CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Complexity & the Law

The complaint heard most prevalent is that the “law” is deliberately complicated for the benefit of lawyers, and to the detriment of the lay person.  That is the one of the points which Dickens makes in his work, Bleak House — a lengthy work which meticulously follows the probate of a contested will, where the lawyers involved appear to be the only beneficiaries of the central litigation. But that only tells one side of a story.  

Complexities in any issue surface because of lack of clarity; and lack of clarity manifests itself as each case brings to the forefront questions and concerns previously unspoken or uncontested.  As an example — the issue in Stephenson v. OPM, where the U.S. Office of Personnel Management refused to recalculate one’s FERS Disability Retirement annuity even though the annuitant was no longer receiving SSDI benefits, because OPM interpreted the word “entitled” in a unique and perverse manner — could have been left alone without litigation, and therefore allowed to remain a simple matter.  

This had been going on for decades.  But somebody — Mr. Stephenson in particular — decided that OPM’s actions were unfair, and that it needed to be litigated.  Did it complicate matters?  Complexity is an inherent part of the law, and as issues become contested, the evolution of a body of law can expand into a compendium of complexity.  

It is no different with Federal Disability Retirement.  Yes, Federal Disability Retirement law is a complex body of administrative issues; it requires expertise; but if it was left alone, you can be assured that OPM would step over, on, and around many more Federal and Postal Workers who are otherwise eligible and entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits. That is why complexity can go both ways — for the agency, but also for the Federal or Postal employee.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Continuation of the Offset Issue

As noted previously, the issue of whether or not OPM needs to recalculate one’s FERS Disability Retirement annuity upon losing one’s SSDI benefits should now be resolved.  

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management has been arguing for years, if not decades, that despite losing SSDI payments because the recipient has engaged in substantial gainful activity, that no recalculation is in order because the annuitant is still technically “entitled” to the benefits.  

The argument which the undersigned writer made before a 3-Judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, however, is the following:  How can one “offset” something with nothing?  As King Lear said to his daughter Cordelia when she refused to shower him with flowery praises of love, “Nothing comes from nothing”.  

Whatever word-games one may engage in, one cannot offset an amount of zero against another amount.  Further, since the FERS (and CSRS) Disability Retirement annuitant is allowed to make up to 80% of what one’s former position pays, it made absolutely no sense to penalize the individual who was receiving SSDI but loses it for making too much money, to not place him/her in the same position as one who never received SSDI.  

Common sense seems to have prevailed.  

The security of knowing that, in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the Courts will actually reverse a nonsensical position of a government agency, is indeed something to smile about.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Applicability of the Legal Argument

If there is a legal argument to be made, make sure that it is applicable; further, it is important to distinguish between the necessity of making a legal argument, as opposed to allowing the facts to speak for themselves, and the medical reports and records to establish the necessary proof by a preponderance of the evidence.

In administrative law, and specifically in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the “applicant” (the one filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether as a Postal Worker or as a non-Postal, Federal Worker) has the advantage of thoughtfully compiling the material, documentation, legal memorandum, narrative reports, and the entire compendium of proof necessary to meet the legal requirements of eligibility, and therefore entitlement, to Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

It is essentially a “paper presentation” to the Office of Personnel Management.  As such — because the applicant is able to take the necessary time and effort at the front-end of the process to prepare a compelling case, it is important to “pick and choose” the viable legal arguments to be made.

Sometimes, facts can speak for themselves, and there need not necessarily be a legal case to support the facts.  Other times, the medical report and records can meet the legal requirements, without citing a specific statute or case-law.  Then, there are applicable legal arguments which must, and should, be made, if merely because one should assume that OPM will not recognize the legal requirements unless aggressively informed about it.

In making such legal arguments, however, don’t undermine your own case unless you know what you are talking about.  Better to remain silent on matters not known, lest you reveal your lack of knowledge on the matter.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Legal Argument

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, one must always be cognizant of the “legal aspect” of the entire bureaucratic process.  For, ultimately, FERS & CSRS is based upon a statute, which has been further expanded and delineated in regulatory explication, and additionally, evolved through judicial decisions called “case laws“.  It is the compendium and compilation of a legal framework of administrative law which comprises the entirety of eligibility and entitlement to Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Within this context, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management must make its decision upon a review of each and every Federal Disability Retirement application.  If in any single aspect of applying the law, OPM goes counter to, or misapplies the substance of, the legal framework — whether against the originating statute; in non-compliance with the regulations; in failing to apply the clarifications mandated by case-law; then, a decision by OPM denying a Federal Disability Retirement application can be reversed based upon an error in applying the law.

Thus, the importance of making a proper legal argument in a Federal Disability Retirement application cannot be overemphasized.  As “the law” is the basis of any civilized society, so the proper application of the law ensures the fair and equitable process due to each citizen who fits within the framework of the law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: He Who Dictates the Law…

He who dictates the law, controls the conditions and criteria which govern a process.  Whether such dictation is an accurate reflection of the actual substance of the law, of course, is another matter.

Thus, when the Office of Personnel Management applies their 7-part criteria, they purportedly and in declarative form assert that it is based upon the substantive law which is extrapolated from the statutory authority which underlies Federal Disability Retirement laws, statutes, regulations, and expansive case-law as handed down from the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board decisions and opinions rendered by the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals cases.

Merely asserting that a given set of legal criteria has been applied, does not constitute a verification of the proper interpretation of what the law means.  Proper interpretation requires legal analysis, an understanding of the context of how the law was applied, in what fact-scenarios the law was cited, and an argument as to whether it applies in one’s own set of factual circumstances.

Indeed, often the U.S. Office of Personnel Management will describe a linear state of a Federal or Postal employee’s set of medical reports, conditions, etc., then merely declare that the legal criteria was applied, then (without any explanatory nexus between the facts and the conclusion) make a decision stating that the medical conditions “did not satisfy the legal requirements” — without any bridging explanation as to why such a statement should be accepted as true.

Having the authority to dictate the law is one thing; such authority does not mean that one is right, or that such authority grants the agency any great insight into proper legal reasoning.  Fortunately, there are appellate procedures, such as the next step in the process — the Second Stage of the process (Reconsideration Stage), and beyond, to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement for Federal and Postal Employees: Defining Terms

In proceeding through the administrative and bureaucratic maze of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, one of the most frustrating encounters is the lack of an ability to concretely “define terms”, such that any disagreement with the Office of Personnel Management can be narrowly curtailed in order to allow for a proper response.  It is often contended that 99% of arguments and disagreements are non-substantive.  That is, because neither side defines the terms utilized in the argument, each side will argue at cross-purposes, never agreeing because there has been no prefatory attempt at defining the terms which are being used in the first place.  If you can, take the opportunity to sit and listen to two people arguing:  Are each using terms interchangeably and loosely?  Is person A using the terms in the same way and meaning as person B?  It is unfortunate that there is never an opportunity to have a “conversation“, in effect, with the Office of Personnel Management, before an Initial Decision is made. 

When one looks at an OPM denial, denying an initial Federal or Postal Disability Retirement application, the terms used, the criteria declared, the arguments made (if any), there is never a static point of reference in the terms defined.  Ultimately, of course, the point of needing to “define the terms” comes about at the Third Stage of the Process — at the Merit Systems Protection Board, where an Administrative Judge will be an arbiter and (hopefully) finally force a more stable use and definition of terms.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Law and Language

Language is the playground of the Attorney.  It is the heart and soul of his or her profession.  Through language, the attorney describes, delineates, argues, and provides a sequential (hopefully) rebuttal and attack upon any attempt by the “opposing” forces or the named “adversary” to undermine one’s logically structured application — in this case, an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  While logic and argumentation are the chosen methodology of attack, it is the stringing of descriptive words to create concepts; the sequencing of concepts in order to provide complex compounds of winning arguments; and the totality of language in order to convey meaning, persuade and bring about agreement. 

In Administrative Law arenas, especially in the law of Federal Disability Retirement, it is especially important to have the ability to describe, delineate, argue and persuade — because the package of persuasion is in written format — and the reader (a claims clerk at the Office of Personnel Management) does not know the disability retirement applicant personally, and only comes to know the issues, the person, the medical condition, and the intertwining compexity of the medical condition upon the person, through the words which are put together.  As such, how a Federal Disability Retirement packet is put together, which words are chosen, too few, too many, and what definitional arrows are meant to be conveyed, not only comprise part of a Federal Disability Retirement application; in many ways, it comprises the entirety of the process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire