FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: The Burden

Ultimately, a Federal Disability Retirement application is a paper-presentation to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  Yes, yes, we are entering into a “paperless” technological society, and that is fine; but by “paper presentation” is meant in a generic sense, that the proof necessary to obtain eligibility and entitlement to a Federal Disability Retirement benefit, must be presented in a format which is readable, comprehensible, and coherent — whether on a computer screen or in paper format.

The burden of providing such proof is upon the “applicant” — the Federal or Postal employee who is attempting to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  That “burden” is both a legal one, as well as a regulatory one.  There are different levels or requirements of what constitutes proof, depending upon the requirements of what must be proven.

In a general sense, one can assert that all that is necessary in a Federal Disability Retirement case is to gather together one’s medical records, wrap them in a secure bundle, and forward them to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  Will such an approach “prove” one’s Federal Disability Retirement application?  It might — depending upon the seriousness of one’s medical condition, and whether the Disability Retirement Specialist assigned to such a case will take the time to infer and imply.  But to make an inference, or to expect an implication to be discerned, takes an unnecessary chance at misunderstanding, failure, and the unwanted “denial”.

Instead, the better approach is to explicitly explicate.  Always 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, there is a difference between suffering from a medical condition, and proving that the medical condition prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  It is the latter which is necessary to be approved for a Federal Disability Retirement benefit.  As to the former — while an unfortunate circumstance — it is not enough to suffer to prove one’s case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: 2012 and Beyond

The designation of the year as “2012” is, from a historical perspective, an artifice.  Different countries and cultures have other methodologies of identifying the continuum and sequence of the cyclical seasons.  

Whatever the artifice, however, the reality of daily living remains an encounter which must be dealt with, and for Federal and Postal employees who suffer from one or more medical conditions, who are contemplating preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, the first step in the process is often the hardest, but the one which must be taken in order to make any advances for the coming year.  

Whether that “first step” constitutes contacting an attorney, obtaining the blank forms (SF 3107 series and SF 3112 series for FERS employees; for CSRS employees, SF 2801 series and SF 3112 series), talking to one’s treating doctor(s), etc. — it is the first step which is the hardest but the most significant.  

Days advance; weeks go by; the “new” year steadily marches towards the half-way point, then beyond.  Procrastination is often a self-protective mechanism of human beings — but one which is contradictory and often leads to self-harm.  Don’t let the days pass by, lest the year go to waste.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Sequence of Procedural Requirements

There is a specific reason why the benefit identified as Federal Disability Retirement, whether under FERS or CSRS, exists.  It is to allow for an early retirement for an individual who has met the minimum eligibility criteria — of being a Federal or Postal employee , and having at least eighteen (18) months of Federal Service under FERS, or five (5) years under CSRS.  That is the basic eligibility criteria.  

Those who meet that minimum criteria, have a “right” to take the next step: One must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that one is eligible for the benefit, by proving (generally speaking) that as a Federal or Postal employee, one cannot perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, or any similar job; that the agency is unable to “accommodate” the Federal or Postal employee’s medical condition (and the term “accommodation” is a term of art, such that there is a particularized and narrow definition of how that term is applied in Federal Disability Retirement law), and that the medical condition will last a minimum of 12 months.  

Beyond those sequential procedural steps, is a wide and fairly complex array of legal, medical and practical considerations which must be viewed, before proceeding with a Federal Disability Retirement application.  Does the Federal or Postal employee have a supportive doctor?  Will that doctor be willing to write a narrative report expounding and delineating the factors and addressing the issues which need to be discussed?  

As with most things in life, it is important to identify, recognize and approach a Federal Disability Retirement application in a logical, sequential manner, such that one does not waste time, effort, and a reserve of hope in going down a path which may not be applicable to one’s particular circumstances.  Advice and counsel from an OPM Disability Attorney who can explain the process may be helpful in this endeavor.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Attorney

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Systematic Approach

It is clear from reviewing many of the Federal Disability Retirement applications which have been denied, either at the initial application stage of the process or at the Second, Reconsideration Stage of the process, that the failure to apply a systematic approach in preparing, formulating and filing the Federal Disability Retirement application was entirely lacking.  

The lack of systematically compiling and formulating the evidence to meet the legal standard of “preponderance of the evidence” in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS can be fatal to one’s efforts.  For, ultimately, it is the nature of the presentation and how it is compiled, delineated and orchestrated which provides for the effective implementation of such an endeavor.

Take the following example:  a “flail” is a farm instrument used for threshing, and in the hands of an experienced user of such equipment, it was an effective tool and implement which systematically cleared a field when in the hands of one who had the experience, knowledge and practical application of such a tool.  Used in modern linguistic terms, the concept, “He was flailing his arms” has come to mean that a person is waving and thrashing about in a manner which lacks harmony, elegance or purposeful end — in a wild and wasteful effort of energy.  

The deliberative approach in preparing and formulating any endeavor in life is an encompassing use of a particular tool in a proper manner, for the purpose for which it was created, to bring about an end for which it was designed, and to preserve the energy necessary to bring about the end in mind.

Preparing, formulating a filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is to use the flail properly, and not to flail about.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: “The Grab-bag”, “Volume” and the “Last Minute” Case

Procrastination leads to filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS at the last minute, which leads one to simply attach a volume of medical documentation and list a grab-bag of medical conditions

Sometimes, such an approach is thought to be the only way of preparing, formulating, and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application, especially when there is little or no time left in which to meet the statutory deadline for filing (a Federal or Postal employee must file within 1 year of being separated from Federal Service).  It may well be the only way to file, given that a Federal or Postal employee has only days left to submit the Federal Disability Retirement application

The fact is, one can only argue the merits of a case if, and only if, one has met the Statute of Limitations; if one fails to file in a timely manner, then there is simply no opportunity at all to argue the substantive basis for the Federal Disability Retirement application.  Yet, even in “Last Minute” cases, it is important to pause and attempt to streamline a case.  Why?  Because once a case has been filed, and the Statute of Limitations has passed, a Federal or Postal employee is unable to change or otherwise amend the stated and identified medical conditions, as listed on Standard Form 3112A

As such, even at the last minute, the grab-bag volume case should be — and can be — prepared and formulated with some thought.  In the end, it will serve the Federal or Postal employee who is filing for OPM Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, well.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The “Mixed Case”

The “Grab-bag” approach of annotating every medical condition on an Application for Federal Disability Retirement should be distinguished and differentiated from a “Mixed-Case” approach.  The former contains some unintended consequences (i.e., of being approved for a minor medical condition), while the latter is a formulation of multiple medical conditions, any one of which may be a basis for a Federal Disability Retirement application, but the combination of which will strengthen the case as a whole. 

By “Mixed-Case” does not necessarily include a mixture of psychiatric and physical conditions (although it might); rather, the conceptual term which is used here is meant to be a compendium of the primary medical conditions from which a Federal or Postal worker suffers, along with a descriptive narrative of the symptoms which are manifested. 

By preparing, formulating and completing an Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A) in this manner, it satisfies the concerns which lead to the “Grab-bag” approach, but prevents the danger of having a Federal Disability Retirement application approved based upon a “minor” medical condition, by conceptually differentiating between diagnosed medical conditions v. symptoms, while at the same time including all of the medical conditions relevant to one’s Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: A Thoughtful Paradigm

Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is a well-thought out paradigm of benefits for two primary reasons:  (1)  First, because it allows for a base annuity for those productive workers who are no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job, and allows the Federal or Postal Worker who is disabled to have a period of time in which to recuperate and tend to the medical needs in order to regain his or her strength, energy, abilities, etc. — physical, emotional, cognitive or otherwise; and (2) Second, because it allows for the Federal or Postal Worker to become a productive member of society in a different, “other” job.  

While many may be concerned that, in this regressive economy, the prospect of obtaining another job may be severely limited, such an approach is short-sighted.  The economy will rebound; opportunities will arise as various economic sectors adjust to changing circumstances; and during the entire process, the Federal or Postal Worker who is on Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management will be able to receive a base annuity in order to recuperate from the medical condition.  

All said, the alternative prior to the Federal Disability Retirement benefit becoming law was bleak and short-sighted:  to terminate the unproductive Federal or Postal employee, and let him or her go out to deal with loss of job, loss of income, loss of medical insurance — on top of the medical condition which forced the Federal or Postal Worker out in the first place.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Service Disability Retirement: Agency Support

Sometimes, the question comes up as to whether or not it is important to have the blessing or support of the Agency or the USPS, when filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS. My answer to such a question is fairly uniform and redundant:  this is a medical disability retirement; it is unwise to proceed to apply for Federal Disability Retirement benefits on the assumption that your Supervisor or Agency will be supportive, for there is no guarantee as to what “supportive” means (they may have a completely different understanding or definition of the concept than you do — something which you probably learned over many years of working in the Federal Sector), and further, the primary focus from the perspective of the Office of Personnel Management, is upon the medical evidence presented and how the medical condition impacts one or more of the essential elements of your job.  The Supervisor’s Statement should be minimized in importance and relevance, as much as possible, by ensuring that the rest of the disability retirement application is “excellent”.  By doing this, you neutralize any undue dependence upon an Agency’s alleged “support” of your application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Each Step is a New Review

There are only one of several ways in which a Federal disability retirement application under FERS or CSRS can be lost: Either a Judge at the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals renders a final opinion denying a Federal or Postal Employee his or her disability retirement, or the Federal or Postal employee simply gives up.  As to the former:  Even then, if the Federal or Postal employee has not been separated from service for more than one (1) year, he or she may file a new application for disability retirement. 

Thus, we are left with the latter:  a disability retirement applicant simply gives up.  By “giving up” is meant:  the next step is not taken; the time-frame within which to file a Request for Reconsideration or an appeal is allowed to “lapse”; or, if an appeal is taken, it is done with resignation and surrender.  Nothing good can come out of such an approach.  Each step of the process in a Federal disability retirement case must be attacked aggressively.  Each step must be looked at as a potential place for a new review. Think about it in reverse:  If you don’t take the next step, then nothing good will certainly happen, so what is there to lose?  Indeed, there are times when a client hires me to file a Request for Reconsideration or an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, and the mere filing of my appearance into the case persuades and convinces the OPM representative to reverse course and grant the disability retirement application.  The point of making such a statement is not to “brag”, but to make the larger point:  good things can happen only if you affirmatively act.  Otherwise, you are left with what King Lear said to his daughter Cordelia, that “nothing can come from nothing”. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire