Federal Disability Retirement: Mastery of Life

It is what we all strive for; as depicted in cult followings and media outlets, it is a state of representation attained through travels to the Himalayas, or after years of struggling in a Zen monastery (and engaging in Tai chi battles with inept masked ninjas) and gaining unexplainable enlightenment (why couldn’t the same happen in the living room of one’s own home?).  The truth is, the mastery of life is merely a mundane affair.

It is where one finds a rhythm within the daily obstacles of life, when recognition of distinguishing between a real “crisis” and an irritating problem is quickly resolved; and how bumbling through problems encountered in youth is replaced by smooth sailing with unruffled feathers in meeting obligations, confronting difficulties and engaging the monotony of daily living.

In the West, just when such a state of quietude is reached, society discards it all and favors youth over the aging, incompetence over experience, and slow but steady progress over fresh “new ideas” (which never are, but the discovery of which young people think they have been the first to encounter, as if the wheel on one’s car is an invention recently revealed).  This disregard and (ultimately) disrespect is magnified when a person is beset with a medical condition — precisely because being hit with a medical condition mirrors how treatment of the aged facilitates, but only at an exponentially quickened pace.

For Federal employees and U.S. Postal workers who suffer from a medical conditions, such that the medical condition begins to impact the performance of one or more of the essential elements of one’s positional duties within the Agency or the U.S. Postal Service, this phenomena becomes a daily occurrence.

For years, we accumulate and derive the experience of plenitude and glean through trial and error, attaining a state of wisdom aggregated within the confines of one’s skull, with a loci traveling from home to desk, then back home again.  When a medical condition impacts the Federal or Postal employee, one would think that a race would be on to preserve that body of knowledge, to contain it (as in futuristic movies) with aldehyde fixation in gentrified forms of cryonics in order to reserve unseen answers to unforeseen circumstances, all for the benefit of the “mission of the agency“.  But no — that is not what occurs.  Instead, for Federal employees and U.S. Postal workers who suffer from a medical condition, such that the medical condition impacts one or more of the essential elements of one’s job (but normally not all), the tired routine is of commonplace doldrums of ineptitude and incompetence:  “get the bum out”.

For the Federal or Postal employee who suffers from a medical condition, and further suffers the fool resulting from that medical condition, filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether one is under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset, is often the best avenue away from the madness of disregard.  But, then, perhaps we all have it wrong; perhaps filing for Medical Retirement through OPM shows and reveals that “mastery of life” we all seek, like the Shaolin Monk of yore who sought enlightenment elsewhere, and attained it within.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Flashpoint

The flashpoint is the temperature at which an organic compound becomes combustible; during the entire time building up to that point, the rising temperature in combination with the chemical reactiveness of the substance was all the while sitting in preparation for the point of ignition; were there options to pursue prior to the point of ignition?  If there had been a change in chemical make-up, then perhaps the point of temperature-to-combination of substance would have altered, where either a higher or lower flashpoint would occur; or, the rise of the temperature, and the rate of acceleration, could have been changed.

Whatever the needed changes in order to avoid the flashpoint, however, one thing is clear:  the options are limited, and any altered states would merely delay the ultimate event of a flashpoint occurrence.

For Federal and Postal Workers who suffer from a medical condition, such that the medical condition impacts the performance of one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, the flashpoint of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is an inevitability which leaves the Federal or Postal employee similarly limited options.

One can continue in the mode of life which one finds one’s self in: of the daily treadmill of suffering through the workday with pain, profound fatigue and progressively debilitated emotional turmoil.  Or, one can wait for the Agency to initiate an adverse action, such as a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), periodic suspensions or reprimands — or removal.  Or, one can begin to prepare, formulate and file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Limited options do not necessarily constitute a flashpoint of negative consequences; yes, a fire bursting in a home is a tragedy, but then there are controlled fires and even naturally occurring ones in fields of decay which benefit the environment.

It is thus ultimately up to the Federal or Postal employee to determine the point of combustibility, and therefore the timing of the event identified as the flashpoint.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Alternatives and the Sense of Guilt

In the course of speaking with thousands of Federal and Postal employees over the years, with those who are contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, both under FERS & CSRS, two prevailing themes often overshadow the discourse:  the sense that there are few alternatives left because of the impact of one’s medical condition upon one’s ability/inability to continue to pursue the intended career-course of one’s life; and secondly, a sense of guilt (or sometimes interpreted as shame) that such a course of action triggers.

The former response (that there are limited alternatives remaining) can often be resolved by a change of perspective:  To accept one’s medical condition, while difficult, is a reality which must be embraced, and in doing so, to be open to a change in vocation and previously-set view of where one wants to go in life.

The latter — of having a sense of guilt or shame for considering the course of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits — is often a result of misunderstanding the option of Federal Disability Retirement.  For, Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS is merely part of one’s compensation package which one signed onto when you became a Federal or Postal employee.  It is not an acceptance of defeat; it is not a resignation from one’s goals; rather, it is an avenue to embrace a course of rehabilitative stage of life in order to be able to recover sufficiently to pursue a different vocation and a different course of action in one’s life.

To remain steadfast and have a sense of fidelity is indeed an honorable thing; but to remain steadfast on a train bound for disaster, is merely a stubborn trait of foolhardiness.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: It Is a Medical Issue

If a Federal or Postal Employee is still on the rolls of the Agency, or if you have not been separated from service for more than 31 days, then the disability retirement application must be routed through your agency before being forwarded to the Office of Personnel Management for processing and review.  If you have been separated from Federal Service — meaning, you have actually been taken off of the rolls of your agency (this does include being on sick leave, or on annual leave, or on leave without pay) — for 31 days or more (but not for more than 1 year, in which case you have lost your right and ability to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, because you have allowed the 1-year statute of limitations to pass by), then you must file your case directly with the Office of Personnel Management in Boyers, PA.  Whether routed through your agency or directly to the Office of Personnel Management, remember that a Federal Disability Retirement application is ultimately a medical issue — not a supervisor’s issue, not an agency issue; it is not determined by your agency; your eligibility is not determined by your supervisor.  It is, essentially, and at its very core, an issue between you, your doctor, and your inability to perform the essential elements of your Federal or Postal job.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability: The Disabled Federal and Postal Worker

As with most attorneys, I try to maintain an appearance of detached professionalism. It is my job to provide sound legal advice; to guide the client/disability retirement applicant with logical argumentation, rational perspective, and legal foundations as to the strength or weakness of a case, and to guide my client over obstacles, around legal landmines, and through the briars and thickets of “the law”. I try to remain aloof from the inherent emotionalism which arises from the human story of my clients, because not to do so would be to defeat the essence of why a client hires me: to maintain and retain an objective perspective, in order to provide the best legal advice possible. However, to maintain that wall of professionalism is not always possible.

The human story of the Federal and Postal employee is indeed one of encompassing a juggernaut of loyalty, professionalism, dedication, hard work, and the driving force behind and undergirding the economic might of the United States. Yes, of course the United States is built upon the economic principles of the free market system of the private sector; but the services which the government provides are not accomplished by some faceless or nameless entity; each such service — from the letter carrier through “rain, sleet or snow”, to the Special Agents who investigate and put criminals behind bars; from the border patrol agents who guard our security, to the IT Specialist who safeguards our internet viability — is provided by a competent and dedicated worker. That is why I am often humbled by my clients; because, truth be known, the disability retirement applicants who come to me have come to a point with his or her medical condition, where there is no other choice. It is never a question of dedication or hard work; the Federal and Postal Worker has already proven his or her dedication and hard work through the decades of service provided, prior to coming to me.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability for Federal and Postal Employees: The Federal Disability Attorney

I often get calls from people who have filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, from people who are represented by an Attorney but who, for one reason or another, are not satisfied with the work that the attorney has performed.  It is not, in my opinion, proper for an attorney to criticize or judge the work of another attorney, because each attorney has his or her particular methodology in the practice of law.  The fact that another attorney’s methodology of practicing a specific area of law (in this case, Federal disability retirement law) may differ from mine is not a basis for me to criticize another attorney.  The mere fact that a disability retirement application, prepared and submitted by another attorney, is denied by the Office of Personnel Management, is not a basis for concluding that the application packet was prepared in less than a professional manner.  Indeed, if that were the case, I would be subject to the same type of criticism each time one of my client’s disability retirement application was denied at any given stage of the process.  Further, and more to the point, it is a waste of time to criticize the past; what another attorney did or failed to do is besides the point.  The focus needs to be:  What is necessary to move forward, compile additional supporting documentation, and help get the disability retirement packet approved at the next stage of the process.  As to whether or not an individual should switch attorneys mid-stream, that is not for me to say; as with everything in life, such determinations must be made based upon consideration of all of the facts and circumstances of the case, and the client must do what is in the best interest of his or her future.
Sincerely,
Robert R. McGill, Esquire

I often get calls from people who have filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, from people who are represented by an Attorney but who, for one reason or another, are not satisfied with the work that the attorney has performed.  It is not, in my opinion, proper for an attorney to criticize or judge the work of another attorney, because each attorney has his or her particular methodology in the practice of law.  

The fact that another attorney’s methodology of practicing a specific area of law (in this case, Federal disability retirement law) may differ from mine is not a basis for me to criticize another attorney.  The mere fact that a disability retirement application, prepared and submitted by another attorney, is denied by the Office of Personnel Management, is not a basis for concluding that the application packet was prepared in less than a professional manner.  Indeed, if that were the case, I would be subject to the same type of criticism each time one of my client’s disability retirement application was denied at any given stage of the process.  

Further, and more to the point, it is a waste of time to criticize the past; what another attorney did or failed to do is besides the point.  The focus needs to be:  What is necessary to move forward, compile additional supporting documentation, and help get the disability retirement packet approved at the next stage of the process.  As to whether or not an individual should switch attorneys mid-stream, that is not for me to say; as with everything in life, such determinations must be made based upon consideration of all of the facts and circumstances of the case, and the client must do what is in the best interest of his or her future.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement and the Agency Cover of “Accommodation”

I am receiving too many phone calls from people who have been fooled by his/her Agency that they have been “accommodated”, and therefore they cannot file for disability retirement. From Federal Workers at all levels who are told that they can take LWOP when they are unable to work, to Postal Workers who are given “Limited-Duty Assignments” — all need to be clear that your are NOT BEING ACCOMMODATED, AND THEREFORE YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO FILE FOR DISABILITY RETIREMENT. Let me clarify this issue by first discussing the important case-law of Bracey v. Office of Personnel Management, 236 F.3d 1356 (Fed. Cir. 2001). Bracey was, and still is, a landmark decision — one of those cases that pushed back the attempt by the Office of Personnel Management to create a broad definition of what “accommodation” means, and thereby try and undermine a Federal and/or Postal Employees’ right to disability retirement. 5 U.S.C. 8337(a) states that a disabled employee is eligible for disability retirement unless the employee is able to render “useful and efficient service in the employee’s position”, or is qualified for reassignment to an existing vacant position in the agency at the same grade or level. What this basically means is that, if you have a medical condition and you cannot do one or more of the essential elements of your job, you are entitled to disability retirement unless your Agency can (a) do something so that you can continue to work in your job, or (b) reassign you to an existing vacant position at the same pay or grade (all of those words are key to understanding the Bracey decision). As to the first issue, if your medical condition, either physical or psychiatric, is impacting your ability to perform the key functions of your job (in other words, “useful and efficient service” means that you must be able to perform the “critical or essential” elements of your position), then it means that you are eligible for disability retirement — unless the Agency can reassign you to an existing vacant position (the second issue). As to the second issue, what the Court in Bracey meant is that there has to be an actual position existing, which is vacant, to which a person can be reassigned and slotted into, at the same pay or grade.

In Bracey, the Office of Personnel Management was trying to have it both ways: they argued that (a) an individual is “accommodated” if he can do his “job”, and the “job” which the Agency was having Mr. Bracey do was a “light-duty” job that was made up by the Agency. As a result, the Office of Personnel Management had denied Mr. Bracey’s application for disability retirement, and the case reached the Merit Systems Protection Board, and then to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on appeal. More recently, Agencies have been trying to convince Federal workers that they can take “Leave Without Pay” and work less hours; or revert to part-time status; or perform some other functions — and this constitutes an “accommodation”. Or, in the case of Postal Workers, especially those who have intersecting OWCP issues, one is often told that “Limited-Duty Assignments” constitute an “accommodation”. However, for the latter, it is important to review such assignments — does it include jobs from another craft? Are you offered a new “Limited Duty Assignment” each year, or every two years (which would imply that it is not a permanent assignment)? Can a new supervisor or Postmaster come in tomorrow and declare that there are no longer any “Limited Duty Assignments” available (which is often the case)?

Remember that a “position” in the federal employment system is “required to be classified and graded in accordance with the duties, responsibilities, and qualification requirements associated with it. The ‘resulting position-classification’ system is ‘used in all phases of personnel administration’. 5 U.S.C. 5101(2)” (Bracey at page 1359). It cannot be a position “consisting of a set of ungraded, unclassified duties that have been assigned to an employee who cannot perform the duties of his official position.” Id.

Similarly, for Postal employees, you cannot be slotted in your craft position, but then be given duties crossing over from other crafts; and you cannot be told that you have been slotted into an already existing “vacant” position, but then be offered the same “Limited-Duty” position a year later. If it was truly a permanent “vacant” position, why would you be offered the same position a year later?

Remember that under 5 C.F.R. Section 831.502(b)(7), an offered position must be, among other things, of the same tenure as the position from which the employee seeks disability retirement. “Tenure” is defined at 5 C.F.R. Section 210.102(b)(17) as “the period of time an employee may reasonably expect to serve under his current appointment.”

If you are a Federal or Postal employee, and you find this discussion about the Bracey decision to be somewhat confusing, do not let the complexity of disability retirement laws keep you from inquiring about your eligibility. In its simplest form, disability retirement is about 2 issues: Are you able to perform the essential elements of your job? If not, Can your Agency slot you into an already-existing position at the same pay, grade and tenure, and not just in some “made up” position that hasn’t been graded and classified”? If your answer is “No” to both questions, then you are entitled to disability retirement benefits.

As true with all things in life, it is always better to affirmatively act with knowledge, especially knowledge of the law. Like the Tibetan proverb, to act without knowledge of the law is to act blindly. To fail to act, or to allow your circumstances to control your destiny, is to allow your Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service to dictate your future for you. If you are disabled, and unable to perform the critical elements of your job, then you should consider the option of disability retirement. Opting for disability retirement does not mean that you can no longer be productive in society in some other capacity; indeed, you are allowed to receive a disability annuity and go out and get another job, and make up to 80% of what your position currently pays. Opting for disability retirement merely means that you have a medical condition which is no longer a good “fit” for the type of job you currently have.

My name is Robert R. McGill, Esquire. I am a duly licensed Attorney who specializes in representing Federal and Postal Employees, to obtain disability retirement benefits through the Office of Personnel Management. If you would like to discuss your particular case, you may contact me at 1-800-990-7932 or email me at federal.lawyer@yahoo.com, or visit my website at www.FederalDisabilityLawyer.com.

 

Robert R. McGill, Esquire