CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Complexity in the Hidden Background

To prove one’s eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether one is under FERS or CSRS, is seemingly an uncomplicated matter.

As one’s medical condition impacts the ability to perform one or more of the essential element of one’s job, it is up to the treating doctor to establish the nexus and provide an opinion as to the connecting bridge between the medical condition and the positional requirements of one’s Federal or Postal job.

How does one do that? Must it be comprised of a 1-to-1 ratio between job elements and medical conditions? How important and prominent are “symptoms” considered, as opposed to the mere clinical declaration of the diagnosis, in persuading the U.S. Office of Personnel Management that a particular medical condition should qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits? To what extent is one’s own statement of disability, as described on Standard Form 3112A, important in establishing the foothold towards gaining an approval from OPM?

Also, what algorithm or comparative analysis does OPM use in evaluating a case, and how does one enhance the chances of success at the First Stage of the process? If denied at the First Stage of the Federal Disability Retirement process, does the basis of the denial (often characterized by a plethora of multiple reasons given) require a point-by-point refutation, and is the Reconsideration Division at OPM using the same standard of review, or a different application of laws in evaluating the additional evidence submitted at the next stage?

If one watches a gymnast, a ballerina, or even a mathematician at work in solving or unraveling a complex problem or exercise, one is immediately struck by the ease with which the feat is performed. But it is almost always the unseen preparation which has preceded the actual performance that sets the stage of an uncomplicated presentation.

It is that mystery of the uncomplicated, which tends to trip us all, and that is no different in the preparation, formulation and submission of a Federal Disability Retirement application, applied through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether you are under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Simplification of Complexities

The art of simplifying the complex requires an effort beyond mere reduction to basic concepts; it is a process of unravelling compound components in order to separate and undo intersecting concepts which tend to confound through connections otherwise incomprehensible, then to analyze each individual element in their own right, before reassembling and reorganizing.

Anyone who has taken apart a piece of equipment without quite knowing what to expect, understands such an intellectual process.  But simplification of explanation does not mean that the issue conveyed is an uncomplicated one; rather, it is an art form of making comprehensible without regurgitating the inherent esotericism itself; it is a reflection of pure understanding when one is able to explain without puffery.

Federal Disability Retirement is a complex process.  There is no getting around it.  One can separate the multiple components into their individual issues, and certainly simplify the morass by attending to each element independently; but in the end, one must reassemble the disparate parts and reorganize it back to its wholeness of integrated integrity.

As an admixture of three complex groupings — the medical, the legal, and the bureaucratic — one cannot entirely escape the linguistic confusion of technical complexities by merely referring to it as “showing this or that”.  The language of the medical issues must be embraced, followed by a clear understanding of the legal elements established, and further promulgated by maneuvering through the administrative process and the agency’s attempt, often deliberate and with conscious effort, to put up unnecessary roadblocks and obstacles.

Federal Disability Retirement benefits, filed through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS or CSRS, is not rocket science; however, nor is it an Andy Warhol piece of artwork.  But then, I never understood the latter to be so uncomplicated to begin with.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Ockham’s Razor

Ockham’s Razor is a principle of economy; in its various forms and historically evolved attributes, the formulation of lex parsimoniae involves the idea that, where there are multiple competing theories and paradigms in explaining a phenomena, issue, or working hypothesis, one should always choose the least complex delineation — the reason being, superfluous and extraneous material generally lead to complications which rarely add to the foundational essence of the paradigm.  To put it in an alternate form:  Keep it simple.

Thus, in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is always important to follow the principle underlying Ockham’s Razor:  Keep to the core and essence of the case; focus upon the nexus between one’s positional duties and the medical condition which one suffers from; weave a consistent theme; check for inconsistencies; and always maintain the simplicity of the case, while avoiding and disregarding extraneous factual issues which, while they may be personally of importance or of special aggravation, should be left out because they unnecessarily complicate matters.

FERS & CSRS Disability retirement and the obtaining of an approval is the goal to focus upon; all else should fall by the wayside, cut loose by the sharp blade of Ockham’s razor.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Reason for the Law’s Complexity

The growing complexity of any body of law often reflects the unintended consequences of a poorly-written statute which first created the access to a right, a benefit, or a legal assertion.  Complications and expansion of issues, clarifications of previously-obfuscated matters of law, evolve over time and begin to take on a life of its own.  

For Federal Disability Retirement law, there is the appearance of a simple process:  one only has to look at the Standard Forms which are made available to all Federal and Postal employees who are contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, to recognize that, at least on the surface, the administrative process seems simple enough.  

The SF 3107 series (for FERS Federal and Postal employees) and SF 2801 series (for CSRS Federal and Postal employees) requests basic information of a factual nature.  The “other” series of Standard Forms — the SF 3112 series (both for FERS and CSRS Federal and Postal employees) requests information directly impacting one’s Federal Disability Retirement application.  

The questions asked are quite simple, and appear somewhat innocuous; the body of law which has grown behind each question is comprised by years and decades of litigation, questioning, judicial decisions and case-law.  It is like the proverbial stranger who discovers what appears to be a tuft of hair (perhaps a mouse?) sticking out from behind a bush, reaches down and pulls, only to hear the roar of a lion for having yanked its tail.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Complexity & the Law

The complaint heard most prevalent is that the “law” is deliberately complicated for the benefit of lawyers, and to the detriment of the lay person.  That is the one of the points which Dickens makes in his work, Bleak House — a lengthy work which meticulously follows the probate of a contested will, where the lawyers involved appear to be the only beneficiaries of the central litigation. But that only tells one side of a story.  

Complexities in any issue surface because of lack of clarity; and lack of clarity manifests itself as each case brings to the forefront questions and concerns previously unspoken or uncontested.  As an example — the issue in Stephenson v. OPM, where the U.S. Office of Personnel Management refused to recalculate one’s FERS Disability Retirement annuity even though the annuitant was no longer receiving SSDI benefits, because OPM interpreted the word “entitled” in a unique and perverse manner — could have been left alone without litigation, and therefore allowed to remain a simple matter.  

This had been going on for decades.  But somebody — Mr. Stephenson in particular — decided that OPM’s actions were unfair, and that it needed to be litigated.  Did it complicate matters?  Complexity is an inherent part of the law, and as issues become contested, the evolution of a body of law can expand into a compendium of complexity.  

It is no different with Federal Disability Retirement.  Yes, Federal Disability Retirement law is a complex body of administrative issues; it requires expertise; but if it was left alone, you can be assured that OPM would step over, on, and around many more Federal and Postal Workers who are otherwise eligible and entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits. That is why complexity can go both ways — for the agency, but also for the Federal or Postal employee.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Basics & Complexity

Appearance versus reality; ease of effort as opposed to great physical exertional requirements; basic components which make up for a complex composite — the inverse/converse of oppositional forces may seemingly contradict each other, but in most cases, they are entirely compatible.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the initial encounter with the multiple forms which must be completed, the complexity of the questions requested to be responded to — with the underlying sense that each question contains an implicit “trickiness” where the government is attempting to either cage you into a corner you do not necessarily want to be pushed to, or otherwise to state things which cannot be answered in such simplistic format — all betray a conundrum:  Is it as simple as the questions appear?  Or is the complexity hidden in the appearance of such simplicity?

Then, of course, a partial answer will surface when a Federal Disability Retirement application is denied by OPM at the First Stage of the process:  all of a sudden, various legal criteria are cited; standards of proof heretofore unmentioned are recited like a litany from a food recipe; and by the way, if it gets denied again, you get to read through a thick legal packet concerning your “appeal rights” from the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board.

Yes, it appears simple; it’s only that the complexity remains hidden in the compendium of laws, statutes and regulations which undergird the entirety of the complex administrative procedure encapsulating Federal Disability Retirement law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: An Inherently Adversarial Process

One often hears about administrative procedures — that they are somehow distinguishable from court cases, EEOC proceedings, grievances, etc., in that they are “non-adversarial” procedures.  Really?  In designating it as such, one becomes lulled into thinking that, somehow, preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, is merely a matter of completing and submitting paperwork.

In a society which enjoys the safety of linguistic euphemisms, however, such an approach to an important application for benefits can result in devastating consequences.

Does a bureaucracy which is set up exclusively to review and potentially deny a Federal Disability Retirement application have the appearance of a non-adversarial process? Does the fact that one has a right to appeal it to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, then to a panel of Administrative Judges for a “Full Review”, then to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, possess the scent of non-adversity?

A system which is set up with a specified statute of limitations, which employs procedural and substantive legal criteria set up to deal with appeals and submission of evidence; of a body of law which applies to determine the sufficiency of evidence; such a system is inherently adversarial in nature, and whatever words or string of words one might use to describe such a system, it is first and foremost, an adversarial process.

Treat it as such, or enter into its arena with caution and forewarning.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: The Easy Case

Life presents conundrums; puzzles exist to be solved, but few attempt to understand the foundational precepts which need to be discovered and applied; ergo, Aristotle remains an esoteric author of antiquity, to be rediscovered and in whom delight approaches an enduring mystery.  In every endeavor of that vast designation identified as “life”, difficulties abound, challenges confront, and obstacles confound.  One hears about the “easy” life, how X has it so “comfortable”, and the proverbial, “if only I…”

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, one often hears about the “easy” case — it proves itself; the evidence is so overwhelming that…

Take the following hypothetical:  X has an OWCP case approved; Second opinion and referee doctors all state that X cannot return to performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; additionally, SSDI has been granted; and on top of everything else, the agency has removed X from the Federal or Postal rolls, based upon one’s “Medical Inability to perform the essential elements of his/her job.”

As Federal Disability Retirement cases go, this may constitute and possess elements which most would consider a “sure thing”.  Easy case?  What is missing?  As to the first question, the answer is a resounding, “No”.  As to the second question, those who have inquired as to the “first principles” in Aristotelian fashion, will be able to discover the answer, and this author need not state thejavascript:; obvious.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Complexity & Context

Complexities in any field, whether general, technical or mundane, possess a context which includes its history, its underlying purpose, and the years of evolving issues which have impacted the expanding compendium of rules, regulations, statutes and procedural mandates.  The previously-stated sentence is itself a paradigm of such complexity, and unless a proper context is provided, retains scant meaning except in a garbled conglomeration of independent words.

Federal Disability Retirement from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, is somewhat akin to the context-less complexity experienced by any Federal or Postal Worker who approaches such an administrative process.  Those who have been involved in the substantive and procedural morass understand the methodology, means and minutiae which must be engaged in order to successfully maneuver through the regulatory and administrative process.  But most Federal and Postal employees have a singular contact with the entire process (and thankfully so), without a context of how, why, or when it reached a level of such complexity that it became necessary to search for some guidance to understand the very process itself.

Unfortunately, Human Resources personnel are often unhelpful or uninformed themselves.  The statutes, laws and procedural regulations which are supposed to guide the Federal or Postal employees have themselves become a conglomeration of complexities.  And the ability to discern and distinguish between information, helpful information, and errant information, has become a problem in and of itself.

Best to take some time at the front end to simply gather some facts, and determine what the central issues are.  Taking the time at the front end to tackle the complexities, and understand the context, will save some troubles down the road.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Simplicity v. Complexity

Each Stage in the process of proving eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS requires a unique approach and methodology of response.  It requires the combination of responding to, and thoroughly completing, forms required to meet the criteria at the initial stage of the process; of responding to any perceived lack of evidence in responding to a denial at the First Stage of the process, issued by the Office of Personnel Management, and therefore requiring a Request for Reconsideration; and finally, an ability to persuade an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board of the completeness of the application for Federal or Postal Disability Retirement, as well as to prepare the case well for submission of further evidence.

There are, in addition to the three stages mentioned, two further stages of the process (a Petition for Full Review to the Merit Systems Protection Board, which is comprised of a panel of administrative judges; and then to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit), but both such appeal stages will only review the issue of whether or not there was an “error of law” committed by the Administrative Judge at the third stage of the process.  

The entirety of the process is comprised of inherent complexities — involving issues of medical (obviously), legal, administrative, agency, credibility, etc. — issues impacting each Federal Disability Retirement application in its own unique and specific manner.  One can try to simplify the process by breaking each component down into its basic elements, but the complexity of the whole process cannot be avoided.

Understanding each relevant component, addressing the specific issues, dissecting each, then compiling the evidence from each to make up the whole, results in wading through the complexity while maintaining the simplicity of each component part.  Keep the application simple, concise, and to the point.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire