Federal Disability Retirement: Quantifying Quality & Qualitative Quantity

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 make discretionary decisions concerning multiple aspects of a Federal Disability Retirement application — including the volume, extent, nature, and quality of the medical documentation to be submitted.

Because it is the Applicant (the Federal or Postal employee who is submitting the application) who has the “burden of proof” — that burden which states that by a preponderance of the evidence, one’s Federal Disability Retirement application is more likely to be so than not so — it is therefore up to the Applicant to make determinations as to the quality and quantity of the medical documentation and any other relevant attachments.

Qualitative sufficiency is often a difficult measure to determine; quantitative significance is equally difficult — as in, how much is enough? On the one hand, to submit a thousand pages of medical notes, reports, etc., would probably be “too much”.  But a case which only includes 5 pages of medical reports and notes, while seemingly “too little”, can be more than sufficient if the quality of the records and reports is indisputable and irrefutable in determining that a Federal or Postal employee is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.

Ultimately, the discretionary decision will come down to a matter of experience — for it is based upon prior experience that one can make better decisions for the future.  To that extent, to be inrepresented in attempting to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits is obviously a disadvantage, because an unexperienced Applicant is merely entering into the arena of Federal Disability Retirement law based upon a “hit or miss” history of inexperience.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Choices

One immediately hears it in the voice — of the frustration and desire to simply give up.  But “giving up” is simply not a choice, if one refuses to acknowledge such an option and fails to place it on the roster of listed alternatives.  Part of the human factor in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is the chasm of the unknown.

No, there is never a guarantee that one’s Federal Disability Retirement application will be approved, just as there is never a certainty that one’s treating doctor will support the patient’s need to apply for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  It is the unknown — from whether the application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is sufficient to obtain an approval from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, to whether the doctor’s report is “strong enough”; from what steps the agency will take to try and undermine a Federal Disability Retirement case, to the long and seemingly endless wait while one’s case simply sits on the desk of some Case worker at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management — the aggregate of all of these constitute and comprise the “unknown”.

There are cases where a thin sliver of medical documents result in a quick and uncomplicated approval; others, where a voluminous binding of reports, diagnostic tests and medical records result in scant attention and a denial. Often, it seems somewhat arbitrary.

It is the “unknown” and “unknowable” factors which heighten the time of anxiety.  But through the entire administrative process, the singular choice should always be clear:  to move forward.  And sometimes, to do so is to merely wait, and disregard the unknown or unknowable.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Time and Clarity

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, two primary elements must be shown:  A.  That one suffers from a medical condition such that the medical disability prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, and B.  That the medical condition will last for a minimum of twelve (12) months.  This second part of the requirement — the 12 month period — can bring about some interesting issues.

Despite the simplicity of what it requests in terms of information, the issue is often confused and confusing.  Federal and Postal workers contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits will often wonder whether one has to be “out of work” for a period of 12 months before even filing (somewhat similar to SSDI, where one must be out of work for a specified period of time) — but that is not what the statute requires.  What is required is merely that the medical condition must have a duration of at least 12 months, and so a prognosis should suffice — i.e., if the medical condition suffered has lasted for 5 months, say, and the doctor provides a prognosis that it will continue for a minimum of 2 – 3 more years, and perhaps permanently, that should satisfy the legal requirement of a medical condition lasting for a minimum of 12 months.

On the other hand, when the doctor states that it has lasted since X date and will be a “permanent” condition, that should also satisfy the legal requirement.  However, OPM will often fail to comprehend what “permanent” means, and will deny a case based upon the fact that the “12 month period” has not been met.

Further, the issue of “when” a medical condition began is an interesting one, because if one goes too far back, then that may show that despite the medical condition, the Federal or Postal employee has been able to perform the essential elements of one’s job.  The question is thus not one of “when the medical condition began”; rather, the question is one of “when did the medical condition prevent one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.”

Clarity is the key, always, and when one is dealing with Claims Specialists at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management who are reading multiple files day after day, and confusing and confounding one with the other, making certain that the medical reports, legal arguments and Applicant’s Statement of Disability are clearly and concisely delineated, will help to guide OPM to a proper and successful decision.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Reliability of Information

In this information age (or, as the linear sequence of “ages” go, some have already identified it as the “post-information age”), the necessity of distinguishing between information, relevant information, and reliably relevant information is an important capacity to embrace.

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 be able to identify the distinguishing factors between the three.  The problem is that the three categories are often encapsulated in concentric circles of information, such that they are indistinguishable.

A fourth category which often muddies the waters is the insertion of motives.  How often does it happen where one makes contact with an agency, and the person on the other end seems pleasant, sounds competent, and joyfully informs you that it is “being worked on” and will be completed within the next day or so?  Weeks go by, and when a follow-up call is initiated, one is told by a less enthusiastic voice, and one which may be unpleasant and unhelpful, that No, the file hasn’t even been received, and we don’t know who you spoke to, but what that “other” person said is not true.  The “motive” of the “other” person was likely merely to get rid of the caller.  The fact that the voice was pleasant and competent-seeming turned out to be an undermining factor as to the reliability of the information.

This is an age when anyone can be anyone else; where a declaration on a website or on a social network page can constitute the substance of a person’s identity, without the person have accomplished anything “real”.  The problem with such radical bifurcation between “information”, “relevant information”, and “reliably relevant information”, however, is that there are real-world consequences for those who seek out and utilize such information.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is important to make such a tripartite distinction, and to proceed to prepare a case based upon a reliable information source, a relevant basis of information, and information which can bring about an effective end.  This takes discernment — a commodity which is greatly lacking these days.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: He Who Dictates the Law…

He who dictates the law, controls the conditions and criteria which govern a process.  Whether such dictation is an accurate reflection of the actual substance of the law, of course, is another matter.

Thus, when the Office of Personnel Management applies their 7-part criteria, they purportedly and in declarative form assert that it is based upon the substantive law which is extrapolated from the statutory authority which underlies Federal Disability Retirement laws, statutes, regulations, and expansive case-law as handed down from the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board decisions and opinions rendered by the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals cases.

Merely asserting that a given set of legal criteria has been applied, does not constitute a verification of the proper interpretation of what the law means.  Proper interpretation requires legal analysis, an understanding of the context of how the law was applied, in what fact-scenarios the law was cited, and an argument as to whether it applies in one’s own set of factual circumstances.

Indeed, often the U.S. Office of Personnel Management will describe a linear state of a Federal or Postal employee’s set of medical reports, conditions, etc., then merely declare that the legal criteria was applied, then (without any explanatory nexus between the facts and the conclusion) make a decision stating that the medical conditions “did not satisfy the legal requirements” — without any bridging explanation as to why such a statement should be accepted as true.

Having the authority to dictate the law is one thing; such authority does not mean that one is right, or that such authority grants the agency any great insight into proper legal reasoning.  Fortunately, there are appellate procedures, such as the next step in the process — the Second Stage of the process (Reconsideration Stage), and beyond, to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Complexity & Context

Complexities in any field, whether general, technical or mundane, possess a context which includes its history, its underlying purpose, and the years of evolving issues which have impacted the expanding compendium of rules, regulations, statutes and procedural mandates.  The previously-stated sentence is itself a paradigm of such complexity, and unless a proper context is provided, retains scant meaning except in a garbled conglomeration of independent words.

Federal Disability Retirement from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, is somewhat akin to the context-less complexity experienced by any Federal or Postal Worker who approaches such an administrative process.  Those who have been involved in the substantive and procedural morass understand the methodology, means and minutiae which must be engaged in order to successfully maneuver through the regulatory and administrative process.  But most Federal and Postal employees have a singular contact with the entire process (and thankfully so), without a context of how, why, or when it reached a level of such complexity that it became necessary to search for some guidance to understand the very process itself.

Unfortunately, Human Resources personnel are often unhelpful or uninformed themselves.  The statutes, laws and procedural regulations which are supposed to guide the Federal or Postal employees have themselves become a conglomeration of complexities.  And the ability to discern and distinguish between information, helpful information, and errant information, has become a problem in and of itself.

Best to take some time at the front end to simply gather some facts, and determine what the central issues are.  Taking the time at the front end to tackle the complexities, and understand the context, will save some troubles down the road.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Often, the Option Was Always Open

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the question on Standard Form 3112A which asks for the “approximate date” of when a Federal or Postal employee became disabled from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job can sometimes be rather tricky.

For, quite often, it is not the medical condition itself which drives a Federal or Postal employee to file for a Federal Disability Retirement annuity; rather, it may be external circumstances entirely foreign to the medical condition itself (i.e., actions of the Supervisor, the Agency; changes in work schedules; reinstating other assignments and positional requirements, etc.).

In many cases, the fact is that the Federal or Postal worker may have been eligible to apply for, and successfully obtain, a Federal Disability Retirement annuity for several years — it is just that he or she never exercised the option or right to do so, because the Agency or the U.S. Postal Service allowed for light duty, temporary duty assignments, modified duties, etc. — in other words, a loose network of ad hoc duties aggregately termed as an “accommodation”, but clearly not what would constitute a legally-sufficient accommodation under the law and under the Bracey definition.  But the option to exercise the eligibility in a Federal Disability Retirement application may have been there for many years, and so the question on SF 3112A may actually require a response indicating many years and months prior to the completion and dating of the form itself.

The fact that a medical condition prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job is the qualifying factor in a Federal Disability Retirement application; when to exercise the option to obtain a Federal Disability Retirement annuity is a separate issue; and as to the latter, the compelling force may well be issues external to a medical condition.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire