Attorney Representation for OPM Disability Claims: Keep Confidence

There can be a duality of meaning, or perhaps even a tripartite of understanding; for, to “keep confidence” can mean the protective blanket of not sharing information with others and maintaining a “confidentiality” of data; or, it can mean that one maintains a level of confidence — a surety of belief in a successful endeavor.  Or, perhaps even a third meaning which involves both: Maintaining confidentiality while secure in the belief of the endeavor involved, which is to work towards the goals agreed upon and progressing towards that goal, all the while maintaining the confidentiality that is explicitly and implicitly retained.

That is, in a nutshell, what an attorney-client relationship should be and continue to remain.  Thus, from the moment of an initial telephone consultation, the confidence that is kept should be twofold: Security of privacy so that the discussion can be forthright and without reservation; and, if the case is to go forward, the confidence in its eventual success.  Both components are essential for the successful outcome of an endeavor that may, at least initially, have some characteristics of trepidation and uncertainty.

For Federal employees and U.S. Postal workers who suffer from a medical condition such that the medical condition prevents the Federal or Postal employee from performing one or more of the essential elements of the Federal or Postal job, the issue of confidentiality is exponentially magnified because of multiple elements that work against the Federal or Postal employee: An agency’s Human Resource Department that is known to “share” sensitive information; a decidedly weighted bias in favor of “management” or those in superior positions; medical issues that should be divulged only to those in strictly “must know” positions; and an extremely sensitive decision on the part of the Federal or Postal employee on matters of health, employment and one’s future.

Containment of confidences is important; keeping confidence in both senses becomes vital; and one thing that the potential client can be assured of: Anything spoken to or shared with this attorney in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, to be submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset, will always be maintained in order to “keep confidence”, in whatever manner of meaning the phrase may imply or express.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Federal Disability Retirement: The Interests of Each

In assessing and evaluating friends, adversaries or neutral parties, it is important to analyze the self-interest of each, to understand the differing perspectives of the people involved, then to arrive at conclusions concerning the benefits received in the interaction of the process.  

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management, the parties involved include:  The individual FERS or CSRS Federal or Postal employee who is contemplating initiating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits; the Agency (including coworkers, Supervisors, Managers, etc.) for whom the Federal or Postal worker is employed by; the Human Resources Department of the Agency (which is a separate and distinct entity from the “Agency” for whom the Federal or Postal worker is employed by, precisely because (A) they are often a separate section of the agency and (B) the personnel employees have had no day-to-day contact, for the most part, with the employee but (C) whether the Human Resources Department is “management-friendly” or “employee-driven”, may color the perspective of where their alliances and loyalties lean); the U.S. Office of Personnel Management; the Attorney or Representative of the Federal or Postal employee assisting in the preparation, formulation and filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  

Obviously, the first and the last (the potential Federal or Postal employee/applicant for Federal Disability Retirement benefits) and his or her attorney, should have a contiguous perspective:  to look out for the best interests of the Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  The “others” — no matter how friendly, by all appearances “helpful”, and no matter how much assistance is provided —  have their own self-interests to protect, preserve and advance.  Keep the different perspectives in mind.  Better yet, understand that self-interest is the primary motivating factor of Agencies — and act in the interest of one’s own advancement accordingly.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Lawyers and H.R. Personnel

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, one of the peculiar “events” which often erupts and surfaces is the interaction between a Federal or Postal employee, his or her attorney, and the interaction with the Human Resources Department of the particular agency.  

While the reaction of the H.R. personnel is not universal by any means, and while exceptions will surprisingly occur, nevertheless the pattern of recurrences leads one to conclude that there is an undertone of antagonism between the lawyer representing the Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, and the Agency’s Human Resources Department.  

What is puzzling is the following:  (1)  The undersigned writer always attempts to approach all H.R. Personnel with humility and courtesy, with the view that both are working towards the same common goal of assisting the Federal or Postal employee, (2) the very existence of the Human Resources Department of the Agency is predicated upon the notion that they are there to assist the Federal or Postal employee in his or her employment endeavors, including filing for administrative benefits, and (3) since both the attorney and the H.R. Personnel are there to help the Federal or Postal employee, cooperation of efforts would be the natural course of action.  

Unfortunately, in most instances, the very opposite is true.  Whether because the H.R. Personnel believe that an attorney is antagonistic by nature, and therefore must be met with equal force; or because they believe that the attorney is somehow circumventing or undermining the role of the Human Resources’ work and role; nevertheless, it is important for the H.R. Personnel to understand and appreciate that the role of the Attorney in representing a Federal or Postal employee in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application through the Agency (first) and to the Office of Personnel Management (thereafter), needs to be a tripartite effort (the Federal or Postal employee; the Agency; and the attorney), all working together.  

If the Human Resources Department did its job, much of what the representing attorney needs to do would be diminished, and perhaps altogether unnecessary.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Basic Steps

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is often helpful to know the basic, physical procedural steps of filing.  It is the Office of Personnel Management which has the statutory mandate to make a decision of approval or denial on a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is located in Washington, D.C., with its intake office in Boyers, PA.  Thus, while the latter location is the central processing point where all Federal Disability Retirement applications are forwarded to by the various Agencies across the country, it is the former location which makes the decision of approval or denial on all Federal Disability Retirement applications.  

The various agencies themselves, from all across the United States, must process the applications by all current Federal and Postal employees by filling out certain portions of the application — the Supervisor’s Statement, Agency’s Efforts for Reassignment and Accommodation, Certificate of Service, Disability Retirement checklist, etc.  For Postal employees, the central H.R. Office is located in Greensboro, N.C.  

Once it is processed and routed through the National Finance Office, then it arrives in Boyers, PA where the initial processing of the Federal Disability Retirement packet begins.  From there, it is assigned a CSA Number (for FERS, the number begins with an “8”; for CSRS, it begins with a “4”), and sent down to Washington, D.C.  

For Federal or Postal employees who have been separated from Federal service for 31 days or more, the Federal Disability Retirement application must be filed directly with OPM in Boyers, PA, bypassing one’s former agency.

Some Agencies will have more localized Human Resources departments which comprise varying degrees of helpfulness and assistance; others have centralized H.R. offices with (again) varying degrees of efficiency and effectiveness.  As with all administrative processes in life, it is best to make “human” contact at each stage of the process, wherever possible.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Agency’s Personnel Department

It is always important for each individual, worker, and organizational entity to understand the “role” of one’s position, and that is often the problem with an Agency’s Personnel Department — the “Human Resources” Department of an Agency.  

The irony of being called “Human Resources” is probably not lost to most people, but it is the classic irony of being designated as X and acting in an anti-X manner.  The role of Human Resources Personnel, one would implicitly (and explicitly) expect, is one of assistance of a Federal or Postal worker in the filing, submission and attempt to initiate administrative personnel actions, including Federal Disability Retirement benefits under either FERS or CSRS.  

Yet, too many Federal and Postal employees have a sense (and often a justified one) that in attempting to obtain the assistance of the Agency’s Personnel/Human Resources Department in the processing of a Federal Disability Retirement application, that the H.R. Department is more of a hindrance than a help.  Now, such broad generalizations are often unfair to particular Human Resources personnel who are in fact very, very helpful to the entire process — but, then, all such generalizations tend to create an unfair net and capture those who run counter to the very generalizations espoused.  That is the very definition of a generalization.  

The role of an H.R. person is (or should be) one of neutral assistance.  Yet, because “management” and those who will remain with the agency long after a person has gone out on Federal Disability Retirement will be the ones with continuing power and influence within the agency, it is often to those “others” that the Personnel Department favors and shows a continuing bias for.  This is what is called “human nature”.  When human nature and human resources collide, it is often the former which wins out, to the detriment of the latter. That is why having an attorney — an advocate for one’s position — is often an important tool to utilize.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Human Resources Personnel

The problem with relying upon one’s Human Resources department to help in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management (if in fact they are even willing to help, other than to provide the necessary forms — if that) is not based upon their lack of knowledge (some are fairly knowledgeable); rather, they work within the same mindset as the rest of government, and therefore unable to think outside of the paradigm of government regulations, rules, and statutory mandates.  

Furthermore, Human Resources personnel are not lawyers; as such, the moment there is a problem with an application — whether in its substantive presentation, or in the legal criteria which apply to the eligibility of any one Federal or Postal employee — they have a tendency to side with the Office of Personnel Management.  

That is not to say that there are not excellent H.R. Personnel — there are.  But H.R. Personnel are trained to assist in the procedural stream of making sure that the paperwork is all “in order”.  They do not comment upon — and nor should they — the feasibility or substantive credibility of a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS.  

Furthermore, the number of years a person has been a “Human Resources Specialist” is not indicative of the competency of that person in providing any guidance; those who have been in Human Resources often box themselves into a paradigm of repetitive labor, and perform a task “because this is the way it’s always been done”.  That is never a reason to do something, let alone a good reason.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Agencies & SF 3112C

Agencies have an amazing ability to be inquisitive, especially into those areas which really do not concern them.  Often, Agencies will insist that, despite all of the relevant, pertinent, and desired medical documentation already having been attached to a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the applicant/Federal employee “must” sign the Standard Form 3112C (“Physician’s Statement) , which becomes superfluous and irrelevant.  They insist that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) “requires” the form, which is an erroneous statement.  OPM has never required a signed SF 3112C so long as the Federal Disability Retirement application is accompanied by sufficient medical documentation to support the application.  Sometimes, the insistence by the Agency is merely based upon ignorance; other times, it is based upon an administrative and bureaucratic inflexibility to longstanding “procedures” which the Human Resources personnel cannot adapt to, or change, because “this is the way we’ve been doing it for X number of years”.  Still, there is a suspicion that in some instances, the “requirement” of SF 3112C is because of a more nefarious reason:  The Agency wants full access to all medical records, notes, treatment notes, etc.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire