Federal Disability Retirement: The Misfit

The herd mentality must of necessity have a survivability factor; otherwise, there is little to explain the illogical repetition of the historical recurrence of human folly for behavioral anthropology.  In the modern era, being “different” is a sign of rebellion, and the cultural tidal wave of the Sixties in altering the normative landscape of music, art, religion and social customs, revealed the pinnacle of self-destructive behavior — until it became clear that being a misfit itself was merely the convention.

Behaving “normally” means that one does not make “waves”; in a highly bureaucratized society, the importance of non-innovation and complete compliance is regarded as sacrosanct.  Loud, boisterous behavior; conduct outside of the normative inflexibility of societal perspectives; that which is acceptable as quirkiness or eccentricities, as opposed to destructive explosions of tendencies bordering upon insanity; the invisible line between the misfit and clinical commitment to a psychiatric facility is a thin reed, indeed.

Often, however, it is uncontrollable circumstances which impose upon an individual the unwanted label of being an “outsider”.  Medical conditions often have a tendency to promote such a state.  It is like being labeled a plague-carrying contagion by the CDC; once whispered, the rumors begin to spread.

For Federal employees and U.S. Postal workers who suffer from a medical condition, such that the medical condition begins to prevent one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, being labeled a misfit becomes a “given”. Others begin to shy away from an association; some are told bluntly not to have contact with “that one”.

Loss of normative acceptance within any community or society is an important factor for success; somehow, despite all of the legal safeguards, EEO regulations and protective statutes applying to disabled individuals, the herd mentality of yore nevertheless prevails.  For Federal and Postal workers, the only pragmatic exit is to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal or Postal worker is under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset.

Is it a retreat or an escape?  Not really; rather, just a means of looking out for one’s own best interests.  The medical condition itself should always be paramount in considering one’s life; attending to it properly means that one must have the time and energy to treat the underlying malady; and continuing in an employment atmosphere where acceptance is avoided, and empathy is rare, is also an unstated definition of engaging in self-flagellation.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Legal Tools

Few disciplines and classes of artisans create their own tools.  Musicians do not fashion their own instruments; accountants do not produce calculators or computers; painters do not manufacture their own brushes.  The blacksmith does, however, form and mold his own ironworks.

Similarly, the lawyer formulates the tools upon which he crafts his arguments; for, as most Judges are lawyers themselves, and the vast majority of legislators are also attorneys, so the statutes which are issued, and the judicial opinions which are rendered, are analogously “created” by those who are members of the class identified as “lawyers”.  Once created, it is how the tools are used which makes all the difference.

In Federal Disability Retirement law, the multiple tools available must be utilized for the very purpose of their making.  Thus, application of the Bruner Presumption must be invoked where appropriate, and “stretched” to their logical extension wherever possible; the “Trevan” rule concerning SSDI approvals should be pointed out whenever it has been approved during the process of waiting for a decision on a Federal Disability Retirement application; and the restatement of the applicable legal criteria in Henderson v. OPM should be emphasized when OPM attempts to misinterpret the applicable statutory criteria in being eligible for Federal Disability Retirement as requiring a 1-to-1 ratio between medical conditions and positional duties; and multiple other legal tools.

The issue of “where” a tool was manufactured, unless poorly constructed, is rarely one of importance or relevance; rather, it is how the tool is applied which is the issue of greater import and significance.  For it is precisely the “how” and the efficacy of the utilization of a tool which results in the intended consequences of such use.

For the blacksmith, a well-fitting horseshoe; for the accountant, a tax savings; for the artist, a masterpiece; for the lawyer, a victory.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Unequivocal Doesn’t Mean That One Is “Right”

In a denial letter from the Office of Personnel Management, the Claims Specialist/Representative will often make statements in confident, unequivocal terms.  “You have not…”   “The medical evidence fails to show…”    “Your doctor never…”   “The law requires that you…”  Such a voice of unequivocal confidence often leaves the impression that there is no room for argument; that the case is lost; that there really is no point in even attempting to argue with the Office of Personnel Management.  Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Merely because an individual makes statements in an unequivocal manner, is not a basis for determining the truth or falsity of his or her argument.  In a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, there is almost always room for disagreement.  We are speaking about interpretation of medical documents, the significance of what is said, etc.  We are talking about the different and proper application of the OPM Disability law, and the multitude of case-law which would be applicable.  Don’t let the voice of a statement fool you as to the validity of the statement.  In a Federal Disability Retirement case, the Office of Personnel Management is rarely right; they just like to sound like they are.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Lost Cause

For a lawyer, it is indeed the “lost cause” which is the most challenging of cases.  This is no less true in Federal Disability Retirement cases for Federal and Postal Employees under FERS & CSRS.  In fact, in some instances it is all-the-more-true, because there is necessarily involved a physical or psychiatric medical condition which makes the case all the more worthwhile in fighting for. 

The concept of the “lost cause” is evocative of the famous scene from Frank Capra’s classic movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, of course; and no lawyer, no matter how good, should be so arrogant as to think that he or she meets with the standard of what Jimmy Stewart was fighting for.  For one thing, lawyers get paid for what they do.  Yet, it is indeed the “lost cause” cases which often spur the attorney in any area of law, with eagerness and pride. 

Whether to obtain Federal Disability retirement benefits for an individual who was wrongfully terminated for extraneous reasons; proving to the Judge that, despite post-termination medical documentation, one can and should logically extrapolate that the medical conditions existed prior to separation from Federal Service; to persuade the Office of Personnel Management that the Agency knew, or should have known, of the medical condition, and should have terminated the individual for his or her medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, as opposed to the manner in which the Agency went forth; these are all microcosmic examples of “lost causes”; and it is indeed the lost cause which is the most challenging of cases for an attorney.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Approaches & Decisions

With each case, a story must be told.  If the case gets denied, normally my approach is not so much that a “narrative” must be retold, but rather, I tend to view the Reconsideration Stage of the Federal Disability Retirement application process more as the “battle” to set the proper stage — to either win at the Reconsideration Stage, or to win at the Merit Systems Protection Board stage.  What is interesting is that, within the three stages of the process (excluding the appellate stages of the Full Board Review and the appeal to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals), the need to tell a coherent, empathetic, sympathetic and compelling story of a dedicated and loyal Federal employee who suffers from a medical condition such that it impacts him or her from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, comes “full circle”. 

I approach the “Reconsideration Stage” of the Federal Disability Retirement process under FERS & CSRS as the “center point” of battle, in many ways, precisely because it is the step just before taking it before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board.  It is the place to give the Office of Personnel Management a subtle warning:  This is your last chance before the destiny of the Disability Retirement Application is taken completely out of your hands and control, and placed into the hands of an Administrative Judge.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Knowledge

It has often been noted that “knowledge is power”, which necessarily and logically implies, of course, that lack of knowledge leaves one with weakness.  Preparing a Federal Disability retirement application under FERS or CSRS requires a vast amount of knowledge.

After practicing in this area of law for over twenty (20) years (with my first 10 years involving not only Federal Disability Retirement law, but also including a heavy trial practice, appellate practice and employment law and general practice — with the last 10 years devoted exclusively to disability retirement law), the consistent and persistent need to keep updated on any changes; on case-law updates; on nuances of cases which I may have previously missed — one might think that the practice of law in a specialized field might get easier over the years.

I find that, to remain on top of the constant changes and shifts in the law is an ever-present, all-encompassing endeavor.  One cannot, and must not, put a “generic” case before a Merit Systems Protection Board Judge.  To do so becomes transparent and phony.  The same goes with submitting a generic application to the Office of Personnel Management.  There is no such thing — all Federal Disability Retirement applications must be tailored to fit the individual, and knowledge — and more importantly, greater knowledge — allows for such tailoring.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire