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

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Undue Focus upon Minutiae

It is like the story of the man who rushes in breathlessly and declaratively warns others of the impending tornado, and with only minutes to spare, he is stopped and asked, “But will we still be able to watch our evening shows?”  The focus upon relevant details; of the “larger picture“; of logical and sequential sets of facts, as opposed to getting irrelevant information correctly stated, is often a problem in writing effectively.

The ability to use discretionary choices in separating factually important descriptions from those which are tertiary at best — will result in having the reader focus upon the essential aspects of one’s presentation, in any context or forum.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, it is vitally important to separate and bifurcate that which is primary in importance, that which is secondarily of relevance, and those factual minutiae which, even if left out, will make little or no difference to the substantive content of a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Often, Federal and Postal employees who suffer from severe psychiatric conditions will unduly focus upon minutiae which, in the context of their medical conditions, are exponentially quantified in magnified importance beyond reason or rationale.  One must understand that such is the very nature of the psychiatric condition itself; but recognizing it as such, and trusting in the wise counsel and advice of one’s attorney, is the best first step in making sure that one’s Federal Disability Retirement application will have a fighting chance for an approval.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Simplicity of the Case

The initial telephone inquiry often involves an apologetic explanation that one’s particular Federal Disability Retirement case “is a very complicated one which involves…”  Then, of course, there is an extensive history of events.  But complexity is often made so because of the lack of understanding of what direction the Federal or Postal employee must pursue in order to obtain an approval from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and it is assumed that the reason why the Federal or Postal employee contacts an attorney is to unravel and unscramble the complications which were created precisely because of such lack of understanding.

Remember that in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the bundle of complexities was created, more often than not, because of an admixture of agency issues, a history of adverse contact between the agency and the Federal or Postal employee, coupled with the rise of medical issues and their impact upon one’s ability or inability to perform all of the essential functions of one’s job.  As such, it is the job of the attorney to focus the Federal or Postal employee upon the foundational “essence” of a Federal Disability Retirement case.

Whether it is to “cut to the chase”, or strip away any peripheral issues to get to the “heart of the matter”, or whatever other pithy niceties which may be applicable, it is the job of the attorney to set aside the complexities, and simplify the process in order to obtain a Federal Disability Retirement approval for the Federal or Postal worker suffering from a medical condition which prevents him or her from performing one or more of the essential elements of his or her job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: The Narrative

In every life, in every human condition, there is the narrative to tell.  In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, there is an opportunity to convey a “narrative”.  It is, however, for a specified purpose — to obtain OPM Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  As such, there is a “context” within which one is asked to communicate the narrative of one’s life; and that context is delimited and defined by the questions posed on an Applicant’s Statement of Disability, Standard Form 3112A.

The communicating of one’s narrative is an important desire and need for human beings.

The story entitled “Grief” or “Misery”, written by Anton Chekhov, answers the poignant question, “To whom shall I tell my grief?”  In that story, Iona has lost a son, and the story unfolds of how, at every opportunity in the quest to tell the narrative of the human condition, he is rebuffed, ignored and left unsatisfied.

It is often the case in similar fashion with Federal and Postal workers who are attempting to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management — a need to describe and tell the story of pain, medical conditions, harassment, stress, anxiety, etc.  But it is the job of the attorney to refine, limit, restrict and streamline the story; for the story of the human condition will have amounted to further misery if the story is told unedited, and the Federal or Postal employee is unable to obtain the Federal Disability Retirement benefits because the unedited version of the story was left to be told, resulting in a denial from OPM.

There are counselors and therapists; there are treating doctors; the attorney is neither.  It is the job of the Federal Disability Retirement attorney to effectively represent a client, and sometimes that involves the necessity of being blunt and forthright.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Discretion, “What Ifs”, Etc.

The anxiety and angst which accompanies the preparation, formulation and filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is on the one hand understandable, and yet, because it is an administrative process which may potentially involve multiple stages, and require investment of an extraordinary amount of time, and because it is requires a rationally-based approach in meeting the legal criteria for approval, it must be viewed and approached with a quietude of professionalism.

There are obviously times when the Statute of Limitations is about to impose some restrictive encroachment of formulation, and thus one must respond appropriately.  And, much of the decision-making process involved in whether to attach X-document, or to include Y-statement, is a discretionary matter — one which should often be left to an OPM Disability Attorney who has had some prior experience in the matter.

But the “what ifs”, as in, “What if I say A” as opposed to “having said B” is something which should be avoided.  Obsessing over singular statements — even if it is true that a denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application could potentially focus upon a statement, characterized in a wrong manner, or taken out of context (as OPM often does) — is normally unproductive.

While most “mistakes” in a Federal Disability Retirement application can be corrected, explained or expanded upon into obsolescence, one thing which cannot be accomplished is to put artificial blinders on OPM in the event that something is stated or submitted which otherwise should not have.  Even if one were to refile at a later date, once a CSA Number is assigned to a case, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management maintains the original documentation which was filed with their office.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: A Distinction to Be Made

Lawyers are taught — whether at Law School, through observation as a young associate or “apprentice” under the wings of a seasoned attorney — to ask questions in a persistent, methodological manner.  Whether in “direct examination” or “cross examination”, the question asked is meant to be goal-oriented.

We often make the mistake, however, in concluding that the question asked constitutes something more than a question — that it contains some substantive value, intrinsic in the very intonation and deliverance of the question itself.  The question asked, must be distinguished from the answer given.  Thus, the mere fact that a question is asked, does not in and of itself contain any relevant evidence or substantive import.  It is in the answer given which must determine the content and context of relevance.

In a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, applied through one’s agency and ultimately submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, multiple and varied questions will be posed, indicated and conveyed to the Federal or Postal employee who is filing for the Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Such questions must be answered — and answered truthfully.  The questions themselves, however — whether posed in the Standard Forms which must be completed (SF 3107 & SF 3112 series for the FERS employee; SF 2801 and SF 3112 series for the CSRS employee); or in correspondence form from the Agency or the Office of Personnel Management; or by the Administrative Judge or the OPM Representative at an MSPB Hearing — should have a stream of consistency throughout the process.

This is normally a simple matter — but always remember that “truth” is distinguishable from “consistency”; and it is often the latter which creates some doubt as to the former.  Unfortunately, life is very rarely consistent. That is why a coordination and comprehensive outlook upon the entire administrative process, from beginning to end, must always be kept in mind.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: The Spectrum of Necessity

Preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS becomes a consequential necessity arising from the impact of one’s medical conditions upon the ability or inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job.

The medical condition, whether chronic or situational; whether a single episode or recurrent; or whether from a singularly traumatic event or one of progressive deterioration — the present impact of the medical condition and its likely impact for 12 months or more into the future, as a prognosis by the doctor based upon reasonable medical probability is far more relevant than the historical origin of the medical condition.

The Federal or Postal employee who is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is often focused, with myopic distractions and irrelevancies, which may be detrimental to the successful outcome of attempting to prove one’s eligibility, upon events, history, and symptoms which have little or no effect upon the criteria of eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  

Each professional has a specific purpose, and it is important to recognize the specific purpose for which a professional has been retained. Thus, the medical doctor’s job is to attempt to treat the medical condition; the therapist’s job is to provide therapeutic intervention through various means for tapping into the psychology of one’s problems; the physical therapist’s purpose is to set physical goals and attempt to increase flexibility, mobility, reduce pain thresholds, etc.  

The job of an attorney, in representing a Federal or Postal employee to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management, is to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that a Federal or Postal employee meets the legal criteria set by statutes, regulations and case-law.  

There is a spectrum of necessity which each professional must meet, and while the spectrum sometimes blurs one into another, such that the distinct lines may become somewhat indeterminate, the singular focus of an attorney who is hired to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS should be to always do that which is required on the spectrum of necessity, to meet the legal criteria.  

For, in the end, it is the approval letter from the Office of Personnel Management which the Federal or Postal employee seeks.  Once sought and obtained, the job has been accomplished.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: A Semantic Battle?

One may wonder, in any process of the stage of preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, as to whether an approval is based merely on a “semantic” battle with the Office of Personnel Management.  

Inasmuch as a submission of a Federal Disability Retirement application to the Office of Personnel Management is a “paper submission” (yes, I know, we are quickly moving towards an age of paperless technology, but you know what is meant by the term), and no actual presentation or contact will be made with the personnel at OPM (unless it goes to a Hearing before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board); as such, the query is sometimes posed as to whether it is merely a semantic battle.  

In the days of Plato and Aristotle, “lawyers” were called “sophists” or “rhetoriticians” — thus, the modern terms of “sophisticated” or “sophistry”, and “rhetoric” or “rhetorical”.  Either or both of the terms imply a negative connotation, that through semantic sleight of hand, one can be fooled into being persuaded to adopt a certain viewpoint or opinion.  

While it may be true to a certain and limited extent that obtaining Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS may involve some semantic quibbling, the underlying substantive basis in granting or denying a Federal Disability Retirement application, either under FERS or CSRS, continues to remain in “the law” — based upon statutory and regulatory criteria, upon legal opinions from cases decided by the Merit Systems Protection Board and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.  

While “how X is said” may have some persuasive effect, it is ultimately still “what is said” that retains the most powerful impact.  Substance over appearance still wins the day — the identical philosophical concerns of Plato and Aristotle continues to remain true today.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Beyond the Approval Letter

There are many stories of Federal and Postal employees who suffer from physical, emotional and cognitive (psychiatric as well as progressively deteriorating neurological disorders) medical conditions, who continue to endure within the confines of a Federal or Postal job, for years and years.  

Federal Disability Retirement allows for a Federal or Postal employee who has a minimum of 18 months of Federal Service under FERS (5 years under CSRS, which is already a safe assumption that such minimum eligibility requirements have already been met for CSRS employees) to continue to be productive as an employed member of the workforce — but in a different capacity.

Each story is a unique one —  filled with a narrative of human suffering, of enduring pain, hostility, and often discriminatory actions by the Agency.  The attorney who represents the Federal or Postal employee, however, has a specific and unique role.  He or she is not the Federal or Postal employee’s friend, therapist, doctor or financial advisor.  Instead, the attorney’s job should retain a singular focus — to obtain the Federal Disability Retirement benefits for the applicant who is seeking such benefits.  For, after all, it is only upon the satisfaction of the foundational basics that a Federal or Postal employee can then “move on” and go beyond the impact of a medical condition — to recuperate; to start a second career; to repair the physical, emotional and psychiatric impact of the past year or more; and to begin rebuilding after experiencing the jubilation of an approval letter from the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: The Chasm between Denials

From the perspective of an individual Applicant for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, the individual applicant does not normally observe some other person’s Federal Disability Retirement application, and therefore never has the opportunity to see the “greater process” at work, or patterns of behavior on the part of the Office of Personnel Management.  Yet, there are indeed patterns, and that is why an experienced attorney who has seen literally thousands of Federal Disability Retirement cases over numerous years, has an advantage in responding to OPM’s denials.  Experience lends itself to greater observation.  Experience over time reveals certain patterns.  And patterns of behavior can reveal important principles. 

Certain OPM Representatives provide detailed and (often) irrelevant factual references which can be ignored; others like to “cite the law” and believe that such citations appear irrefutable and authoritative; and still others give scant discussion to laws or to facts.  Thus, there often appears to be a great chasm between the types of denials.  Whether or not there are such differences, an applicant who has received a denial for his or her Federal Disability Retirement case needs to respond to any such denial with a three-pronged attack:  Medical refutation; Factual correction; Legal assertion.  Such an attack will cover any chasm which might exist between the different individuals who send out a denial letter.  More importantly, it will cover the necessary elements for winning a Federal Disability Retirement case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire