Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Agencies and Their Response

Compassion and empathy are commodities discovered rare in form and content, and even scarcer in the wrappings of timeless sincerity.  Individuals in the era of modernity lack any sense of communal obligation, precisely because of the fractured existence which naturally flows from a society built upon independence and self-reliance.

Further, when one encounters an entity, organization, corporate structure, or agency, it becomes that much more removed from any sense of personalized emotional contact, and instead we can deal with unwanted and unwelcome concerns by speaking in neutral platitudes; “the mission of the agency”; “it detracts from the team concept”; “performance-based incentives have not been met”; and on and on.

In the end, it is an antiseptic existence of an impersonal kind, but one which constitutes the reality of who we are.

For Federal and Postal workers who must face the daily grind of working within a bureaucracy which engulfs tens of thousands of workers, the need for simple kindness may be easily rebuffed when a crisis occurs such as the development of a medical condition.

There is, however, “the law” — of Federal Disability Retirement benefits, offered to every Federal and Postal employee under either FERS or CSRS.  Where compassion ends and the law begins, that available option is considered by a faceless entity as its replacement of the former, in order to neutralize the need for personalization.  Utilizing it and taking advantage of that which is available, is all that one can expect in terms of a human response from one’s agency.  So it is that the Federal and Postal employee, whether under FERS or CSRS, at least has the option at all.

It is a benefit which is filed through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and can allow for the individual to regain one’s foothold back into the world of sanity, and perhaps onto the pathway of one’s local community.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: The Agency & the Burden of Proof

In a Federal Disability Retirement case, submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the burden of proving one’s medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, always remains with the individual Federal or Postal applicant.

Certainly, there are actions by the agency which may add to such proof (e.g., declaring that the Federal or Postal worker is “not fit for duty” will further concretize an assessment made by a third party; or initiating a separation from Federal Service based upon one’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of the job will trigger the Bruner Presumption, which then invokes a rebuttable presumption and shifts the “burden of production” (note that it is not the shifting of the “burden of proof” — a conceptual distinction important to recognize) over to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Waiting for one’s agency to act upon anything is, however, a very dangerous venture to begin with; thinking that one’s own agency will provide the proof necessary to establish one’s eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits would not only be dangerous, but foolhardy.  For, at its most fundamental level, the fact that the very entity which makes a decision on a Federal Disability Retirement application (OPM) is one which is separate and independent from the agency for which one works, creates a chasm which only further magnifies the inherent problem.

OPM pays little to no attention to what the agency does — except, perhaps, when the agency attempts to directly confront and challenge a Federal Disability Retirement application.  Otherwise, don’t look for help from one’s agency (generally speaking) when one is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits; such unfounded reliance will only disappoint, at best.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Agency’s Actions

“That which the Federal Agency determines is tantamount to the hand of God — only more powerful.”  Or so it may often seem.  And so the Federal (and Postal) Worker will often wait with trepidation and anxious disturbances, caught in the limbo of a Federal bureaucracy, whether in issuing a leave-restriction letter, a warning, a formal PIP plan, a determination of being fit or unfit for duty, and multiple other actions which will adversely impact upon a Federal worker.

Preemptive actions rarely have any efficacy with a Federal Agency; an appeal to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board is often seen as a mere formality for the Board to render a decision in the agency’s favor, especially when it comes to agency actions concerning discipline and work; and an EEO complaint, while a tactic for forestalling ultimate decisions, is a burdensome and lengthy process of litigation.

Federal Disability Retirement is often the most advantageous of avenues to pursue, if only because the standard of proof to meet the eligibility criteria is quite low — not the high standard of Social Security Disability, where one must show a deleterious impact upon the daily living abilities, but the much lower standard of being unable to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.

Proactive choices in life are often limited, especially when one is confronted with a seemingly omnipotent entity like a Federal Agency; but Federal Disability Retirement is an existent benefit which allows for the Federal or Postal employee to opt out and reach that rehabilitative period of seclusion, in order to regain one’s health and come back for another day, another fight, another round.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: “What If” Scenarios

The problem with “what if” scenarios is that they rely upon fear.  What if I file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and the agency then removes me?  What if I file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and OWCP decides to send me to a Second-Opinion doctor and begins the process of trying to get me off of their rolls?

Fear and the anticipation of unknown future events is often the trigger-mechanism to prevent a person from acting.  The fallacy of making decisions based upon such fear factors, however, is an obvious one:  The agency can begin the process of removal with or without the Federal or Postal employee filing for Federal Disability Retirement (because of one’s medical conditions, his or her attendance, overuse of sick leave, less than full performance of duties, etc., is normally quite obvious to the agency already, anyway); OWCP can send the Federal or Postal employee to a second-opinion doctor or cut off benefits arbitrarily with or without the Federal employee filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits; and in general terms, “what if” scenarios can occur even if the event in question is never pursued.

Fear is the factor which bullies, totalitarian regimes, and Federal agencies and the U.S. Postal Service relies upon.  Filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is merely the great equalizer against the fear factor.  That which can happen regardless of a triggering event, will occur anyway; so the logical conclusion should be to decide to file for Federal or Postal Disability Retirement benefits in order to acquire the “safety-net” against the future possibility (and probability) of adverse actions which the Agency is already likely contemplating.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Characterization of Administrative Actions

Administrative actions are a peculiar thing; from the perspective of the Agency, it will take on a certain meaning; from the view of the Federal or Postal employee, the context and underlying basis often has an explanation which is unspoken.  For purposes of how to address an administrative action in the context of a Federal Disability Retirement application, the issue often comes down to whether or not it is worthwhile to preemptively address the particular action.

Some administrative actions or sanctions can be viewed as reinforcing the medical argument in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, inasmuch as a removal based upon one’s inability to maintain a regular work schedule would tend to show that, if there are concurrent medical documentation which shows that a Federal or Postal employee was determined to be disabled during the time of one’s inability to work, then the argument obviously is that the basis for the removal merely shows that one is eligible and entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Then, there are other agency allegations which may imply that a Federal or Postal employee’s separation from Federal service was primarily based upon a non-medical basis, and that filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits was merely an afterthought to try and game the system.

Ultimately, whether a Federal or Postal employee wants to fight or contest an Agency action is a legal matter, and is often a separate issue from Federal Disability Retirement; sometimes, however, they intersect, and the characteristic of the impact of such intersection often depends upon how one explains it.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Agency Actions Are Merely Persuasive

Whether it is one’s own agency which acts, or some third-party agency, the effect of such actions upon a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is merely persuasive, and not determinative, from the viewpoint of the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS.  

Such actions may include:  Disqualification based upon a medical condition, whether because of the primary, underlying medical condition, or a secondary condition resulting from a prescription medication; determination by the Agency based upon a fitness for duty review; failure to pass certain physical fitness standards; declarative statement by the Agency that no accommodations can be accorded, whether because of one’s medical condition or other influencing factors; a conclusion reached by an Occupational Nurse or doctor; acceptance of a case by OWCP, Department of Labor; approval by the Social Security Administration, the Veterans Administration, etc. — all of these “third party” determinations can be persuasive for a Federal Disability Retirement application, but are not necessarily determinative in coming to a conclusion of approval by the Office of Personnel Management.  

Why “persuasive” as opposed to “determinative”?  Because of two fundamental reasons:  (1)  The Office of Personnel Management is an independent agency, mandated by statute, regulation and case-laws, to make its own determination of eligibility of each Federal Disability Retirement application, separate and apart from any other agency, and (2) such agencies which make such determinations are not medical facilities (although a doctor or nurse may have some involvement in the decision-making process), and this is ultimately a “medical” disability retirement, and not an agency retirement system mandated by law.  

As such, one must still prove by a preponderance of the evidence that one is eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, based upon the nexus between one’s medical conditions and one’s essential elements of the Federal or Postal job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Compounding Complexities

As with most things in life, preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management is an engagement of a process which should be affirmatively sought without delay.  Delay and procrastination results in further compounding the complexities which result from a medical condition.  

Dealing with a medical condition while attempting to perform all of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal position is complex enough; when it becomes apparent that one’s medical condition will last for a minimum of 12 months, and further, that one or more of the essential elements of one’s job can no longer be performed as a result of the medical condition, then it is time to consider filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  

The cumulative effect of delay and procrastination becomes progressively compounded in both complexity and unintended consequences:  the Agency begins to put greater pressure as work has to be shifted to others; greater mistrust arises; Agencies begin to react with adverse, punitive measures, such as imposing unreasonable leave restrictions, placing an individual on a PIP, proposing suspensions and other adverse actions; all of which results in greater anxiety and exacerbation of one’s medical conditions, which become deleteriously impacted because of the health, financial and professional pressures felt.  

Unless a delay upon making a decision in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is “planned”  — for a viable, reasonable and rationally-based purpose — such delay and procrastination will only accelerate and compound the problems of one’s life.  The benefit of a medical retirement under FERS or CSRS was created and offered by the Federal Service for a specific purpose.  It is well to embrace that purpose with purposefulness. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire