose those issues which appear to be central to the case, and answer the essential ones, allowing for such answers to concurrently address the peripheral points brought out by OPM.  A third approach is to identify and consolidate OPM’s alleged basis for the disapproval, consolidate the issues into 2 or 3 main points, then “corner” the arguments by addressing them, concluding that the Federal or Postal employee has addressed the concerns of OPM and therefore OPM should not be able to change them at the Merit Systems Protection Board.

While an MSPB appeal is conducted “de novo” (“anew” or “afresh”, without regard to any previous determinations), it is nevertheless an effective methodology to point out the malleability of OPM’s varying stances, and thereby effectively streamline that which needs to be proven at the MSPB level.  A leopard which changes its spots too often loses its credibility, and making sure that OPM stays in one place is a useful tool in winning a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Each Step as a Building Block for the Next

Of course, the penultimate approach would be to have the first stage of the process in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, to be the first and final step of the process.  But life in general is imperfect; particular lives are generally in disarray; and to expect any administrative process — especially one at the Federal level — to be one of attaining perfection at the First Stage, is to expect that there are no ancillary motives, purposes or quota-driven mindsets behind the decision-making process.

The very concept of a “building block” is itself an interesting one, for it is a metaphor used to convey a sense of progress.  And that would be the key.  One does not purposefully leave out any single building block in the process of constructing a foundation.  Instead, each block is an addition to the greater expanse of the structure, solidifying its base, preparing for the completion such that the end product will withstand weather, elements, unforeseen circumstances and potential challenges to the structural integrity itself.

Similarly, if the U.S. Office of Personnel Management questions an issue or aspect of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application, the entire structure of the application should not be in danger of crumbling; rather, it may be a question which leads to an easy resolution, or a clarification which can be answered, challenged or expanded upon.

That is why time expended at the initial stage of the process before the filing itself — the pre-formulation part of the process, if you will — is important.  Old adages die hard, and thus to be penny wise and pound foolish is perhaps the most appropriate, wisdom-filled statement which proves itself perennially valid.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Discretion, “What Ifs”, Etc.

The anxiety and angst which accompanies the preparation, formulation and filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is on the one hand understandable, and yet, because it is an administrative process which may potentially involve multiple stages, and require investment of an extraordinary amount of time, and because it is requires a rationally-based approach in meeting the legal criteria for approval, it must be viewed and approached with a quietude of professionalism.

There are obviously times when the Statute of Limitations is about to impose some restrictive encroachment of formulation, and thus one must respond appropriately.  And, much of the decision-making process involved in whether to attach X-document, or to include Y-statement, is a discretionary matter — one which should often be left to an OPM Disability Attorney who has had some prior experience in the matter.

But the “what ifs”, as in, “What if I say A” as opposed to “having said B” is something which should be avoided.  Obsessing over singular statements — even if it is true that a denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application could potentially focus upon a statement, characterized in a wrong manner, or taken out of context (as OPM often does) — is normally unproductive.

While most “mistakes” in a Federal Disability Retirement application can be corrected, explained or expanded upon into obsolescence, one thing which cannot be accomplished is to put artificial blinders on OPM in the event that something is stated or submitted which otherwise should not have.  Even if one were to refile at a later date, once a CSA Number is assigned to a case, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management maintains the original documentation which was filed with their office.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Accommodation Issue, Redux

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the Federal or Postal employee must satisfy certain requirements (one often views such legal requirements and criteria as “obstacles” as opposed to procedural steps to be taken and satisfied) in order to have what is deemed by the Office of Personnel Management as a “complete” package which can be reviewed and determined for approval or denial.

As part of the requirement, one must have an SF 3112D completed — the Agency’s “Certification of Reassignment and Accommodation” form.  This form is the one which satisfies the question, “Don’t I have to ask for an accommodation from the Agency?”  The answer to the question is satisfied in the very act of the Agency completing the SF 3112D, and one need not separately or independently have asked the agency the question.  It is, as such, part of the administrative process and procedure which the agency must engage in and satisfy.

There is often a mistaken idea that the Federal or Postal employee must make a separate and formal request of the Agency.  But it is in the very act of completing the form — the SF 3112D — that the tripartite issue is resolved:  In the completion of the form, the (A) question of accommodation is asked, (B) the issue of accommodation is answered, and (C) the requirement that the agency address the issue of accommodation is satisfied.

No separate or independent effort, either by the Agency or the Federal or Postal employee, need be expended, for purposes of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Proper Balance

Meeting and arriving at the “proper balance” in any endeavor is an Aristotelian concept found in his Nichomachean Ethics, of achieving a median between any two extremes.  In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is important to ascertain, then apply, this concept of a “middle” balance between providing too much information (which then includes much superfluous content and documentation which merely provides volume, but not qualitative evidence of one’s Federal Disability Retirement eligibility), and not enough to meet the legal criteria.

By appearance alone (and here, of course, the philosophical outlook and distinction between that which is merely “appearance” as opposed to “substance” applies beautifully), it is sometimes necessary to provide a certain level of volume of medical records in order to satisfy OPM that there is indeed “substance” to one’s medical claim.

It is an unfortunate anomaly that, while on the one hand OPM is looking for “relevant” information, and much of the office and treatment notes of a doctor merely contain passing and quick notations on treatment modalities, medication regimens prescribed, etc.; nevertheless, the appearance of office notes, regardless of their irrelevant nature and lack of substantive content, accompanying a qualitatively significant medical narrative report, often satisfies OPM’s request for “documentation” of a medical condition.  On the other hand, too great a volume of immaterial medical documentation which tends to show nothing, should be streamlined, if possible.  Meeting that Aristotelian “median” between providing too much and too little is something which is discretionary, but important to attain.

It is normally through experience of having handled a volume of cases that one can gain a sense of what the “proper balance” means, but for the particular Federal or Postal employee who is preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, such an endeavor is, and should be, the one and only time that such an encounter would be engaged in.

That, in and of itself, is a conundrum which can only be resolved by consulting someone who is knowledgeable in the area of Federal Disability Retirement law, and as knowledge of first principles is also an Aristotelian mandate, so consultation with those who are familiar with such first principles (or any principle which applies to OPM’s arbitrary approach, for that matter) should be a must for the Federal or Postal employee considering a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire