Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Agency’s Bad Behavior

Whether it is merely the characteristic of the modern age; whether the entirety of the media conglomeration — television, movies, videos, social media outlets — which allow for unfettered behavior; whatever the reasons, social conventions, norms, and common rules of behavior have distinctively deteriorated, and their impact and reverberating effects are becoming increasingly apparent both in the personal realm as well as the professional sectors of society.  But of course bad behavior — a term which can universally encapsulate the complexity of the problem — has always existed.

For the Federal or Postal employee who is contemplating Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS (if the latter, then regular retirement is fast-approaching those under the old system, anyway, and you may be able to avoid such bad behavior soon enough), encountering and fending off bad behavior from agency personnel, Human Resources personnel, coworkers or Supervisors, is a tradition of long-standing tenure, and one which increases with the manifestation of a medical condition.  

Why is it that human nature pounces upon the vulnerable and the weak?  

The peculiar thing about the creation and enactment of a law — be it the Americans with Disabilities Act, or other similar protective mechanisms against discrimination — is that the codification of a necessary protection reveals the breakdown of that very sector of society which it is meant to protect.  Protection is not needed where decency prevails; it is only when decency deteriorates, that such protections become necessary.  

Ultimately, the best solution is to file for Federal Disability Retirement; to walk away with a smile (or a smirk); for, any other avenue will merely encourage the bad guys to up the ante, albeit in more subtle forms.  In the next life, for the Federal Disability Retirement annuitant, perhaps decency will prevail; we can all hope.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Automatic Pilot

There is the classic story of the man who sued the seller of his Recreational Vehicle:  Having been told that his RV could be driven on “automatic cruise control”, he proceeded to follow the directions, then got up and walked towards the back of the RV in order to make some coffee.  He mistakenly interpreted what the salesman had said, that the vehicle “drives itself”.

While partially true, what he failed to understand is that the “pilot” of the vehicle still needed to steer the vehicle; it was merely the forward motion which was on automatic pilot — not where the vehicle was going.  The two distinguishing features — the “what” of X (the occurrence of a running engine and movement) and the “where” of X (the direction in which the vehicle is going) — should never be confused.

Similarly, the Federal or Postal employee who is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, should never confuse the fact that he may still have a job, with the danger of not knowing what direction the agency is considering with respect to the employee.

Smiles and inquiries about one’s medical condition are niceties which are often indicators of a deeper motivation.  What the Supervisor “says” in showing concern about one’s medical condition, may betray a directional change which may never be overtly stated.  Waiting to suddenly one day have a collision with the agency may not be the best approach in preparing for one’s future.

While it is true that all Federal and Postal employees have up to one (1) year to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through OPM from the date of separation from service, you might consider being the pilot of that endeavor, instead of waiting for a sudden crash with the agency to occur.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The History of Agency Interaction

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 often a long history of interaction with one’s own agency, and to what extent such prior historical context is or is not relevant to a Federal Disability Retirement application depends upon the uniqueness of each case.

Some issues constitute an impact upon the Federal or Postal employee only — i.e., leave issues, whether FMLA has been invoked and how much has already been used; whether the Federal or Postal employee has been able to provide any substantiating medical documentation to the agency, etc.

Other issues are more in the province of the Agency — how patient will the agency be during the process of awaiting OPM’s decision on a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS; has a PIP already been initiated?  Is there a security clearance issue, or an issue with retention of a medical clearance in order to perform one’s job?

Then, of course, there are issues which intersect, and where an adversarial — or at least a conflicting — relationship develops.  When the agency attempts to initiate an adverse action, or when harassment occurs, the issues which arise may need to be resolved through litigation, filing of a grievance, internal personnel procedures invoked, etc.

Ultimately, whether or not any of the various peripheral issues impact a Federal Disability Retirement application is questionable, because it is not the agency itself which determines the approval or denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application, but only the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Agency Pressures

Ultimately, the pressures which one’s Federal Agency places upon the Federal or Postal employee creates and manufactures a perspective that events have an urgency beyond the reality of the moment.  There is, further, a context of a build-up which is often lost; agencies view employees who have not been fully productive, in terms of “liabilities”, and begin to act and react accordingly.

From the employee’s viewpoint, actions initiated by the agency are often unfair, instigated without warning, and advanced with irrational promptness without regard to the particular situation of the Federal or Postal employee.  This is because much of the context which leads up to a decision is often kept in secret from the employee — internal discussions concerning the employee, etc.

A Federal or Postal employee who is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is often embroiled in the midst of an employment dilemma — whether the near-certain imposition of a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), which is essentially setting up the employee for failure; or continuation of systematic workplace harassment; the pervasive nature of a hostile work environment; suspension or restriction of sick leave usage; and multiple other pressure points.

From the perspective of the agency, their stated goal is to further effectuate the “mission of the agency”.  From the perspective of the employee, it is nothing more than undue pressure and harassment, and leaving one with little or no choice but to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits quickly, and immediately. But of course the Office of Personnel Management does not act in a quick or immediate manner, and so there is the problem of dealing with agency issues until the time of a decision.

That is all the more reason why it is important for the Federal and Postal employee to not wait until the last minute, and to begin to contemplate preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, with some time still ahead, both for planning and for handling potential agency issues.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Agency Actions prior to Separation

The question is often asked as to whether there is an adverse or detrimental impact upon a Federal Disability Retirement application if the Agency or the U.S. Postal Service initiates an adverse action, places an individual on AWOL, or administers a similar type of administrative sanction, action, etc.

The general answer is that such agency actions will not prevent or influence the prevention of a Federal Disability Retirement application from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, but such a generalized answer contains within the “details” certain implicit assumptions — the primary one being, that the medical support which would accompany such a medical retirement will be strong enough to withstand and effectively refute such an adverse action.

By “supporting medical documentation” is meant, at a minimum, two issues which the treating doctor of the applicant must address:  That, prior to separation from Federal Service, the Federal or Postal employee could no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, and further, that the medical condition is expected to last for at least 12 months.

Additionally, a third element would also be helpful — that the medical condition or disability began before the adverse action, or conversely, that the behavior or acts of the Federal or Postal Disability Retirement applicant which precipitated the adverse response of the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service occurred after the origination point of the medical condition, and such an origination point can be ascertained.

This is because OPM will sometimes argue that the underlying motivation and purpose of the Federal or Postal applicant filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits was based not upon the medical condition, but because of the adverse action.  Further, the Merit Systems Protection Board has stated that such circumstantial evidence of underlying motive or intent can indeed be reviewed.  Rebuttal of such implied intent can best be proven by a doctor’s assertion.

Motives are a peculiar thing, but the casting of such underlying motives are often difficult to refute, unless a timeline of facts can counter them.  Motives are found only in the depths of one’s consciousness; and like the air we breath, the fact that we assert its existence does not necessarily prove otherwise, especially if the doubter is receptive to the poisonous whispers of finger-pointing.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Thoughtless Agency Actions

The term, “oxymoron” comes from the Greek, meaning “sharp dull” — a phrase or concept which embraces two or more contradictory terms.  When was the last time that the combination of terms, “thoughtful” and “agency” made any sense?  

Thus, it is a waste of one’s time to rant and get upset over an agency’s actions because of bad timing (i.e., to propose a removal during the holidays; to initiate a PIP on the day before Thanksgiving; to suspend a person without pay on a Federal employee’s birthday; and other such coinciding thoughtless encounters).  It is fine to be upset for a moment because of the thoughtless actions of an agency; to continue to heave insults and focus upon the thoughtlessness, however, is a waste of one’s time, and ultimately misunderstands the role, intent and goal of an Agency.  

The reason why “thoughtless” and “Agency” do not ultimately and technically comprise an oxymoron, is because inherent in the very definition of the entity identified as a Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service, is the idea that it is indeed a Hobbsian Leviathan which a singular purpose of “doing” something, whatever that “something” is.  

In the administrative process of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, one should expect that one’s Agency, or the U.S. Postal Service, will engage in multiple thoughtless actions.  That is the innate nature of a Federal agency, or the U.S. Postal Service.  And, inasmuch as Federal Disability Retirement involves medical conditions, a sense that “empathy” and “sympathy” are called for — of a person’s career coming to an end; of an often progressively deteriorating medical condition, etc. — one would think that the agency would consider putting some thought into their actions.  But that would be asking too much.  

Federal Disability Retirement is an option which the agency sees as merely a problematic solution that needs to be dispensed with — yes, an oxymoron, but a truth, nonetheless.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Agency Actions and the Bruner Presumption

Agency actions separating a Federal or Postal employee from Federal Service often contain language which comes close to allowing for a Federal or Postal employee to assert the “Bruner Presumption” (that legal presumption which essentially states that the declaration and admission by the Agency triggers a legal presumption that a Federal or Postal employee is entitled to, by a matter of law, to Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS), but not close enough.  

Such language will instead be couched in references to medical documentation which has been previously reviewed by the Agency; will embrace an acknowledgement that the Federal or Postal employee has a “medical condition”; and will sometimes even entertain verbiage evincing sympathy for the Federal or Postal Worker’s “situation” — but still will base the removal upon other considerations, such as “excessive absences”, “failure to maintain a regular work schedule”, etc.  

The question ultimately then becomes:  Is it important, leaving aside relevance, to fight the agency to amend or otherwise re-characterize the original proposal to remove, in order to obtain the Bruner Presumption?  

The Bruner Presumption is a legal mechanism which gains greater weight and importance when a Federal Disability Retirement application has been denied twice by the Office of Personnel Management (both at the Initial Stage of the process, than at the Reconsideration Stage), and one therefore finds one’s self before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board.  But such appearance before the MSPB presumably means that there are other problems with a case — most often, insufficient medical documentation.  

The Bruner Presumption aside, the Federal or Postal employee must still prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, one’s case, by submitting sufficient medical documentation.  The Bruner Presumption is simply that “extra” ingredient that may be helpful if all other factors have been met in proving a Federal Disability Retirement case.

While helpful, it is not a certainty for an approval.  While better to have than not, one must still prove one’s case.  While triggered most effectively at the MSPB, a less-than-Bruner-trigger can still be argued at all stages of the process.  Just some thoughts.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire