OPM Disability Retirement: Mistakes Made

There is obviously an assumption to be made that if a case is denied at the initial stage of the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, that a “mistake” must have been made.  The mistake, then, is given an opportunity to be “corrected” at the Second, or Reconsideration Stage, of the Federal Disability Retirement process.  Further, if the mistake is not properly corrected, or corrected to the satisfaction of the Office of Personnel Management, and it is again denied — at the Reconsideration Stage of the process — then there is the cumulative assumption that further mistakes were made in the application.  Just as success distinguishes between winners and losers, the general assumption is that a denial by the Office of Personnel Management means that there was something inherently wrong with the Federal Disability Retirement application at its inception. 

Yet, if this were true at each turn, for every case, then there would never be a case where, at the Third Stage of the process, in filing an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, that the Representative from the Office of Personnel Management would not reverse a denial and grant the disability retirement after listening to the legal arguments made by the attorney for the applicant.  Many times, it is the pointing out of overlooked aspects of a case which makes the difference between an approval or a denial — and not necessarily something that is inherently wrong, or that a “mistake” was made.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Approaches & Decisions

With each case, a story must be told.  If the case gets denied, normally my approach is not so much that a “narrative” must be retold, but rather, I tend to view the Reconsideration Stage of the Federal Disability Retirement application process more as the “battle” to set the proper stage — to either win at the Reconsideration Stage, or to win at the Merit Systems Protection Board stage.  What is interesting is that, within the three stages of the process (excluding the appellate stages of the Full Board Review and the appeal to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals), the need to tell a coherent, empathetic, sympathetic and compelling story of a dedicated and loyal Federal employee who suffers from a medical condition such that it impacts him or her from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, comes “full circle”. 

I approach the “Reconsideration Stage” of the Federal Disability Retirement process under FERS & CSRS as the “center point” of battle, in many ways, precisely because it is the step just before taking it before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board.  It is the place to give the Office of Personnel Management a subtle warning:  This is your last chance before the destiny of the Disability Retirement Application is taken completely out of your hands and control, and placed into the hands of an Administrative Judge.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Waiting too long

My approach to Federal Disability Retirement law is that there are very few, if any, mistakes made by the applicant which cannot be corrected, amended, or explained, especially where the essential ingredients of a “good” case are in existence: a supportive doctor; a position/duties which are incompatible with the type of medical conditions one suffers from, etc.

However, I receive telephone calls periodically where the individual simply has waited “too long”. Thus, to clarify: If you’ve been denied twice by the Office of Personnel Management, and you have a Hearing before an Administrative Judge 3 days from today, then you have probably “waited too long” (although, if you can get a postponement, or suspension of the case, there may still be time). If you’ve been denied by OPM and the Merit Systems Protection Board has already denied your case, then you have probably “waited too long”. Or, if you have been denied by OPM and by the MSPB and by the Full Board, then you have probably “waited too long”. I hope that I am getting the point across by overstating the case — while each individual must decided when it is the “right time” to get a lawyer to help in filing for disability retirement cases, and yes, while I take on cases at all stages of the process, the point is quite simple: It is better to have the expertise of an experienced attorney earlier, than later. In most case, that means at the very beginning of the process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Patient/Applicant

Before even thinking about starting the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS, it is important for the patient/applicant to approach his or her doctor and get an initial commitment of support. For, ultimately, the most essential lynchpin of a disability retirement application hangs on the support of a doctor — from the first and initial stage, all the way to the Merit Systems Protection Board (where live telephone testimony may be necessary).

The “patient” needs to approach the doctor with sensitivity. It is probably not even a good idea to talk about anything beyond the first stage of the process — instead, the focus should be about how “support” for a disability retirement application is actually part of the rehabilitation and healing process of medical treatment. For, ultimately, a disability annuitant under FERS or CSRS is not asking to be “totally disabled” by the doctor (and, indeed, most doctors do not want to release their patients into the retirement “pasture” of full disability); rather, it is simply a medical support of reasoning that a particular patient is no longer a “good fit” for a particular kind of job. Don’t scare the doctor off with a view of the “long process”; rather, the initial commitment is all that is needed — for the first stage of the process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The First Denial

Your Federal disability retirement application was well-prepared:  perhaps it was prepared with the help of an attorney; the medical documentation seemed solidly unequivocal; the doctor made the necessary connections between one’s medical conditions and the type of essential elements of one’s job; the packet, by all accounts, should have been approved, and by all expectations, the approval should have been reasonably expected. 

Instead, you receive a letter stating that your disability retirement application was disapproved, and a “Discussion” section follows, explaining why the Office of Personnel Management denied your application.  Why did this happen?  There are multiple reasons why such a denial can occur:  the OPM specialist could be a person who lacks a clear understanding of the applicable laws governing disability retirement applications (more often than not, this is the case, and what you actually get in the so-called “Discussion” Section of the denial letter is merely a regurgitation of the statutory criteria for eligibility for disability retirement, without a recognition of the interpretation of such criteria by Federal Judges for the Federal Court of Appeals or by Administrative Judges from the Merit Systems Protection Board); it could be as simple as the OPM representative selectively choosing to read the medical reports and records, and disregarding or ignoring supportive portions of the medical records and reports; or it could be that additional medical reports and records need to be obtained in order to “shore up” the application. 

In any event, whatever the reason for the denial, one should not panic.  It is merely one step in a long, administrative process.  The mere fact that OPM denies your disability retirement application does not mean that they are “right” in doing so; indeed, in my opinion, they are rarely right.  That is why one has the right to have it “reconsidered”, and the opportunity to make further legal arguments, and obtain further medical documentation in support of your claim.  And, beyond that, you have the right to file an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board — and beyond.  Never give up; always take it to the next step.  In most cases, it will prove that OPM was in error, and in fighting the denial, you will have secured some semblence of financial security for your future.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Merit Systems Protection Board

An appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board in a Federal Disability Retirement case means that the disability retirement application has been denied twice by the Office of Personnel Management:  at the initial application stage, then at the Reconsideration Stage.  This is often considered to be the third and last try — of convincing an administrative judge (an “AJ”) that you are entitled and eligible for disability retirement.  There are, of course, two additional stages — an appeal to the Full Board and to the Federal Circuit Court — but such avenues present only the right to reverse a decision of the Merit Systems Protection Board, and no new evidence can be presented.

Thus, one might consider the Merit Systems Protection Board as the “last stop” in the administrative process.  Do not think, however, that the process must necessarily be won before the Administrative Judge in a hearing — much work and persuasive argumentation should be made to the OPM representative who is handling the case at this MSPB Stage.  The OPM representative at the Third Stage of the process is usually an attorney; they are competent; they are versed in the case-law — and thus open to be persuaded by legal argumentation.  While the administrative stages (the Initial Stage and the Reconsideration Stage) involved OPM representatives who are non-attorneys, the MSPB Stage involves seasoned attorneys who present an opportunity for persuasion and argumentation, and thus a golden opportunity to convince OPM to reverse their own decision before coming to a Hearing.  Such an opportunity should never be missed, and every effort should be made by the applicant’s attorney to have multiple contacts with the OPM representative prior to the date of the Hearing.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: Beyond the MSPB

Not all cases that should be won, are won. No one can win 100% of the time; think about it — even the best Major League Baseball players strike out at least 2 out of every 3 at-bats. Most strike out every 3 out of 4 times. Fortunately, I am able to pass through a high percentage of my clients at Stages 1 or 2 of the Disability Retirement process, and that is how it should be.

Every now and again, however, a case must go to the Merit Systems Protection Board; and out of the small number that must get to that point, an even smaller number goes before an Administrative Judge who is clearly anti-employee, and ignores the law and sides with the Office of Personnel Management. Fortunately, most MSPB judges are fair and understand that disability retirement laws favor, for the most part, approval of disability retirement benefits. In those instances where, for whatever reason, a case has been denied at Stages 1 & 2, and the MSPB Judge completely ignores the strong and unequivocal testimony of the doctor, then there is still a good shot at winning the case at the 4th level — a Petition for Full Review.

Such a Stage must be approached by pointing out the legal deficiencies and, indeed, the Hearing Judge’s complete mis-application of the law. It must be done delicately and respectfully, however, because you are essentially asking that the Full Board (a panel of 3 Administrative Judges) reverse one of the Administrative Judges at the Merit Systems Protection Board — to declare that the Administrative Judge “erred” in applying the law. It is possible to do — but it must be done with care, respect, and technical expertise.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire