FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Roadmaps

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, it is important to allow for the medical evidence and other supporting documentation to “speak for themselves”.  Yet, at the same time, a cover-letter, or a “roadmap”, should always accompany a Federal Disability Retirement application.

In representing Federal and Postal employees, at every stage of the process — whether at the Initial Stage of compiling and preparing all aspects of a Federal Disability Retirement application; and at the Reconsideration Stage, in rebutting and responding to an OPM denial for the First Stage of the process — a cover letter always accompanies a disability retirement packet.

The cover letter is, and should be, lengthy to the extent of providing a concise roadmap of addressing all of the essential elements of the disability retirement packet; with appropriate “red flags” to apprise the OPM Representative of the relevance of the attached documents; of arguing the relevant law which clearly and by a preponderance of the evidence shows that each of the legal criteria in a Federal Disability Retirement application have been met; and why the Office of Personnel Management has no choice but to approve the Federal Disability Retirement benefit.

But like all roadmaps, it is important to establish the credibility of such a map, by showing that each statement, assertion and claim is vindicated by the truth of a relevant document or evidentiary source.  Credibility is established by substantive content backed by truth.  Have you ever followed a roadmap that resulted in taking you to the other side of town?  Such roadmaps are worth the paper they are printed on, and make for good fire starters.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Rationality Still Exists

One may well disagrees with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management on its decision to deny a Federal Disability Retirement application, and yet find a rational basis for its denial.  Indeed, the fact that OPM may offer some rationality to its denial, does not mean that they are correct in their decision.  Often, there is a misunderstanding as to what “rational” behavior consists of.

On a recent Sunday morning talk show, a couple of political pundits were proposing the idea that certain hard-line regimes were not acting “rationally”.  The problem with such an analysis is that one assumes that if an individual or a country fails to act within certain universally-accepted normative behavior, that such actions constitute “irrational” conduct.  That is simply not true.

First of all, rationality — which finds its foundation in logic, whether propositional or syllogistic — depends upon the major and minor premises advanced.  Thus, if the major premise entails a person or country that cares for the welfare of his neighbor or its citizenry, then the logical conclusion may well be one which encapsulates rationality — of acting to protect its people, to safeguard human rights, etc.  On the other hand, if the major premise begins with the primary assertion of retaining authority and absolute power, then the conclusion would involve shooting or massacring its countrymen.  The latter logical trail is no less “rational” than the former. Such a mistake in defining and understanding the concept of “rationality” is often found in all areas of life.

Thus, in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, the fact that there has been evidence of “irrational” behavior on the part of those parties involved in the administrative process, should not result in a conclusion that the process is “arbitrary” or dependent upon some non-legal criteria.

Ultimately, all human endeavors embrace some semblance of rationality.  While one may disagree with the analytical thought-processes of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which often strays far beyond what the law requires and allows for, nevertheless, one can recognize the rational analytical procedures used in every denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS — albeit, one in which radical jumps from premise-to-conclusion with gaping chasms of generous implications may have to be provided, in order to be able to say that such argumentation incorporated a rational basis of explanatory analysis.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Beyond Rationality

In preparing, formulating, and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the goal is to compile and compose the “best possible” disability retirement packet.

Such a goal is a foundational one — that which is self-evident.  Indeed, to have a contrary goal is anathema to the entire administrative process.  Concluding that one has achieved that goal, however, leaves room for discretion.  Indeed, often the best that one can do is to accept those things which are outside of one’s control, and focus exclusively upon achieving excellence of that which is within the confined arena of what one can control.

Thus, for instance, to try and predict and preclude a denial at the First Stage of the process — while a goal which every attorney who practices Federal Disability Retirement law attempts to achieve — is almost an act of futility, because such an attempt inherently requires that the Office of Personnel Management systematically engages in a rational approach in deciding its cases.  On the contrary, much of what the Office of Personnel Management does is to “fill in the blanks” of a template.  Denial letters are mostly form letters which then have a concluding paragraph, which itself is often a formatted conclusion.  That is not to say that the evidence presented was not reviewed; rather, the evidence reviewed was determined to fit — or not fit — a template.

How does one counter that which is beyond rationality?  By focusing upon those things which are within one’s control — by compiling the best possible presentation, for the best will normally fit any template; unless, of course, the template itself is beyond rationality.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: The Legal Standards

Recent decisions issued by the Full Board of the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board — specifically, Henderson v. OPM, decided on January 31, 2012, reestablishes the two general standards of applicable evidentiary approaches in proving a Federal Disability Retirement case, whether under FERS or CSRS.  Whether or not the U.S. Office of Personnel Management will “comply” with the applicable standards as set forth by the MSPB is another question.

Often, the “trickle-down” effect of a legal opinion can take years to accomplish — and by that time, further refinements by the courts and by the MSPB may have made such legal opinions moot, irrelevant or otherwise restrictive in its practical application, anyway.  For the time being, however, the two legal approaches can be generally stated thus:  One must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence in all Federal Disability Retirement cases, either (A)  That certain specific medical conditions prevent one from performing certain specific essential elements of one’s job (somewhat like a 1 – 1 correspondence, or more generally, a medical opinion showing that medical condition X prevents job duties Y because of Z) or (B) as stated previously in Bruner and multiple other cases, there is an “inconsistency” between one’s medical condition (or multiplicity of medical conditions) and the type of positional duties one must engage in to perform the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job.

The former criteria to satisfy may be deemed “particularized”; the latter may be seen as a more “generalized” approach.  While there is certainly a conceptual distinction between the two, in pragmatic terms, such a distinction may be without too much difference, if only because doctors will often go back and forth between the two approaches, anyway, in writing a medical narrative report.

The conceptual distinction is not as apparent as one between “explicit” and “implicit”, but certainly the former approach encapsulates a greater specificity of detailing a connection between X and Y, whereas the latter requires the reader or reviewer (i.e., OPM or the Administrative Judge) to think through and analyze the entirety of the issue.  But that life would not be so complicated.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: What Are You Trying to Prove?

The word “refrain” is an interesting one for its multifarious definitions — from restraining one’s self (a physical act of self-control) to identifying a phrase or group of phrases which are repeated throughout a verse, song, etc., the application of the word is useful by its very differences.  And, indeed, it is the differences between a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, from the entire administrative process of filing for Social Security Disability benefits, or obtaining a higher disability rating from the Veterans Administration, or even attempting to establish causality in a Federal OWCP, Department of Labor case — which makes all the difference.

Such a tautology and redundancy, while rather puzzling, is what must be kept in mind when preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  It is indeed the differences which make for the difference.  Thus, as to the refrain, “What are you trying to prove?”, goes to the very heart and essence of the differences.  That which one is trying to prove strikes at the essence of how you will approach a Federal Disability Retirement case, distinctly and differently from what you are trying to prove for an increased VA rating, OWCP case or a Social Security Disability case.

Furthermore, normally the “shotgun” approach will not be the most effective — i.e., that approach of shooting at everything and in every direction and hoping that you will somehow hit the mark.  Federal Disability Retirement requires certain specific elements to prove, different and distinct from OWCP, VA or SSDI, and it is indeed that which one needs to prove, which will make all the difference in a case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Pragmatism

The practice of the philosophical school of “Pragmatism” is what many Americans associate themselves with — precisely because America was, and continues to be (as of late, anyway), a country which invents, manufactures, creates, etc., and prides itself on its technological “forward-thinking” ways.

Pragmatism is a uniquely American philosophical approach — one in which William James (an American) had an influence upon, where the methodology of determining truth consisted in the combination of the correspondence theory of truth and what he considered a “coherence” theory of truth, where not only did a given statement need to have a correspondence with the physical world, but moreover, the entirety of the statement had to “cohere” with other statements asserted.  Pragmatism is an “applied” approach.

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 always important to remember the “nuts and bolts” of putting together a Federal Disability Retirement application.  In other words, one must take a very “pragmatic” approach to the entire administrative process.

From dealing with doctors who may be skeptical about his or her ability to relate a medical condition to one’s positional duties in the Federal government or in the Postal Service; to making sure that the Human Resources department assists in processing the Federal disability retirement application; to writing an effective and compelling Applicant’s Statement of Disability — these are all considerations where the subject of the application — the very person who is suffering from the medical condition — must set aside the anxieties, frustrations and fears, and set about to pragmatically put together an effective Federal Disability Retirement application.

As “pragmatism” finds its roots in the Greek word pragma, from which we get the words “practical” and “practice”, so it is important to consult with those who have the experience in the very practice of Federal Disability Retirement law.  Indeed, coherence and correspondence are two traits which the Office of Personnel Management looks for in a Federal Disability Retirement application.  William James would have been a good lawyer for Federal Disability Retirement law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: OWCP Doctors, and Others, Etc.

Can a doctor with whom one has been treating, but one which was obtained through the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act, Department of Labor (FECA/DOL), Office of Workers’ Compensation Program (OWCP), be an effective advocate for one’s Disability Retirement application?  Of course.

Often, however, there is a complaint that the “OWCP doctor” is not very responsive to a Federal or Postal employee’s attempt to approach the question of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS.  As FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement is based upon proving by a preponderance of the evidence one’s medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, it is crucial that the Federal or Postal employee contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits have a supportive doctor.

While the Merit Systems Protection Board’s expanding case-law holdings continue to reinforce the idea that the most effective advocate in a Federal Disability Retirement case is a “treating doctor”, as such, medical reports obtained through 2nd opinion or “referee” consultations, or via filing for Social Security Disability benefits, may have some limitations on their usage; nevertheless, the weapons of arguing that an “independent” source of medical review also found that one could not perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, can be an effective substantive argument.

As for the OWCP-treating doctor, sometimes those forms completed by such a doctor will be enough to meet the eligibility requirements for OPM Disability Retirement — but that is an individual assessment based upon the uniqueness of each case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Appropriate Times

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, one of the issues which every Federal and Postal employee must consider is whether to hire an attorney.

“What kind” of an attorney to hire is a fairly self-evident proposition — one that specializes (exclusively) in Federal Disability Retirement law, or at the very least, whose practice involves a significant amount of Federal Disability Retirement legal practice.  Most local attorneys have no idea about Federal Disability Retirement, and indeed, the location of the attorney is irrelevant, precisely because it is a Federal issue, and not a State one, and everything must ultimately be forwarded to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, anyway — initially to Boyers, PA, then on to Washington, D.C.

“Whether” to hire an attorney is a more relevant issue.  As everyone believes that his or her own case is a slam-dunk case (because of the difficulty of bifurcating the subject of the Federal Disability Retirement application — the very “I” who is suffering from the medical condition itself — from the “object” of the Federal Disability Retirement application — the person of whom one is speaking about in medical reports, Supervisor’s Statement, etc.), it is often important to obtain a more “objective” assessment of the efficacy, objectivity, and coherence of descriptive delineation of the packet as a whole, from someone who can properly evaluate a Federal Disability Retirement application.

“When” to hire an attorney is also a crucial issue to confront; for, if one has already submitted a Federal Disability Retirement application, it is probably not a good idea to obtain the services of an attorney at that point.  It is best to put the investment in at the “front end” of a process, than to play catch-up for the remainder of the season.

That is what the Baltimore Orioles do each and every season — fail to put the necessary investment in at the beginning of each season — and that is why it is a hardship to be an Orioles fan.  Sigh.  But Spring brings new hope — only, not if you are an Orioles fan.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Unfortunately, like a Toothache

Preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is analogous to having a toothache — a gnawing sense of foreboding during the entire process, especially during the long period of waiting for a decision from the Office of Personnel Management.  Then, like the extracted tooth which cures all ills, an approval from the Office of Personnel Management solves many of the problems, clears up much uncertainty for the future, and allows for a good night’s sleep for the first time in many months.

The difference between filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits and having a toothache, however, is that while the latter can have a solution fairly immediately, the former will linger for many months, and it is precisely the longevity of the process which is the most disconcerting.

Further, the fact that one’s own Federal agency, or the U.S. Postal Service, and specifically the Human Resources office of many agencies (there are, of course, exceptions to the general rule, though such exceptions are rare and delightful when found — sort of like coming upon a near-extinct species and recognizing the aberration of the moment) will deliberately and with purposive intent attempt to obfuscate and create unnecessary obstacles (isn’t that precisely why such euphemistic designations like, “The Office of Human Capital” is applied?) is itself disturbing, puzzling, and infuriating.  But like the toothache, all that can be done during the long administrative process is to wait for that moment of extraction — or approval, as the case may be.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire