Federal Disability Retirement: The Syndrome of, “I Can’t Understand It”

In all aspects of life, both professional and personal, it is easy to get stuck in a rut where one cannot walk away from a particular irritant.  

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, one cannot afford to engage in the luxury of pausing for too long in attempting to understand the reasoning, rationale, or alleged justification for a denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, as issued by the Office of Personnel Management.  

It is easy to get caught up in attempting to “figure out” the foundational basis of an OPM denial.  One can get stuck in a self-pity mode of asserting to one’s self that everything had been carefully gathered; the medical documentation was impeccable and irrefutable; even the Agency supported the Federal Disability Retirement application by acknowledging and conceding the fact that (A) the Federal or Postal employee’s medical documentation was of a severity such that (B) it prevented him or her from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  

Yet, while listing each of the medical evidence and recognizing the extent of the symptomatologies, the prior surgeries, the medication regimens, etc. — despite all of that, the concluding sentence by the Office of Personnel Management states:  “We cannot determine by the evidence presented that you are disabled under the law,” or, “The medical evidence submitted is insufficient to meet the criteria for Federal Disability Retirement purposes.”  

What?  However, it is best to simply “move on”.  

It does little to no good to remain entrapped in the syndrome of, “I can’t understand it,” because that same syndrome inevitably leads to, “I am going to waste my time trying.”  Extract what can rationally be understood; present updated medical information; prepare the best and most compelling legal arguments, and prepare for the long haul of the legal administrative process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Patience & the Hinge

The hinge on a door is the mechanical contraption which allows for the swinging motion to occur.  Without it, the door will remain in place or, if one attempts to pull at the door, it will merely move towards you and continue to block the pathway.  Metaphors have been created from the invented device — a person can become “unhinged” meaning, similar to a door collapsing, a man or woman can lose the hope that a door represents as an entrance or an exit, to enter or leave.  

Preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS for the Federal or Postal employee can represent that “hinge” on a door.  It allows for hope viewed from a perspective of “now”, representing one side of the doorway, involving the debilitating medical conditions, the impact both upon one’s professional abilities, as well as upon the personal life with its correlative issues touching upon wives, children, parents, financial instability, etc.; and on the other side, the potential to receive a basic annuity so that one may exit in order to attend to the serious medical conditions without fear of becoming homeless.  

Yet, during the process of attempting to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits, because of the long delays, the months upon months of uncertainty awaiting for the decision from the Office of Personnel Management, the hinges can begin to rust and crumble.  This is especially true if a denial is received at the First Stage of the process, because it appears as if the door has slammed shut, and the hope for exiting and entering a different phase of one’s life has been lost.  But one must never lose the proper balance and perspective that is necessary to survive the fulfillment of the entire administrative process.  

Filing for, and obtaining, Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is a process — the First Step is merely that:  part of the entirety of the process.  A denial at the Initial Stage of the process does not constitute an unhinging of the doorway to the future; rather, it merely represents a moment of time when the door got stuck because of the change in weather, where the wood expanded for a season, making it difficult to open it.  It just needs a little more effort, and patience, to take it to the next step of the process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Denial Letter

During this Holiday Season when Federal and Postal employees who have filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, who are anxiously awaiting the decision from the Office of Personnel Management, a denial letter from OPM can appear disproportionately devastating.  Christmas and the New Year tend to bring difficulties precisely because it is seen as a season of celebration, when families get together, where work continues, but an expectation of being “joyous” pervades.  At such a time, a denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application from the Office of Personnel Management can be a seeming conclusion to a long wait.  It is not.  

Do not become discouraged just because someone at OPM has “decided” that your Federal Disability Retirement application did not “meet” the legal criteria.  Set the denial letter aside for a day or two (so long as it is not nearing the 30-day period to either file for Reconsideration or an appeal).  Then, proceed to fight it.  

Don’t let the Holiday Season become confused with the right to file for, be eligible for, and be entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  The filing of an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is a process which may take 6 – 8 months, or longer if it is needed to go to the Reconsideration Stage, or to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  

Do not get discouraged; instead, fight for your benefits.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Reconsiderations

When a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is denied at the first stage of the process, a Federal or Postal worker who filed for the benefit has the administrative right to request that it be “reconsidered” by the Office of Personnel Management.  Once requested, the case file is turned over to the “Disability Reconsideration Branch” of the office, and will be reviewed and evaluated by a Disability Specialist — not the same person who reviewed it at the Initial Stage of the process. 

A person who has filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits has thirty (30) days to Request Reconsideration.  While the 30-day period may arguably have some flexibility based upon when the applicant actually received the denial letter, it is nevertheless a good policy to adhere to the 30-day time-frame by counting the date of the denial letter as the “beginning” date.  Obviously, it is better NOT to be placed in a position of having to argue whether or not the applicant met the 30-day deadline.  Further, it is best to send it in via a means where confirmation of receipt can be shown.  OPM is a large bureaucracy, and things get lost in the morass of the volume of submissions.

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 Strategy of Disheartening the Opposition

When Federal and Postal employees who have filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, and have been denied at the initial stage of the process, many are sincerely disheartened.

In my initial contact with the denied applicant, there are multiple levels of reactions, including:  the denial letter points to legal criteria which they were unaware of; it refers to doctors notations which are taken completely out of context; they have completely ignored major portions of what the doctor has stated; OPM points to legal criteria which has been met, but which OPM simply denies that it has been met.

What can be done?  This is the strategy of disheartening the opposition.

In other denials, it is simply a matter of referring to a doctor’s report here, and to a medical notation there; then to simply declare:  You have not submitted sufficient medical documentation and fail to meet the legal criteria to be eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  What can be done?  No explanation; just scant references, then a unilateral declaration.  Again, this is the strategy of disheartening the opposition.  What to do?  Don’t get disheartened.  Respond.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: OPM & the Template Approach

Starting from a template is not necessarily a bad thing.  One should not have to repetitively reinvent the wheel in any endeavor.  It is when one uses a template blindly, without carefully reviewing and evaluating the facts and circumstances of a particular case, that the problem arises. 

Each case in a Federal Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS is unique, not so much because a specific medical condition is unique (although, obviously, it is “unique” to the individual suffering from it); and not so much because of the type of job that a particular Federal or Postal employee works in.  Rather, the uniqueness of the particular case normally arises in the combination of the two — the symptoms manifesting from a particular medical condition, and how it impacts the ability or inability to work at a particular kind of job. That, in essence, is the core of a Federal Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS — the combining and clashing of the medical condition with a particular kind of Federal or Postal job, and the incompatibility between the two.  How the Office of Personnel Management reviews that combination is what is often at issue — and, because templates are generic treatments without regard to particular and unique facts and circumstances, that is precisely the reason why they fail to address the uniqueness of a particular case.  (Next:  How OPM’s template is often predictable and ultimately ineffective in a Federal Disability Retirement case)

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire