Federal Employee Medical Retirement: The Bureaucratized Process

One cannot expect any entity, organization, or group of individuals to reinvent the wheel for each product, service or response; streamlining and repetitive conformity of a product, issuance or completion of a case is the way of the world; it is how the Model T became a successful capitalistic venture; it is how China dominates the world of marketing.  But in the world of Due Process, one cannot formulate a mass production of effective advocacy without trampling upon the rights of an individual.

Thus, on both sides of the process of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, each case must be responded to in accordance with the specific, unique facts as constrained by the individual circumstances.

Conversely, one should expect — and demand of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management — that something more than a mere template of a response should be issued, after a careful and thorough review of a Federal Disability Retirement application.

If a FERS or CSRS Disability Retirement application is approved by OPM, then of course one can expect merely a letter of approval which is identical to thousands of others.  If denied, however, the denial letter should reflect a careful, thorough and individualized letter, reflecting the scrutiny of one’s particular disability retirement packet.

Anything less would be to trample upon one’s due process rights as a Federal or Postal employee.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Responding to OPM Templates

One can readily discern a template-based letter; it attempts to appear as if the denial is tailored to the particular set of circumstances and unique medical submissions of the Federal or Postal employee to whom the letter is addressed, but upon closer inspection, most of the language could to interchangeably utilized for anyone or everyone.

There may be a paragraph or two which quickly identifies or otherwise lists certain specific medical reports, with names of doctors and the dates of their reports; aside from such references, however, the rest is merely a template of language which is cut and pasted for purposes of justifying a denial.

Such is the administrative, bureaucratic approach of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  And, indeed, templates in and of themselves are not necessarily indicative of anything negative; for, as reinvention of the wheel should not be performed for each task engaged, so every Federal Disability Retirement application must meet a certain set of legal criteria, and to that extent they are “all the same”.  The problem in responding to a template-based denial from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, however, is the disadvantage one is placed in for responding to such a Letter of Denial.  For, the template can contain multiple points which seemingly require a response, and which may appear overwhelming.

Don’t be fooled.  To address each and every point of contention is often to get mired into a level of minutiae which need not be engaged.  Take a wider view of things, and get some guidance and advice.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: “It May Sound Good”

There is the statutory legal criteria which is mandated by law, by case-law, and by regulatory dictum as to the proper application of review in making a determination on a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS.  Yet, the question is whether or not the Office of Personnel Management has applied the proper legal criteria in making its determination, and the answer to such a question can only be evaluated based upon the language which is utilized by OPM in its denial letter. 

An approval letter issued by the Office of Personnel Management is entirely unrevealing, precisely because it is simply a template letter advising the approved Federal Disability Retirement annuitant of the next steps to follow.  However, when a denial letter is issued by the Office of Personnel Management, often the Claims Representative will insert language which “sounds good” and proper, and even convincing — but ultimately, wrong as far as the proper application of the law is concerned.  For example, OPM may assert with unequivocal brevity that there lacks “compelling medical evidence” in the Federal Disability Retirement application.  “Compelling” is not a legal criteria required by statute, case-law, or regulatory dictum.  As such, it is a meaningless word-usage.

Moreover, it is harmful to a case because it means that OPM applied a standard of review which is nowhere found in any statute.  Further, it gives an appearance of authenticity and authoritative credibility where none exists.  What to do about it?  It needs to be addressed and pointed out — but diplomatically.  Diplomacy is nothing more than a forceful rebuttal clothed in the finery of courtesy, but it is a necessary ingredient in establishing the proper tone and tenor of a response to OPM.

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

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: The Cost of Doing Nothing

The Office of Personnel Management has been sending out a number of decisions, and many have been denials.  They seem to come in batches; whether by coincidence, or in systematic fashion, OPM has tended in recent months to send out denials which fail to explain, leaving aside any concept of “discussion“, the basis of their denials.  

The irony of having a section entitled, “Discussion”, then merely delineating a regurgitation of the “applicable criteria to be eligible for Disability Retirement benefits“, then making a conclusory & declarative statement somewhat in the form of:  “You do not meet criteria X and Y” is hardly a “discussion” of the issues.  Moreover, even in the denials which appear to be lengthy is the number of sentences, paragraphs or pages, the content is devoid of any substantive discussion of the issues.  It is more often simply a reference to a doctor, without any rational basis given as to what is lacking, but merely ending with a statement of conclusion, saying, “No objective medical evidence was provided,” or “The medical evidence does not show that…”  One would expect that a logical structure of reasons would be provided, but such an expectation would fall short of what actually occurs.  The real problem is that, in reading such a denial letter, one doesn’t know where to start, what to answer, or what additional information needs to be submitted.  Thus, you must “read between the lines”.  The cost of doing nothing is to get a further denial; that is simply not an option.  The best option is to reinforce what is already there.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: An Additional Problem with Answering an OPM Denial

Spring and summer are finally upon us; the warmth of the sun finally brings some hope that the multiple series of snowstorms may be finally behind us (now that I have said it, the chances are exponentially multiplied that we will accumulate an additional 20 inches of snow in March).  Thoughts of the beach will soon become visually real, as opposed to virtually experienced.  Sand.  The metaphor of the “shifting sand” is one which is applicable to the Office of Personnel Management in its denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  Those of you who have followed my stream of consciousness on the issue of templates, denial letters and the arbitrary nature of OPM’s decision-making process, will not find it surprising to find that OPM merely shifts, changes positions, and dances around (albeit, not always gracefully) any attempt to “corner” the argument which purportedly is the basis for a denial of a Federal or Postal Disability Retirement application

Do not, however, underestimate the importance of properly, directly, and clearly answering the concerns of an OPM denial.  It is not enough to gather more medical documentation and sending them in.  It is not enough to address, point by point, the basis of a denial letter.  One must corner, clarify, and clearly define the basis of an OPM denial, then refute them.  This way, if it is denied a second time, and the case goes before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board, the AJ will see that the issues previously brought forth by OPM have already been addressed, and that any necessity for a Hearing may be avoided by clarifying any remaining concerns which the OPM representative may need to search for and articulate. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: Responding to the Template Approach

While the Office of Personnel Management issues template approvals and denials, what must the individual applicant who receives such a template denial, do?  Obviously, it cannot be a “template” response, because any response by an individual applicant is going to be an individualized response.  Often, however, OPM’s response takes a shot-gun approach in denying a Federal Disability Retirement application — it uses every device in its template, touching upon every issue and sub-issue, without any apparent (or obvious) rhyme or reason.  Whether purposeful or not, the extent and quantity of reasons for denial become almost insurmountable, and unable to “sort out”. 

One thing that a Federal Disability Retirement applicant should not do, is to take the denial letter to his or her doctor to respond to.  It will only confuse the doctor.  Instead, the denial letter must be reduced to a comprehensible set of criteria which can be answered.  Sub-sets of issues need to be identified and consolidated; the minor (but often irritating) references to peripheral issues, often touched upon but of no real consequence, must be ignored; and the focus must be placed upon the central 2 or 3 issues which seem to be the overriding concerns in the denial letter.  In other words, the denial letter must be deciphered and extracted to be “made sense of”.  Only then can OPM’s template denial letter be answered — with reason, aggressive attack, and a rational grounding in the law.  In other words, irrationality must be met with clarity of mind.

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