Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Dog-like Loyalty

It is of the old adage — of the dog which refuses to bite the hand which feeds him.  It is only the human animal which betrays the adage; but, then, that is part of the point of the saying, and the recognition of the perversity of man.

It is thus not a wonder that Federal and Postal employees who suffer from a medical condition, remain unilaterally loyal to their agencies, despite sufficient evidence to the contrary and which would easily justify acting in a disloyal manner.  Years of toil and doing extra work without asking for anything in return will not result in empathetic treatment by an agency when the Federal or Postal worker requires such extraordinary treatment during a medical crisis; and when the surprised Federal employee becomes aghast at the reactionary irrationality of the agency, those of a cynical nature will often respond, “What did you expect”?

But the adverse nature of how an agency reacts when its employee files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, is really the flip-side of the same coin:  the Federal or Postal worker acts like the loyal dog; the agency acts like the hand-biting dog.  It is the inherent nature of the complex make-up of the human animal which allows for such contradictory reactions.  Or, perhaps not — it may be just as simple an explanation that there are bad people in the world, and those who expect goodness from human nature will normally be sorely disappointed.

That is why when an agency provides for unexpected level of support during the process of a Federal or Postal Disability Retirement application, we react with such gratitude and surprise because of the exceptional nature of such a response.

One indicator that is fairly reliable, of course, is the wagging of the tail — unless, of course, it is the tail wagging the dog; but that is another adage altogether, for another time.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: A Hypothetical

The case-law opinions from the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, as well as from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, upholds the statement added onto Question 4 of Standard Form 3112A, the form which specifically requests the Applicant’s statement of disability, which asserts:  “We consider only the disease and/or injuries you discuss in this application”.

Failure to identify a particular medical condition can have an adverse impact upon one’s application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Take the following hypothetical: a Federal or Postal employee is terminated from Federal Service; he or she files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits within one (1) year of being separated from service.  While the Statute of Limitations has already been met because the filing has occurred within the 1-year timeframe, during the process of awaiting a decision from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the treating doctor has diagnosed with greater specificity the primary and underlying cause of the medical condition.

In his or her haste to file, the (now former) Federal employee quickly noted the diagnosed medical conditions in response to question 4, but nowhere is there an indication of the newly-diagnosed medical condition.  During the wait, it is now more than 1 year from the time of separation.  The quandary:  The Federal Disability Retirement application cannot be withdrawn, because the 1-year Statute of Limitations has already passed, and so he or she is no longer able to re-file.  No additional medical conditions can be added onto the SF 3112A.

Is there a problem? The answer:  Under this hypothetical, potentially yes.

Even if OPM approves the case, there may be future difficulties if OPM approves the Disability Retirement application based upon a medical condition listed, but resolved.  Care in identifying and properly annotating the medical conditions must be taken in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Importance of Knowing “the Law”

The old dictum that “ignorance of the law is not an excuse” for violating the law, applies just as well in a Federal Disability Retirement application — unless, of course, the entity which fails to recognize the substance of the law, its applicability, and its extended content and consequences happens to be the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  

Let me expand somewhat.  

In order to qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under either FERS or CSRS, one must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that one is entitled to the benefits.  Such proof of “preponderance of the evidence” must be in compliance with the applicable statutes, regulations, legal criteria, case-law (as handed down by the Merit Systems Protection Board decisions, as well as by the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals).  However, when the entity which constitutes itself as the intermediate arbiter of all Federal Disability Retirement applications (it is merely “intermediate”, as opposed to “final”, because there is the review process by the Merit Systems Protection Board and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals) itself fails to apply the applicable law, there exists an inherent problem.  

OPM is designated to decide cases based upon the applicable law.  Yet, in its denials, it will often apply criteria which has absolutely no basis in “the law”.  

All the more reason why, in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, it is important for the Federal or Postal worker seeking to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, to know and understand the law — its substance, applicability, and consequential reverberations upon the multiple aspects of issues involved in a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Specialization, Focus & the Attorney

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management, the Federal or Postal employee will often retain the services of an attorney precisely for the focus which must be placed upon the compilation of the entire packet. It is, moreover, a field requiring specialization, and one which necessitates knowledge of the particular rules, regulations, and procedural processes which must be understood, maneuvered through, and ultimately complied with.

The reason why local attorneys are rarely found in assisting for the preparation, formulation and filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application, is that there are not that many attorneys in the general population of attorneys who have specialized in the field of representing Federal or Postal employees in Federal Disability Retirement law.

This is a Federal issue, not a state issue. Most issues of law require a local attorney who is licensed to practice law in the particular state in which the issue arises. For Federal issues — and Federal Disability Retirement constitutes a Federal issue — what is required is a licensed attorney (from which state is irrelevant) who has the specialized knowledge and focus in order to effectively represent the Federal or Postal employee who is attempting to show by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she is eligible and entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits under the laws governing such benefits.

A general practitioner of law will rarely be sufficient; a local attorney who has never encountered the maze of bureaucratic procedural requirements may, with research and diligence, become competent in understanding the rules and statutes governing Federal Disability Retirement, but for purposes of properly preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is important to have a singular focus upon the specialized field, in order to be immediately effective and be able to have the applied knowledge to attain the outcome-successful end in mind.

Focus, specialization and the attorney — it is a tripartite combination which the Federal or Postal employee who is seeking to prepare, formulate and file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS which should be carefully considered.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: The Connection between the Prehearing Statement and the Hearing

When a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS has been denied twice by the Office of Personnel Management, and one appeals the Federal Disability Retirement case to the Merit Systems Protection Board, there comes a point when the scheduling order requires that each side (the “Appellant” or the one who filed the appeal, and the Office of the Personnel Management) file a “Prehearing Statement”.  

Do not underestimate the importance of preparing a Prehearing Statement.  It is not simply a listing of the witnesses to be testifying at the MSPB Hearing; more than that, it is an opportunity to set the issues, to form in the mind of the Administrative Judge the parameters of what will be proven; an opportunity to proffer and plant the seeds of the evidence which will be presented; to undermine and preempt many of the arguments which are used customarily by the Office of Personnel Management; to argue for the Bruner Presumption (even if it does not strictly apply); and to show how, at this preliminary stage of the process, that the upcoming Hearing is really an unnecessary event.  Thus, the Prehearing Statement, as well as the Prehearing Conference, is an important preliminary step in setting the stage for success in a Federal Disability Retirement case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: The Chasm between Denials

From the perspective of an individual Applicant for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, the individual applicant does not normally observe some other person’s Federal Disability Retirement application, and therefore never has the opportunity to see the “greater process” at work, or patterns of behavior on the part of the Office of Personnel Management.  Yet, there are indeed patterns, and that is why an experienced attorney who has seen literally thousands of Federal Disability Retirement cases over numerous years, has an advantage in responding to OPM’s denials.  Experience lends itself to greater observation.  Experience over time reveals certain patterns.  And patterns of behavior can reveal important principles. 

Certain OPM Representatives provide detailed and (often) irrelevant factual references which can be ignored; others like to “cite the law” and believe that such citations appear irrefutable and authoritative; and still others give scant discussion to laws or to facts.  Thus, there often appears to be a great chasm between the types of denials.  Whether or not there are such differences, an applicant who has received a denial for his or her Federal Disability Retirement case needs to respond to any such denial with a three-pronged attack:  Medical refutation; Factual correction; Legal assertion.  Such an attack will cover any chasm which might exist between the different individuals who send out a denial letter.  More importantly, it will cover the necessary elements for winning a Federal Disability Retirement case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: Learning from Experience

The problems inherent in filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS are multi-fold and multi-tiered.  Even today, after years and years of practicing in this particular area of law, there is rarely a day which goes by that I haven’t learned something new — whether a slight wrinkle in opm disability law; whether in a nuance of a description of a particular medical condition; or in simply how a doctor has described a specific condition and its particular and unique impact upon a patient.  Experience comes from making mistakes; mistakes can be human, technical, or a combination of both.

Unfortunately, for the Federal or Postal worker who is filing, or contemplating filing, for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the process itself is essentially a “one-time” endeavor.  Yes, a person can theoretically file, then refile at a later time (side-stepping the issue of res judicata, which can, in most instances, be gotten around); but for the most part, a Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is doing it once, and only once.

As such, it is NOT the time to obtain “experience” — i.e., there is little room for “learning” from “mistakes”.

There is “good experience” and “bad experience”, but both are experiences nonetheless.  In filing an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, however, it is the former which needs to be experienced, and not the latter, and in such a filing process, there is indeed a difference between the two.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire