OPM Disability Retirement: The 1-Year Rule

Periodically, I remind everyone of the various “1-year” rules which govern Federal Disability Retirement issues under FERS & CSRS.  Since there are multiple applications of the 1-year rule, there is often a confusion which is still prevalent and ongoing. 

Thus, here are some clarifications:  You must file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS either while in the employment of a Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service, or within 1-year of being separated from Federal Service

There are a couple of exceptions to this 1-year rule:  If you are found to be incompetent, you may be able to get a waiver from the Office of Personnel Management, but this is extremely rare and difficult to obtain.

Another exception, however, is found in the U.S. Court of Appeals case of Johnston v. OPM, where the Court found that if a person was removed for apparent medical reasons, but was never notified by the Agency, then the 1-year rule may be waived (this often happens to Federal and Postal employees who have been on OWCP for many years, and are forgotten and never informed of an initiation of an SF 50 separating him or her from Federal or Postal Service). 

The 1-year rule should not be confused with:  One’s medical condition needs to last for a minimum of 1 year (but this does not mean that you need to wait a year before filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits; rather, it merely means that your doctor expects that your medical condition will last for a minimum of 12 months). 

I hope that this clarfies any confusions, and further, that it serves as a reminder to anyone who is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under CSRS or FERS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Attorney

OPM Disability Retirement: Legal Arguments

Whether and to what extent legal arguments in Federal Disability Retirement cases under FERS or CSRS should be made, should rarely be ventured into by non-lawyers.  The boundaries of legal arguments are naturally constrained for lawyers both internally and externally:  internally, because (hopefully) lawyers are trained to recognize that maintaining the integrity of legal precedents is vital to the process, and externally, because all legal arguments are ultimately subjected to the review of a Judge — in the case of administrative laws governing Federal and Postal Disability Retirement, at the first instance by the Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board, then potentially at the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.  When laymen attempt to make legal arguments, there is the added danger of misinterpretation and mis-application of the law, which can further injure the chances of an Applicant filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits to obtain an approval.  And, finally, such chances for success may be further damaged if it needs to come before an Administrative Judge for review.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Reconsiderations

There is a line to be drawn between arguing the law within a boundary of integrity, and arguing the law beyond any reasonable interpretation of the law.  This principle is no less true in administrative law, which is what Federal Disability Retirement law is considered.  I often see non-lawyers make “legal arguments” in an initial application to the Office of Personnel Management, which is then denied, and I then enter my appearance in the case at the Second, Reconsideration Stage of the process.  That is fine — some applicants want to try and save the cost of hiring an attorney, and then decide it is necessary after it has been denied. 

However, as I often explain to clients:  while most mistakes in a Federal Disability Retirement application can be amended or explained, I do not have the magical ability to place “blinders” upon the eyes of the OPM Representative for legal or other arguments or statements made to them at the First Stage of the Process.  While my website and my articles & writings provide a good bit of information on filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, and anyone can use it to his or her advantage, one bit of caution:  Don’t make legal arguments if you don’t fully know what you are talking about.  To do so more often than not results in a loss of credibility, and if your case goes before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board, the Judge may not look favorably upon a case where a spurious argument was made at the initial stage of the process.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: After Separation from Service (Part 2)

Of course, it is always the separation from service based upon reasons delineated other than medically-based reasons which give rise to concerns in a federal disability retirement case.  Understand, however, that the “Bruner Presumption” is essentially a “scale-tipper” for the Office of Personnel Management (supposedly) and for the Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board (of somewhat greater certainty).  By this, I mean merely that, with or without the Bruner Presumption, a Federal Disability Retirement applicant under FERS or CSRS must still prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she is eligible and entitled to federal disability retirement benefits. “Preponderance of the evidence” is essentially proof such that it is “more likely the case than not”.  Thus, when all things are equal, the Bruner Presumption is supposed to tip the scale in favor of the federal disability retirement applicant. 

On the other hand, if an individual was removed for reasons other than medically-based reasons — i.e., as a hypothetical, let’s say he was removed “for cause” — an act of dishonesty; failure to follow certain agency procedures; or whatever the case may be.  Does such a removal tip the scale the other way?  Not necessarily; however, it makes gathering the proper medical evidence that much more important, and what I often do is to try and tie in the underlying behavior which resulted in the removal “for cause”, with the medical basis — if at all possible.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Disability Retirement: The Agency & the Individual

The National Reassessment Program (NRP) now implemented in full force, along with the Voluntary Early Retirement, the cash incentives (many have called to ask whether or not, if one is not eligible or offered the early retirement, but the cash incentive with a resignation is still being offered, should you take it?), and the Postal Service’s ultimate goal of shedding its payroll of anyone and everyone who is not “fully productive” by doing away with all “light duty” or “modified duty” slots (there actually is no “slot”, but rather merely an ad hoc set of duties “made up” on a piece of paper, which is what I have been arguing for years and years, and as the Bracey Decision by the Federal Circuit Court addressed) — all of these developments are merely a large-scale, macrocosmic level of what happens every day on an individual, singular basis. 

This is merely a reflection of an Agency, and how it acts, reacts and responds to injured workers, workers who have medical conditions which impact one’s ability to perform one’s job, and worker’s who are not “fully productive”.  It is merely that which happens every day to individual workers, but on a larger scale.  Think about it:  A Federal or Postal employee who develops a medical condition, and cannot perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; job performance soon begins to suffer, although perhaps imperceptibly at first; and the question becomes:  How will the agency, via its representative, the “Supervisor”, treat such an employee?  Sadly, more often than not, in a rough-shod, unsympathetic, and often cruel manner.  The Postal Service is simply doing it on a larger scale; but be fully aware, that every day, a Federal or Postal employee who is suffering from a medical condition, encounters such behavior and treatment — only, on a microcosmic, individual scale.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Clarity over Question

While a compromise position on certain issues in Federal Disability Retirement for FERS & CSRS may be the best that one may hope for, obviously, clarity over question is the better course to have.  Thus, for instance, in a removal action, where a Federal or Postal employee is being removed for his or her “excessive absences,” it is best to have the proposed removal and the decision of removal to reference one or more medical conditions, or at least some acknowledgment by the Agency, that would explicate — implicitly or otherwise — that the underlying basis for the “excessive absences” were as a result of the medical condition.  There are cases which clearly state that where excessive absences are referenced by medical conditions, the Bruner Presumption would apply in a Federal Disability Retirement case. 

Now, in those cases where the removal action merely removes a Federal or Postal employee for “excessive absences”, there are other methods which may win over an Administrative Judge to apply the Bruner Presumption.  Such “other methods” may include emails or correspondence, at or near the time of the removal action, which appears to put the Agency on notice about specific medical conditions, including attachments of doctor’s reports, medical notations, etc.  Such concurrent documentation can convince an Administrative Judge that, indeed, the question as to whether the “excessive absences” were as a result of a medical condition, and whether the Agency was aware of such an underlying basis, is clarified by documents which provide a proper context within the reasonable time-frame of the issuance of the proposal to remove and the decision to remove.  It is always better, of course, to have clarity over a question, but sometimes the question can be clarified with additional and concurrent documentation.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Argument by Analogy

Attorneys argue “by analogy” all of the time; cases and decisions from the Merit Systems Protection Board, and language from the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, provide the fertile fodder for such argumentation.  Thus, such issues as to whether the Bruner Presumption should apply in the case; whether a case is similar to previously-decided Federal Disability Retirement cases; the similarity of fact-scenarios and legal applications — they are all open to argument by analogy.  That is why case-citations are important — even in arguing a Federal Disability Retirement case to the Office of Personnel Management.  Whether and how much influence such legal argumentation can have at the first two stages of the disability retirement application process, may be open to dispute; but cases should never be compiled and prepared for the first or second stage alone; all disability retirement applications should be prepared “as if” it will be denied and will be presented on appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  Such careful preparation serves two (2) purposes:  First, for the Office of Personnel Management, to let them know that if they deny it and it goes on appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, they will have to answer to the scrutiny of the Administrative Law Judge; and Second, for the Administrative Law Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board, to let him or her know that you did indeed prepare the case well, and that your particular Federal Disability Retirement application conforms to the law, and should therefore be approved.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: What It Means to Have the “Burden of Proof”

Remember that the applicant who is requesting disability retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management always has the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he or she is entitled and eligible for disability retirement benefits.  Even if the Agency proposes and effectuates a removal based upon one’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job (thereby invoking the “Bruner Presumption”); nevertheless, the burden of persuasion always remains with the applicant.

Never assume anything; yes, the Bruner Presumption is nice to have, but don’t ever rely upon it to have your disability retirement benefits handed to you, because it won’t be.  The Bruner Presumption “can be rebutted if adequate evidence is identified in the record to establish that the appellant actually is not entitled to disability retirement; even with the rebuttable presumption, the appellant retains the burden of persuasion at all times to establish his entitlement to disability retirement” (See Morton v. Office of Personnel Management, 88 M.S.P.R. 691 (2001). Remember:  you always have the burden to prove your entitlement to disability retirement benefits; you must prove it; you must work tirelessly to show it.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire