Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Unresponsive Agency

The complaints abound, and continue to exponentially increase; the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is way behind on its evaluation, review and decision-making process for all characters of retirements, disability retirements included.

It is a given that filing for Federal or Postal Disability Retirement, whether under FERS or CSRS, with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, must necessarily have an expectation of a time-consuming administrative process, precisely because of the encounter with a Federal bureaucracy.  But it seems that each year — nay, each month and week — the delays continue to expand.

At each step of the way, OPM has become more and more unresponsive, and with new cases coming in, the length of time at every stage, and “between” stages, has been extended.  The process itself contains inherent milestones of delay: from filing the entire disability retirement application to a facility in Boyers, Pennsylvania, which merely annotates the receipt of the case and inputs the case into the computer system; to thereafter sending the disability retirement application, with all of its evidentiary submissions and attachments down to Washington, D.C., where it must first await assignment to a caseworker; then, upon assignment, for the caseworker to even get to the applicant’s submission for review and evaluation.  Then, of course, there is the possibility that the entire packet will be selected to be sent out for review by a contract doctor.

The delays are beyond the control of the applicant, his or her OPM Disability attorney, or the agency for whom the applicant worked.  It is, ultimately, an administrative process which can be tedious, time-consuming, and fraught with delays and extended periods of silence.

Patience may well be a virtue, but the unresponsive manner in which the U.S. Office of Personnel Management has handled the delays, fails to engender much confidence in a system which should be most responsive to those in greater need.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Patience & Frustration

Stories now abound concerning the backlog at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management; and as has been often stated by the undersigned attorney, if the old adage that “patience is a virtue” is truly a truism, then Federal and Postal employees must indeed be the most virtuous of individuals in any given society, because the long wait in order to obtain a decision — favorable or otherwise (and, if the latter, then at least the Federal or Postal worker can assert his or his reconsideration or appeal rights in the matter) — on a Federal Disability Retirement application certainly tests the outer limits of one’s moral character.

The inverse emotional reaction to the moral character of virtue, is the expression of frustration.  Such an expression is the release of irritation, anger, and an overwhelming sense of angst at a system and administrative procedure which follows no rules, acknowledges no time lines, and concedes no boundaries of what a “reasonable” length of time would be defined as.

Then, of course, one always hears of “stories” about individual X who filed and got a decision within a month of a case being assigned; or that individual Y went into bankruptcy while waiting for OPM to make a decision.  It is best to refrain from comparative analyses; such stories, in whatever form and to what extent of truth is contained, will only increase the level of frustration, and further test the moral fibre of virtue.

While there is no single answer to the long waiting period which OPM has imposed upon the process, this much is true:  Approvals are being issued; decisions are being made on a daily basis; it is simply a matter of time.  In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, this period of waiting must be “factored in”.  But when such factoring has occurred, the actual period of waiting is indeed a frustrating part of the administrative process.

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

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Rumors, Stories and…

Part of the successful strategy of remaining focused, steadfast and purposeful is to maintain and retain the ability to filter out ancillary information  as opposed to the essential ingredients which comprise the important, relevant foundation in any endeavor.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management, throughout the administrative process comprising the aggregate of procedures, maneuvering through the agency, then waiting for the decision from the Office of Personnel Management, the Federal or Postal employee naturally becomes sensitive to rumors; to information received from various sources — other co-workers, Agency Human Resources personnel, friends, family, etc.

Whether such rumors or “information” concern the success or failure of other Federal employees who filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits; or more generic rumors about the Federal Government and pension benefits, pending legislation about new or proposed laws impacting Federal Disability Retirement benefits; or that OPM is “denying a higher number of initial applications”; or the opposite argument that OPM is “approving Federal Disability Retirement applications to get rid of Federal employees”, and a host of other rumors, stories, and out-of-context partial truths, stories, and outright misinformation — it is important to distinguish between truth, lies, rumors and half-truths.

The better methodology is to focus upon the present process, and one’s own Federal Disability Retirement application, and leaving aside such rumors and stories.  Put together the most effective Federal Disability Retirement packet one can possible compile; submit it; and the outcome will be based upon the sufficient viability of the Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Taking Advantage of the Long Wait

Preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS should not be viewed as a singular event with a distinct and bifurcating cut-off date, where once the medical documentation has been filed with the Office of Personnel Management, it is merely a long process of inactivity in waiting.  

The circumstances at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management have obviously changed.  A few years ago, the expected “wait-time” once a CSA number was assigned to a case, was approximately 60 – 90 days.  That period of waiting has now been extended, and extended considerably, for reasons which the Office of Personnel Management have cited as a “backlog of cases”.  

Because of those changed circumstances, it is wise to take advantage of the wait period by recognizing and bringing together various elements of a Federal Disability Retirement case:  since one’s medical condition must last a minimum of 12 months, and because the waiting time with OPM has been extended, it is probably a good idea to continue to “supplement” the medical records with the Office of Personnel Management, by forwarding, faxing, mailing, etc., any updated medical records, treatment notes, office notes, surgical operative notes; clinical examination records; any functional capacity evaluations, etc.  

Any medical notations which show the continuing care, treatment and inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job, will only reinforce and strengthen the argument that (A) one has a medical condition such that one cannot perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, and (2) that as a continuing medical condition, it is not only lasting a minimum of 12 months, but is factually a chronic and continuing medical condition.

 Take advantage of the longer wait period, by actively engaging in the management of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: The Long, often Frustrating Road to a Decision

It is indeed taking an inordinate amount of time in receiving a decision from the Office of Personnel Management, for a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

The problem which has been identified by various personnel at the Office of Personnel Management is that there has been a steady backlog of cases resulting from various factors, including personnel attrition through retirement, transfers, etc., without an adequate rate of substitution or replacement.

This is obviously of great frustration and concern to all Federal and Postal employees who are awaiting a decision from the Office of Personnel Management on his or her Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, but ultimately it must be accepted as part of the bureaucratic, administrative process of filing for a benefit.  

Each of the Claims Representatives at the Office of Personnel Management, when contacted, are clearly attempting to get through their case-loads, but they must review, evaluate and apply a set of criteria in making a determination on each case.  

A denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application only sets back the case further, because it then is transferred to the Reconsideration Section of the administrative process, and is reviewed anew (assuming that the Federal or Postal employee files a Request for Reconsideration within the 30-day timeframe) by a different OPM Representative.  

Frustration is a part of any and every bureaucratic, administrative process; waiting is part of that process; patience is the virtue which must be retained; and recognizing from the outset that exponential multiplication of the waiting period is the best mathematical calculus to estimate the average waiting time, then to attempt to remain productive and busy during such time, is the best (and only) approach to the long and often frustrating road to a successful outcome in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Attorney

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: The Cost of Doing Nothing

The Office of Personnel Management has been sending out a number of decisions, and many have been denials.  They seem to come in batches; whether by coincidence, or in systematic fashion, OPM has tended in recent months to send out denials which fail to explain, leaving aside any concept of “discussion“, the basis of their denials.  

The irony of having a section entitled, “Discussion”, then merely delineating a regurgitation of the “applicable criteria to be eligible for Disability Retirement benefits“, then making a conclusory & declarative statement somewhat in the form of:  “You do not meet criteria X and Y” is hardly a “discussion” of the issues.  Moreover, even in the denials which appear to be lengthy is the number of sentences, paragraphs or pages, the content is devoid of any substantive discussion of the issues.  It is more often simply a reference to a doctor, without any rational basis given as to what is lacking, but merely ending with a statement of conclusion, saying, “No objective medical evidence was provided,” or “The medical evidence does not show that…”  One would expect that a logical structure of reasons would be provided, but such an expectation would fall short of what actually occurs.  The real problem is that, in reading such a denial letter, one doesn’t know where to start, what to answer, or what additional information needs to be submitted.  Thus, you must “read between the lines”.  The cost of doing nothing is to get a further denial; that is simply not an option.  The best option is to reinforce what is already there.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire