OPM Disability Retirement Lawyer: Preemptive Actions

Knowledge can be a dangerous commodity; partial, or little knowledge, can be all the more damaging, precisely because actions can result based upon incomplete information and slices of factually curtailed composites.

The Court of the Appeals for the Federal Circuit has previously pointed out one of the methodological deficiencies engaged in by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, in its review and determination of Federal Disability Retirement cases:  of focusing upon that which is not included in a Federal Disability Retirement application, as opposed to reviewing the information of what has been received.

Such a distinction may be a subtle one, and a difference which can be easily overlooked, but it reveals much more than mere word-play.  For, what it manifests is an application of a criteria based upon an erroneous assumption, and one which continues to be applied to this day, despite case-law which admonishes OPM to the contrary.

Vanieken-Ryals v. OPM, a 2007 Federal Court of Appeals case, points out the error of OPM’s ways in Federal Disability Retirement cases, where insistence upon “objective” medical evidence continues to dominate, despite the lack of such requirement to the contrary.  Such an issue is especially relevant, of course, in cases where psychiatric medical conditions prevail, and when OPM insists upon the lack of such “objective” medical evidence where none can be obtained, it leads to Federal and Postal employees to react desperately in a preemptively unreasonable frenzy of actions.

Not knowing the law is one thing; knowing, but deliberately ignoring it, is quite another.  But the price Federal and Postal employees pay for when a bureaucracy engages in practices which clearly defy the clear mandate of legal requirement, results in preemptive actions which ultimately lead to another day in Court, to argue that which one thought was previously already established.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Legal Responses

There is of course the old adage that “good fences make good neighbors“.  It is meant to magnify the importance of demarcations, and how societal mores, rules, and accepted dictates of common etiquette provide for social boundaries without which the breakdown of common decency occurs.

Fences and boundaries not only contain; they provide markings which restrain others.  The white powder placed on a football field; the painted lines on a basketball court; the pitcher’s mound from which the pitcher must throw the ball; these are all accepted boundaries — symbols of containment as well as of restraining devices to the “others”.

In a Federal Disability Retirement application to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, imagine what the outcome would be for the Federal or Postal Worker if all that existed were the originating statutes governing the criteria for a Federal Disability Retirement application.  Imagine a world in which OPM was the sole arbiter of its own statutes — of having the right to interpret the dictates of its own mandates.

Look at the recent case of Stephenson v. OPM, in which OPM interpreted the statutes of another agency (the Social Security Administration) and decided that an offset of SSDI benefits against a FERS Disability annuity could still be perpetrated even though no actual receipt of funds was received.

Laws are like fences and boundaries; they are to be used both as a shield, as well as a sword.  Use of legal arguments not only restrains a Federal Agency from acting and stepping out “too far”; they can also be used to attack and force a retreat.  But remember that, just as the fence-building should be left to the carpenter, so the sword should be used by a warrior.  In today’s parlance, don’t think that anyone and everyone can be a courtroom lawyer.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: The Long-term Plan

Federal Disability Retirement is best anticipated and implemented within the larger context of a long term plan.  For, with the reduction of immediate income, replaced by an annuity which is fixed, but with a future potential to earn additional earned income in another (or even similar) vocation, it is best seen not just for the present circumstances, but as a base from which to build a greater future.

Future considerations may need to be entertained.  For example, how aggressively should Social Security Disability (SSDI) be pursued? If the Federal or Postal employee attempting to become eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits will not be immediately seeking to work at another, private-sector job, and there is a good chance for qualifying for SSDI, then you may want to consider seriously attempting to qualify for SSDI.

For most people, the FERS requirement of filing for SSDI is a mere formality. For those who intend upon using the immediacy of the annuity for a recuperative period in order to attend to medical needs, then perhaps a minimal effort in applying for SSDI would be appropriate.

With the recent case of Stephenson v. OPM now firmly in the “win” column, any issue about future recalculation once a Federal or Postal employee loses his or her entitlement to SSDI benefits, has now been resolved, and the Federal or Postal annuitant need not worry about the issue.  Of course, there is a wide chasm between what “the law” says, and how quickly OPM will do what they are now mandated to do.  But in the end, OPM will have to recalculate and reinstate any amounts which were offset, once a Federal or Postal employee loses his or her SSDI benefits.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Continuation of the Offset Issue

As noted previously, the issue of whether or not OPM needs to recalculate one’s FERS Disability Retirement annuity upon losing one’s SSDI benefits should now be resolved.  

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management has been arguing for years, if not decades, that despite losing SSDI payments because the recipient has engaged in substantial gainful activity, that no recalculation is in order because the annuitant is still technically “entitled” to the benefits.  

The argument which the undersigned writer made before a 3-Judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, however, is the following:  How can one “offset” something with nothing?  As King Lear said to his daughter Cordelia when she refused to shower him with flowery praises of love, “Nothing comes from nothing”.  

Whatever word-games one may engage in, one cannot offset an amount of zero against another amount.  Further, since the FERS (and CSRS) Disability Retirement annuitant is allowed to make up to 80% of what one’s former position pays, it made absolutely no sense to penalize the individual who was receiving SSDI but loses it for making too much money, to not place him/her in the same position as one who never received SSDI.  

Common sense seems to have prevailed.  

The security of knowing that, in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the Courts will actually reverse a nonsensical position of a government agency, is indeed something to smile about.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Legally Sufficient Accommodation

Whether the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service has offered a legally-viable accommodation is determined by the criteria of an offer made which is either at the same pay or grade as the position one currently occupies; but, moreover, as the Bracey case and subsequent cases which elaborate upon the issue have made clear, it cannot be a position which is merely “made up” or temporary by nature, or one in which the current Supervisor merely whispers in one’s ear and says, “Just don’t do X, Y and Z essential elements of the job.”

The reasoning behind the view that such a temporary, modified “position” does not constitute an “accommodation” under the law — and therefore would not prevent eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits — is easily justified by the age-old adage that, where one lives by the sword, one dies by the sword; meaning, thereby, that if Supervisor X can simply suspend certain essential elements of a job, a future Supervisor Y can just as easily reinstate the requirements of performing those previously-unattended elements, and require that they be performed.

That being said, there is nevertheless nothing wrong with an Agency allowing for a Federal or Postal worker to work at a position and lessen the requirements of the job.  For some, it may be that such a modified position is acceptable, especially in light of receiving a regular paycheck.

The issue of “accommodations” should not be confused with the eligibility requirements of being able to file for, and be approved with, Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  There is the issue of legally-sufficient accommodation for purposes of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefitsfrom the U.S. Office of Personnel Management; then, there is the commonplace parlance of being informally “accommodated” if one wants to continue to work; the two are not contradictory.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire