Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Last Minute Filings

Waiting until the very last moment in order to file a Federal Disability Retirement application is often an inevitable reflection of the medical condition itself; whether because the thought and act of filing contributes to the exacerbation of one’s condition, or because the severity of the medical condition impedes and presents an obstacle to proceeding, are somewhat irrelevant in the end; whichever may be the case, the fact is that the admixture of medical conditions, Statute of Limitations, and the need to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits, do not cohere well, and something inevitably suffers as a consequence.  But the law is impervious to excuses of filing inaction (with some narrow and specific exceptions); and society’s view is that a limit must be imposed at some point.

Thus:  For filing a Federal Disability Retirement application through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS or CSRS, the Federal or Postal employee must file the application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits within one (1) year of being separated from Federal service.  Waiting until the last minute can have some inherent and deleterious consequences, and failing to be attuned to them can come back to haunt one at a later date.  For example: Since one has waited until the last moment to file, once a Federal Disability Retirement application is filed, there will be little to no chance of amending the application (note:  “amending” is not synonymous with “supplementing“), as one no longer has the luxury of withdrawing a Federal Disability Retirement application, amending, and refiling; for, in the meantime, the Statute of Limitations has presumably come and passed.

Filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits and waiting until the last possible moment is, unfortunately, a reality reflecting the often anxiety-filled state of affairs, both for the individual and the pressure to file on time; with that being said, it is nevertheless a reality which must be faced, and handled in the best possible manner under the given circumstances.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Targeted Use of Collateral Evidence

Case-law from the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, as well as judicial opinions rendered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, maintain the standard of acceptable proof for a Federal Disability Retirement case submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, for Federal and Postal employees under either FERS or CSRS.

The primary basis for a Federal Disability Retirement application is clear:  A medical condition which exists, which prevents the Federal or Postal employee from performing at least one, if not more, of the essential elements of one’s job; that a legally viable accommodation is not possible; that reassignment to another position at the same pay or grade is not reasonably feasible; that the medical condition will last a minimum of 12 months; and that the Federal or Postal employee must file for such benefits during the tenure of one’s employment as a Federal or Postal Employee, or within 1 year of being separated from Federal employment.

The core of one’s proof is generally based upon the treatment and opinion of one’s treating doctor.

Every now and again, however, there are “collateral” sources of proof which should be considered, and for various reasons, which must be relied upon for establishment of one’s eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Such proof may include: opinions rendered by Second-opinion or “referee” doctors in an OWCP case; percentage ratings provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs; SSDI approval determinations; separation from the Agency based upon one’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job; medical notes for FMLA; and even (sometimes, but rarely) a decision granting disability benefits by a private insurer; and other such collateral sources of proof.

Such proof, of course, should never replace the centrality of one’s own treating doctor, and further, should always be targeted and submitted with discretionary judgment.  Sometimes, it can be the “other evidence” which makes the difference in a case; other times, if used indiscriminately, can be an indicator of the weakness of one’s case.

Be careful; be targeted; use discretion.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Persuading with Persuasive Arguments

The question is often asked concerning whether or not and to what extent other collateral agency decisions can impact a Federal Disability Retirement application filed with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), whether under FERS or CSRS.

The only answer which can be provided is the standard, “It depends…”  The reason why “it depends” is precisely because utilization of any persuasive information or evidence is primarily dependent upon the persuasive efficacy of the evidence itself.

There is certainly legal case-law support for collateral evidentiary submissions, including SSDI, Department of Veterans Affairs ratings, Military Board findings, and DOL/OWCP second opinion and “referee” findings, etc.  Thus, the issue is not whether or not there is a basis for using such third-hand sources to support the primary evidentiary foundation of a Federal Disability Retirement application; rather, the issue becomes one of how effectively should one use such evidence.  Such a question, of course, can only depend upon the particular and unique circumstances of each case, by analyzing and reviewing the strength, applicability, and relevance of the documented information.

Sometimes, use of such collateral evidence can somewhat backfire, in that OPM will actually point to such evidence and discuss it in a way which supports a denial.  Care and discretion must always be taken in using collateral information; it is always the primacy of the primary information which must be used, and used effectively.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: How to Use Percentage Designations

Carefully.  With discretion.  With an intelligent approach.  Not indiscriminately (a double-negative which, in common parlance, means “discriminately”).  Quantification of pain, of a medical condition, of a loss of use of one’s body functions, ability to have the manual dexterity of the use of one’s fingers, hands, arms; of the flexion and range of motion of shoulders, etc., includes a level of subjectivity at best, and at worst, possibly misrepresents the extent and severity of a disability.

Further, when quantification of the disability of a particular body part is further interpreted to represent a part of a greater whole — as in OWCP/FECA’s attempt to assign a percentage disability of the “whole person”, or when the Department of Veteran’s Affairs calculates a combined percentage rating which is not merely the addition of all lesser individual ratings — it needs some explaining.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, one should obviously utilize all of the available tools, evidence, compilation of documentary evidence, etc., all of which, in their combined entirety, could help to provide persuasive evidence in obtaining an approval from OPM in a Federal Disability Retirement application.  But use of those tools, how it is used, what is used, how it is explained, and whether the explanation is adequate, are all important keys to keep in mind.

OPM is an independent agency.  When you attempt to dictate an outcome based upon a decision of another agency, such an attempt will often appear to be a threat to the very independence of an agency; something which needs to be kept in mind.  What should be submitted is rarely an issue; how it is stated is always a concern.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Additional Supporting Evidence

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 nothing to preclude one from attaching multiple supporting documentation in proving one’s eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

In doing so, however, it is appropriate to keep in mind that the conceptual paradigm of “supporting” should be just that — it must be to assist, help, or otherwise enhance such evidence which constitutes the central component of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application.

Thus, “supporting” should not be the primary basis of one’s evidence, but rather, that which further enlightens and advances the primary documentary evidence.  For example, statements from co-workers, photographs, and similar supporting evidence can be provided to OPM, but only if –and as — it enhances the primary documentation, which should be comprised of medical documentation from treating doctors, specialists, referral consultative medical providers, etc.  Even ancillary supporting documentation — SSDI approvals, VA assignation of disability ratings, OWCP acceptance, OWCP second-opinion doctor’s reports, etc — should be viewed as “supporting”.

It is important, as an aside, to recognize that the OPM Case Worker does not, and will not, expend hours upon hours reviewing every piece of document one submits, and therefore it is important to streamline and provide an efficient, effective presentation.

Think about it this way as a guiding principle:  If you approach a file which is an inch thick, or one which is 8 inches thick, which do you tackle on a Friday afternoon?

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Remembering What “Supportive” Means

Over time, one’s memory and historical perspective becomes clouded and obscured.  In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, there is obviously a long and complex history of changes, amendments and refinements to the aggregate compendium of that which constitutes the totality of “the law” governing Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Thus, since the initial inception of the enactment of statutory authority granting the U.S. Office of Personnel Management authority to approve Federal Disability Retirement benefits under CSRS (and later under FERS), there has been an evolution of statutory amendments, regulatory clarifications, case-law expansion, contraction and clarifications — the composite of which constitutes “the law” governing Federal Disability Retirement applications whether under FERS or CSRS.

Part of the evolutionary process includes what is termed “supportive” documentation or evidence, such as an Agency’s determination that the Federal or Postal employee cannot be accommodated; the Flight Surgeon’s decertification of an Air Traffic Controller’s medical clearance; a Law Enforcement agency’s conclusions that a Federal Law Enforcement Officer is unable to meet the physical requirements of his or her position; and many other agency determinations which “support” a Federal Disability Retirement application.  But “supportive” does not mean “primary”, and the Federal or Postal worker must always remember that such ancillary evidence must be in addition to the primary evidence submitted in a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Don’t mistake the support evidence as replacing the essential evidentiary component of a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS. The primary evidence must always come first — both by definition, as well as by statutory requirement.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: The Weight of Evidence

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the reason why it is important to understand, reflect upon, and have a practical knowledge of the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement issues — both in terms of statutes which govern and dictate the criteria for eligibility of Federal Disability Retirement benefits; the regulations which are propounded by the Office of Personnel Management; and the case laws which are administrative judicial opinions handed down (from the Merit Systems Protection Board, to the Full Board of the Merit Systems Protection Board; to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, etc.) — is that there is always a “trickle down” aspect to the evolving laws in any system of laws.  

Thus, the opinions handed down by Administrative Judges at the Merit Systems Protection Board, as well as by Judges of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, are dictates and interpretation of statutory authority which are to be “followed” by the Federal Agency which is empowered to administer the decision-making process of Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  

Part of that application of law, for instance, is the “standard of proof” which must be applied, and in the case of all Federal Disability Retirement applications, the standard of proof to be applied is the “Preponderance of the Evidence” standard.  But what does that standard mean?  While entirely subjective at worst, and somewhat confusing at best, the individual words which make up the conceptual entirety provides some inkling of what must be understood.  

Whether qualitatively or quantitatively, one must have a showing of “preponderance” — of more, better, or of greater persuasive effect than not.  Thus, whether by sheer volume of the evidence presented, or in the quality of the presentation, the persuasive impact must be accepted as more likely than not, by the Office of Personnel Management or, if appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board, then by the Administrative Judge.  

It is important to not only apply a standard, but to have an understanding of the standard.  For, only by understanding can one then determine its proper application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire