Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Agency Actions & OPM

The argument in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS goes as follows:  An Agency has determined that a Federal or Postal employee is medically unable to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; that Federal or Postal employee cannot be accommodated; the case-law states that, at a minimum, the agency conclusions have a persuasive effect upon a Federal Disability Retirement application; ergo, the Office of Personnel Management should approve the Federal or Postal employee’s Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS.

The problem with such an argument, if relied upon exclusively, is threefold:  (1)  The statutory mandate as to which agency makes a determination upon a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is misplaced, (2) The Agency, whether the Flight Surgeon at the FAA who determines that an Air Traffic Controller is medically unqualified to continue in his or her job, or the Postal Service who determines pursuant to the National Reassessment Process (NRP) that there is no longer a job available at the Postal Service, or any other agency which determines that no accommodations can be provided — has not applied all of the legal criteria under the laws and statutes governing Federal Disability Retirement applications, and (3) the focus from the perspective of the agency is a “second-tier” focus — of whether an accommodation can be provided to the Federal or Postal employee to see if the efficiency of the Agency can continue, as opposed to the “first-tier” issue of whether the Federal or Postal employee has a medical condition such that it satisfies all of the criteria for a Federal Disability Retirement application.  

As such, it is the focus of the respective agencies which differentiate the possibility of an agency action being merely persuasive, as opposed to determinative, in a Federal Disability Retirement applicationunder either FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: The Limitation of Agency Actions

Often, in the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the client will ask the question, “Well, doesn’t that prove that I can’t do the job?”  Such a question invariably points to some action by the Agency — a letter or a memorandum; a statement which the Supervisor made, etc.  While it may be true that the Agency believes that a Federal or Postal employee is unable to perform, or is not performing, all of the essential elements of the job, remember that actions of the Agency can never replace the affirmative burden of proof that one is unable, medically, to perform the essential elements of one’s job.  

One must keep in mind that the Office of Personnel Management is a separate Agency which is not necessarily in communication with the Agency which employs the Federal or Postal employee.  The “mindset” of the Agency is not being considered by the Office of Personnel Management.  Whatever the motivations of the Agency in doing what it is or will do, is to a great extent irrelevant to OPM.  What the Agency is doing may well indicate “proof” as to other issues — i.e., inability to accommodate; acknowledgment that certain essential elements of one’s job is not being performed, etc. — but it does not prove that an individual is unable, as a result of a medical condition, to perform all of the essential elements of the job.  Only a doctor can do that.

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