Federal Disability Retirement Application and Process: The Foreign Menu

Certain processes and endeavors in life are tantamount to a foreign menu; one knows that, within the undecipherable and incomprehensible letters and symbols presented before one, amidst the evocative smells and provocative sounds emanating from the kitchen in the back, and behind the sounds and voices formed and learned in another land in distant places beyond the horizon of one’s familiarity, there is a dish of choice which one would, if one could identify it, choose for the occasion before us.  But the menu is in another language; the words and symbols are undecipherable; and the waiters, waitresses, cooks and managers speak not a word of one’s own; and all attempts at describing the wants and desires of the moment have failed, because food is an appetite of desire, and not one which finds its core in the rational basis of words and conceptual constructs.

Can such a scenario occur?  Can one find oneself in a restaurant unable to relate or communicate?

For Federal employees and U.S. Postal workers who find themselves unable to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s positional duties, and who must therefore engage the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset, the similarity to the scenario described, and the familiarity of the circumstances conveyed, can be frighteningly reflective of the reality experienced.

Perhaps it should not be such a complicated process.  Considering the circumstances — of an injured or medically debilitated Federal or Postal worker who must concurrently contend with both the complexity of the bureaucratic process as well as the confounding and discomforting issues of the medical conditions themselves — one would think that the gathering of evidentiary sufficiency, the legal pitfalls to be maneuvered, the standard forms to be completed, etc., would all be simplified to fit the onerous circumstances requiring submission of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  But the fact is that Federal Disability Retirement is a complicated and complex administrative process with no “short cuts” to fruition.

It is a bureaucratic procedure which much be endured — much like the untenable situation of the man who walks into a restaurant thinking only of the satisfying meal to be ordered, only to find that the menu set upon the table is in a foreign language, undecipherable and incomprehensible, except to the proprietors and those who prepare the dishes of choice, in a clattering kitchen far in the background where echoes abound but confusion compounds.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Beginning the Federal Disability Retirement Process

The Chinese proverb, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, is meant to remind us that looking at a process in its entirety can result in self-defeat even before starting, and every daunting journey must begin with the small, almost insignificant, effort of initiation.

Facing a bureaucracy and an administrative process can feel like that metaphorical journey of a thousand miles.  The multiple and complex standard forms to complete; the legal criteria to meet; the need to gather, compile and consolidate the medical documentation into a linear, coherent whole; and all of this, in the face of voluntarily reducing one’s income by applying for an annuity and having to deal with the debilitating medical condition from which one suffers.

But the successful way to approach the entire administrative process known as Federal Disability Retirement, is to bifurcate it into workable portions. The SF 3107 series (reissued in May, 2014, where previous editions are now outdated) is merely informational in nature.  It is is the SF 3112 series of forms which one must take care in preparing and formulating, and especially SF 3112A, which requests for detailed information concerning one’s medical conditions, the impact of the medical conditions upon one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job; and other pertinent information needed to convey compliance with a legal criteria established through many years via legal opinions issued by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, as well as by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Yes, it is a difficult process, and one which can be eased by legal advice and expertise. But as with all journeys, to look upon the landscape and obstacles as mere hindrances to overcome, will serve one better, than to stand at the foothills and refuse to begin the journey at all.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM FERS/CSRS Disability Retirement: Foreign Territory

Entering a foreign country often has the residual impact of a changed perspective, and an appreciation for what constitutes one’s life “in comparison” thereof.

Such a perspective had greater prevalence decades ago, perhaps, because of the disparity and disproportionate inequality of comparative international standards of living, whereas in recent times there has been the meteoric rise of the middle class in many other parts of the world.  The “East” has attempted to mimic the “West”; the “West” has embraced the “East”; everywhere, in fashion, movies, clothing and personalities, the differences between foreign lands and one’s own has become monolithic in its loss of individualization.

The proverbial “culture shock” has somewhat dissipated, because through telecommunication, the internet, Skype, constant following on Facebook and Twitter, the “new world order” of a singular character has emerged without the need for totalitarian imposition.  But such shock of a foreign culture can occur in an intra-cultural sense.

Thus, for Federal and Postal employees who suffer from a medical condition, such that the medical condition impacts one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job, the crisis felt and the impact experienced is akin to culture shock, in that the foreign territory of physical incapacity or psychological turmoil becomes just as real and unfamiliar as entering a foreign country.

Further, for the uninitiated, the bureaucratic morass which one must encounter in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, is often a complete and unalterable conundrum and puzzle for the Federal and Postal employee.  Such an experience, of course, is further magnified and exacerbated because of the crisis one experiences as a consequence of the medical condition itself.

For those Federal and Postal employees who are contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement, then, the experience itself is often like entering a foreign country; and, in such instances, it is often a good idea to consider obtaining the services of a tour guide.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: The Rarity of the “Clean” Case

“Clean” cases are those which need no further elucidation. Like events and documents which speak for themselves, the clean case in a Federal Disability Retirement application, as in other sectors of legal encounters and adversarial processes, requires little, if any, explanatory addendum.

It is a rarity for two primary reasons:  First, because life itself defies a linear, uninterrupted sequence of events which follows along the parallel universe of administrative rules and regulations, and second (and probably more importantly and certainly problematically) because most people are unable to distinguish between an objectively clean case, and one which — because of one’s personal and subjective involvement in one’s own case — merely appears to be less embroiled than others with potential problems.

The Federal or Postal Worker who is preparing one’s own Federal or Postal Disability Retirement application, is the same person who suffers from the pain or psychiatric illness which is the foundation and basis of one’s claim.  As such, because the private world of medical disability is the identical consciousness which must prepare, formulate and present one’s Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, it is difficult to make an objective, unbiased assessment of one’s own case.

The one who “feels the pain”, believes that one’s own pain is in and of itself persuasive to others as to the extent and severity of that pain.  That is why the truly “clean” case is a rarity; it exists mostly in the minds of those who believe in their own suffering.  The rest of the world, however, has little empathy for the suffering of others, and the systematic, bureaucratic volume of denials in Federal Disability Retirement applications is a testament to the harsh reality of the world in which we occupy.

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

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

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

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: As a Process

It is often a necessity to be reminded that the preparation, formulation, and ultimately the filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is an administrative process.

By “process” is meant that it involves multiple levels of time frames and stages, and is not merely constituted by a single “filing” of paperwork.  It is not a defined “right” to a benefit which is triggered by a certain event — such as age, filing of a form, etc.  Rather, it is a benefit which is determined by an administrative process of eligibility.

One must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that one is “eligible” for the benefits.  In order to do that, one must, of course, meet each of the legal and regulatory criteria as set out by statutory authority, regulations propounded by the Office of Personnel Management, and case-law authorities handed down by the Merit Systems Protection Board and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.

As such, time frames for issuing determinations are made by the agency granted such authority — the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  And, further, the process will often necessarily involve multiple stages — the Initial Stage, the Reconsideration Stage, an appeal to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, then a Petition for Full Review, and if necessary, an appeal to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.

Time frames, stages, applicability of the law, meeting each of the statutory requirements — they all constitute a long and complex “process”, and one which must be dealt with whether one agrees with it, wants to, or is somehow unprepared to do so.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: The Inherent Complexities

It is often asked why filing for Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS is more complex, and therefor often more difficult to obtain, than (for example) Social Security Disability, or even Federal Worker’s Comp.  The simple answer is that one cannot compare apples and oranges (to quote an oft-used metaphor), but the greater inherent complexity of answering such a question involves more space than can be allotted here.

Social Security Disability, of course, has a higher standard of eligibility.  In abbreviated explanation, this means that one must essentially be “totally disabled” in order to qualify for Social Security Disability, as opposed to the “lower” legal standard of being “unable to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job”.  Thus, Social Security Disability cuts a wider swathe, and is generally considered to require a more onerous standard, and the resulting benefit reflects that — by allowing for restrictive ability to earn outside income, etc.  

 Worker’s Comp (OWCP, FECA/Department of Labor) is also complex in its own way, precisely because it requires a showing of occupational connection, or that the injury or medical condition was “on the job” or somehow caused by the job, the workplace, etc.  Then, its reliance upon percentage of disability, and the fact that it is not a retirement system, but a temporary mode of compensation in attempting to return the Federal or Postal Worker back to work, further contains multiple complex issues.  

Often, when a law attempts to particularize a benefit — as in Federal Disability Retirement — by focusing narrowly upon an issue (e.g., being unable to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s particular kind of job, or any similar job), such a narrow focus creates an inherent complexity all on its own. Complexity of an issue requires a careful and studied approach; to conquer an issue, it is important to expend a great amount of time reflecting upon and scrutinizing the issue. It is only upon understanding an issue thoroughly that the complexity begins to unravel; and only then can one begin to proceed to prepare, formulate and file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire