OPM FERS/CSRS Disability Retirement: Until Sickness, Death or Getting Fat

It was once that marriage vows were viewed as sacrosanct; inviolable promises made, endured through hardship, bilaterally seen as a partnership made in heaven.

Then, of course, “no fault” divorces became the fashion; fashion itself (or lack thereof) was a grounds for de-coupling or un-coupling (it is difficult to keep up with the modern vernacular and introduction of new-age language); and so people began to “drift apart” and expunge from such eternal vows undesirable concepts such as “death” or “sickness” (for, as marriage ceremonies are supposed to be “happy” occasions, why insert such negative vibes into the mix?), but implicitly left in the ultimate ground and justification: getting fat (or old, or ugly).

A parallel approach is often taken in the employment arena: your loyalty is expected, but if you fail to produce, you can be terminated.  Whether such pervasive attitudes become commonplace because of the “throw-away” nature of goods purchased and items sold in the universe of commerce, is for social anthropologists to debate; the fact is, the issue can be viewed from both sides: from the employer’s perspective, too many employees jump ship soon after being trained and invested, seeking other opportunities and offers.

But that leaves us in the state of our being and choosing: both in family life and in careers, the fickle and unsteady nature of either reflects the very society in which we participate.

Businesses are rarely run like families — or, perhaps a truer statement these days is that, yes, they are run exactly like families, and quick divorces for the most spurious of reasons are sought and attained.  For the Federal and Postal Worker who finds him/herself with a medical condition, such that the medical condition prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, there is a price to pay for being a part of such a fickle system.

Federal employment is merely a microcosm of the greater system of employment encompassing Federal, State and private-sector economies; loyalty is no more precious in one sector than another.

From the Federal or Postal employee’s perspective, Federal Disability Retirement benefits must be an option which should be considered when a medical condition begins to impact one’s ability to perform all of the essential elements of one’s job.  From the Federal agency’s perspective, Federal Disability Retirement should be viewed as part of the larger promise of Federal employment benefits contractually offered, and when one partakes of accessing the promise, there should not be any grumbling, complaining, or retribution and retaliatory measures invoked.

But somehow, reality rarely follows the path of rationality.  As such, just as in messy divorces and other venues of uncoupling, one should always be cautious in whom to confide in, what to say, and when to reveal.  Federal Disability Retirement is a benefit accorded to all Federal and Postal employees, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS or CSRS, and is sought and obtained through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

While not as sacrosanct as marriage vows of yore, it is also not as fickle or easy to get because one has gained a little weight over the years. As such, any such attempt to file for OPM Disability Retirement benefits should be taken seriously and with deliberate care; sort of like what one should do before heading off to Las Vegas for a quick coupling, or uncoupling, whichever the case may be.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Agency Actions I

Can adverse agency actions to terminate a Federal employee impact a potential disability retirement application?  The short answer is “yes”, but the longer answer would have to consider multiple factors:  what is the underlying basis of the adverse action?  Does a person’s medical conditions (often psychiatric, cognitive dysfunctions impacting upon less than stellar performance ratings, or perhaps impacting upon the essential elements of one’s job in other ways) explain, in whole or in part, the “adverse” nature of the action?  Has there been a “paper trail” established with respect to informing the Agency of medical conditions, such that it can “explain” — again, in whole or in part — the apparent basis of the adverse action?  Is the Agency open to negotiating a material change in the proposed removal — i.e., from one which is adversarial (and therefore would be appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board) to one based upon one’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job (with a stipulation that no appeal will be filed, thereby saving the Agency’s time, resource, and personnel).  It is important to “get involved” in the process of any contemplated Agency action — early.  If the Agency puts an employee on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), it is time — in fact, overdue — to become active in the future plans for filing a disability retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Proper Response to the Agency

It is often difficult to inform an Agency of one’s decision to file for disability retirement. On the one hand, it is often a place where a Federal Employee has spent many years working for; with multiple years of interaction, both good and bad, it is a place which has grown to play a prominent role in the employee’s daily life, with necessary interpersonal infusions of personalities, playing such an influence as important as one’s personal family life — and, because a person may spend 8 – 10 hours a day, week after week, month after month, like life in a family, it has come to embrace a place of primary importance in one’s life. As such, to inform such a place of one’s decision to file for disability retirement is, in effect, to inform them of one’s separation from that primary location of importance. Such separation can be as psychologically devastating as a “divorce” which, in many respects, it is similar to. That is often why the role of an attorney can be important. An attorney can be a “middle-man”, an arbiter to soften the strain of such a separation from a federal employee from his or her “family”. Remember, this is an administrative process; it need not be an adversarial process. An attorney experienced in disability retirement law should know the process, and act to soften the separation which has been long in coming, and work to garner a sense of “teamwork” between Agency and employee, to attain as amicable a separation as possible.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill,Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: The Proper Paradigm

Whether we like to admit it or not, we all operate, in all segments of our lives, from a certain “paradigm” (reference Thomas Kuhn, Structures of Scientific Revolutions) or “world-view”. When it comes to Federal Disability Retirements, the majority of Federal and Postal workers who comes to me have a pre-formed, generally negative attitude about the chances of getting it. This is because they have heard too many horror stories; or they have had horrendous experiences with OWCP filings, or EEOC complaints, or other experiences which they then relate to how the disability retirement process must be.

Yet, all Federal and Postal employees must understand that the process of Federal Disability Retirement has many, many inherent advantages which make it different from other processes. For instance, the Merit System Protection Board has often observed, with respect to disability retirement, that it is distinguishable from other processes, because it is not — strictly speaking — an adversarial process between an agency and an employee; rather, the MSPB sees it simply as a single issue — that of an employee’s entitlement to disability retirement.

Further, the role of the Office of Personnel Management, while seemingly one of making things overly difficult for the individual, in reality has a very difficult time in ultimately justifying a denial. Why? Because they do not have a right to have a doctor of their own to examine the applicant/patient (note the difference with OWCP, where you can be sent to second, third, and sometimes fourth medical opinions by doctors chosen by DOL and paid by DOL). Thus, it is almost as if OPM must disprove a case filed by an applicant. Finally, it is difficult to attack a treating doctor of an applicant, unless there is something seriously wrong with the credentials or competence of the treating doctor. All in all, disability retirement for Federal and Postal Workers is a fair process — one which is a valuable benefit for the Federal and Postal Employee.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: The Role of the Attorney

Obviously, as with all areas of law, the primary role of an attorney in representing a Federal disability retirement applicant (aside from the obvious role of obtaining the disability retirement annuity), is to render useful and effective advice in the representation of the Applicant’s submission before the Office of Personnel Management.

Often, however, in the process of performing such a role, engagement with the Federal or Postal employee’s Agency and supervisor is inevitable and necessary. The timing of such an engagement is crucial. Attorneys need to be careful that his or her representation is not only rendering good advice; further, it needs to be effective.

As hard as it is for an attorney to admit, sometimes it is better for a federal disability attorney to take a “back-seat” role, and quietly advise the client but allow the client to deal with the Agency. Indeed, an Agency will often begin to act irrationally, unnecessarily confrontationally, and further, complicate matters by involving their Agency counsel in the matter. In such a simple matter as informing the Agency that the employee is in the process of preparing a disability retirement application — sometimes it is better for the employee to bring it up with his or her supervisor, without the direct involvement of the attorney, especially if the Federal employee has a good working relationship with the Supervisor. Part of the job of the Attorney is to render good advice — and that sometimes means, taking a back seat.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire