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

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

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

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Agency Collateral Actions

Often, in the preceding years before preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, there is a “history” of events between an Agency and the Federal or Postal employee.  Life doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and such a trite adage is certainly true for the Federal and Postal employee.  

Whether in the form of an EEOC complaint or a response to an adverse action which promulgates an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, or multiple other legal forums and responses, actions, etc., there may be a settlement of the issue, and the settlement of such collateral issues may involve a provision concerning Federal Disability Retirement.  

If in fact there is a reference concerning Federal Disability Retirement by the Agency as part of a “global settlement” of collateral issues, it is important to make sure that there is enough specificity in the language to make it worth one’s while to have the provision inserted in a settlement agreement to begin with.  Thus, a generic statement such as, “Agency endeavors to assist the employee in filing for Federal Disability Retirement” would not be very helpful, precisely because the term “assist” can be interpreted in multiple ways, and normally the way that an Agency will interpret the term will not in the least be helpful to the Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  Language is a tool which must be used carefully; the effectiveness of language, as with any tool, depends upon the competence of the user.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Agency, FMLA and LWOP

Because filing for Federal Disability Retirement is a process which may take 6 – 8 months, and sometimes longer, there is always the question of what the Agency will do during this time.  Of course, a Federal or Postal employee will often continue to work for as long as possible, and for as many days during each enduring week as possible, in order to survive economically during the process of preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application.  The medical condition itself, however, will often dictate the feasibility of attempting to continue to work.

During this period, a Federal or Postal employee may have limited options — especially when Sick Leave and Annual Leave have been exhausted.  Protection by filing under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) will accord temporary protection and a buffer against a demanding agency.  A further request to be placed on LWOP beyond the 12 weeks which FMLA will allow for, will often be granted at the discretion of the Agency.

If an agency places one in AWOL status, such an action by the Agency should be countered with documentation from one’s doctor which justifies the continued absence of the Federal or Postal employee.  Unfortunately, there is often no clear answer to the question, “What if my agency fails to cooperate while I am filing for Federal Disability Retirement?”  There are only responsive steps to take in order to protect the ultimate goal — that of obtaining an approval from the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Using an Agency’s Action

Agencies will often act in predictable fashion; they act based upon prior actions engaged in; they act as an organic constituent of procedures and policies previously followed (often blindly and without thought) in the past; they act in self-interest, and often with a very narrow, myopic path and goal.  

If an agency ignores the medical conditions and the documentation submitted showing the medical conditions of a Federal or Postal employee, and removes an individual from his or her Federal position based upon reasons other than one’s medical inability to perform one’s job (whether intentionally or because no one bothered to look at the medical documentation), then the resulting action can obviously impact a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  Often, the Agency’s general counsel will be the first person to finally listen to reason, and by then an appeal has been filed with the Merit Systems Protection Board, for the sole and narrow purpose — not of overturning the termination or getting one’s job back, but — of rescinding the adverse decision of removal and reissuing a removal based upon one’s medical inability to perform one’s job.  

This course of action, however, is not always necessary.  Often, the adverse action, the delineation of poor performance, etc., can be directly tied to one’s progressively deteriorating medical condition, and the Agency’s own actions can be used to one’s advantage in proving a Federal Disability Retirement case.  Each case is different, and discretion in fighting for that which is helpful, and recognizing that what may “appear” to be adverse, is actually to one’s benefit, is the key to winning a Federal Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Why Agencies Act

I am often asked why the Federal Agency will go out of their way to remove an individual based upon every conceivable reason other than the true and underlying reason:  One’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job.  Despite submitting medical reports; despite a Supervisor’s knowledge of the daily pain and suffering of an employee; despite it all, the Agency will often focus upon the employee’s conduct or lack of work production, or upon the number of absences; then place the employee on a Personal Improvement Plan (PIP) ; refuse to grant LWOP; then propose to terminate the individual based upon all of the myriad actions they have taken.  

When the query arises as to why the Agency will not just propose the removal based upon his or her medical inability to perform the job, the answer is often:  We are not a medical facility and we cannot make that determination.  But that is normally not the underlying, driving reason.  It is more often than not because agencies have a single-track mind to act in a self-determined manner.  Ultimately, however, when one files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, while a removal based upon one’s “medical inability to perform one’s job” is the most “helpful”, other forms of removals can actually enhance the Federal Disability Retirement application, by focusing upon the fact that the negative performance indicators can only be explained by the parallel medical conditions which were clearly impacting the employee.  Sometimes, that takes a little more effort — such effort which the Agency failed or refused to engage in.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire