Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Watchful Eyes

The falcon flies in our midst; with an unknown distance of its perimeter to prey, it suddenly appears, perched with watchful eyes for squirrels, rabbits, other birds, etc.  Its flight is silent and graceful, and long before people realize its presence, the silence and sudden muteness of wildlife activity reveals the fear imposed by its mere appearance.  It flies silently, swiftly, and with a grace which demands awe and respect.  From its high vantage point, the targeted prey below rarely stands a fair chance of avoidance.  Those eyes are focused, with a singular vision operating to corner, catch and consume.  Organisms under a microscope must feel a similar sense, if indeed they become aware of being studied and prodded.

People, too, who are being surveilled and inspected; there is often a sixth sense of being constantly and vigilantly watched.  Federal and Postal Workers who are under the onerous burden of a Performance Improvement Plan (the acronym of a “PIP”) have that same sense.  It is not a positive or productive feeling; it is, instead, a dread of knowing that the “watching” part is merely a prelude for further actions forthcoming, like the noiseless glide of the hawk above.

Being under the constant gaze of a predator often requires preventative action on the part of the prey; for Federal and Postal Workers who come to recognize that his or her job performance is deteriorating because of a medical condition, such that the medical condition prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management may be the best option and course of action to take.  Because it is taking such a long time to get an approval these days, preparatory steps should be taken early.  Waiting for a separation from service, while still allowing for time thereafter to file, is normally not the wisest course.

As it is always better to be the “watcher” than the “watched”, so the Federal and Postal employee who needs to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits should take the affirmative steps to prepare for an eventuality — that time when, like the hawk who has made a decision to target its prey, the Federal or Postal Worker has a place of refuge to enter.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: The Game of Go

The game of Go involves planning, strategy, finesse, a sense of when to aggressively pursue, and a lesson of when to withdraw.  It is a game originating from China, thousands of years old, yet identical in play and rules today.  It is a game of daily living; and, indeed, even the tactile component of feeling the soft smoothness of each stone as you place them on the surface of the playing board, along with the geometric beauty of the patterns which your opponent complements as you lay your handiwork — all with the attribute of two basic colors:  black and white.

One can always make too much of an analogy between sports and life; fiction and reality; a mere game, and a process.  Games ultimately are what they are:  a play which, in the end, has no significance beyond the entertainment of the moment.  But some games help to sharpen one’s sense of daily living.

The metaphor and analogy to be applied between the game of Go and practicing law, including preparing, formulating and filing on behalf of Federal and Postal employees to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is the need to understand the process; to present the evidence in a bold and unabashed manner; and to understand the “opponent” and what the opposition represents and will likely do.

Preempting what the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is likely to do in response to one’s handiwork, is an essential part of both the game of Go and of any practice of law.  That is why a legal strategy is important and relevant in the preparation of a Federal Disability Retirement application — for, like the game of Go, unless you make the proper connections between the medical evidence, the law, one’s positional duties, and one’s statement of disability, you will be surrounded by your opponent’s tactile placement of experienced handiwork, and find that all of your efforts have come to naught.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Beyond the Bruner Presumption

The methodology of making extended legal arguments beyond the explicitly stated statute or case-law is a natural event, accepted and expected by Judges and opposing counsel.  However, there are unspoken but circumscribed limits to such arguments, and when an individual attempts to go beyond the parameters of rational argumentation, the entire argument loses its underlying credibility.  

Thus, in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, one may argue for the application of the Bruner Presumption once a proposal to removal a Federal or Postal employee for his or her medical inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job has been  initiated.  Such an argument would certainly be a logically viable one.  

Further, there is certainly legal authority and precedent for use of Social Security Disability approvals, and Veteran’s Administration ratings, as persuasive arguments in a Federal Disability Retirement case.  But how far can an argument — often “by analogy”, which has a long tradition of acceptance in the legal arena — be taken?  For instance, can an email discussion between supervisors within an agency discussing and admitting a proposed removal of an employee based upon his or her medical inability to perform the job be used?  Probably, but sparingly.  Can the Bruner Presumption be applied in such a hypothetical?  Probably not, but the principles underlying the case of Bruner v. OPM can certainly be argued as “further evidence” of the agency’s inability to accommodate the Federal or Postal applicant.  

These all constitute the boundaries of legal argumentation, which can be pushed to their limits, but with care and the tool of logical force.  But one must, of course, always be careful — because, to use a tool based upon logic implies that the user has been trained in logic and logical argumentation, which in and of itself is a discipline sorely lacking in many people, including many attorneys.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Argument by Analogy

Attorneys argue “by analogy” all of the time; cases and decisions from the Merit Systems Protection Board, and language from the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, provide the fertile fodder for such argumentation.  Thus, such issues as to whether the Bruner Presumption should apply in the case; whether a case is similar to previously-decided Federal Disability Retirement cases; the similarity of fact-scenarios and legal applications — they are all open to argument by analogy.  That is why case-citations are important — even in arguing a Federal Disability Retirement case to the Office of Personnel Management.  Whether and how much influence such legal argumentation can have at the first two stages of the disability retirement application process, may be open to dispute; but cases should never be compiled and prepared for the first or second stage alone; all disability retirement applications should be prepared “as if” it will be denied and will be presented on appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  Such careful preparation serves two (2) purposes:  First, for the Office of Personnel Management, to let them know that if they deny it and it goes on appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, they will have to answer to the scrutiny of the Administrative Law Judge; and Second, for the Administrative Law Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board, to let him or her know that you did indeed prepare the case well, and that your particular Federal Disability Retirement application conforms to the law, and should therefore be approved.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Using the Law

The growing body of law is a pliable, ever-changing process, and where appropriate, it is the implied duty of the attorney to apply arguments and persuade by analogy. Sometimes, actions by agencies which, in one particular context, may be deemed as a negative factor, yet in the context of filing for disability retirement, it can be turned around and applied as “proof-positive” that, indeed, it only further shows that one’s medical condition has impacted one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job.

Thus, while an employee may be placed upon a PIP (“Performance Improvement Plan”) or placed on LWOP and subsequently terminated and separated from federal service based upon unacceptable attendance (and in such termination cases, perhaps the Bruner Presumption would not be applied in a technical sense), it is appropriate to argue to the Office of Personnel Management, and further, to the Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board, that while the technical application of the Bruner Presumption may not apply, nevertheless, such Agency actions are indicators of the acknowledgment and concession, that the employee suffered from a medical condition, that the medical condition indeed impacted his or her ability to perform the essential elements of the job, and that is why unacceptable attendance and/or a PIP plan was initiated. Negative agency actions, in the context of applying for disability retirement, must be interpreted and argued in the best light possible, in each instance.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire