OPM Disability Retirement: Language, Truth, and the Agency

Wittgenstein’s conceptual identification of society’s creation of various “language games” is indicative of a relativistic approach to truth and reality.  For, Wittgenstein rejected the classical tradition of the correspondence theory of truth, where language corresponds to events in the “objective” physical realm, and in the course of such correspondence, arrives at a notion of objective truth.  Instead, the world of language is an artificial creation within the consciousness of societies, and is tantamount to board games which we play.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is often interesting and instructive to view the entire bureaucratic process as a kind of “language game” which one must master and engage in.  Indeed, encounters with how one’s own agency views the game, then how OPM views the game, can be quite shocking.

The fact that it is not a “game” per se, for the Federal or Postal employee who is depending upon the Federal Disability Retirement annuity for his or her livelihood for the short-term, does not undermine the fact that agencies and OPM act as if it is just another board game — say, for instance, chess, in the the manner in which various strategic moves and counter-moves are made to try and corner the Federal or Postal employee; or the classical game of go, in which territories are asserted and surrounded in order to “defeat” the opponent.

Language is meant to convey meaning and to communicate human value, worth, emotions and factual occurrences as reflected in the physical world; it is only us humans who create a universe of artifice in which we sequester ourselves in order to torment the weaker members of such participants.  But because language is the only game within the realm of human living, we must contend with the language games played by Federal agencies, and especially the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: To Just Walk Away

One suspects that the U.S. Office of Personnel Management “plays the odds” and finds that a certain percentage of the population will accept at face-value the stated basis of a denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application, regardless of the lack of substantive basis for such a denial.  And, indeed, there will be a segment of the population, within the entire universe of Federal and Postal employees who submit a Federal Disability Retirement application, who will simply feel discouraged, and simply give up.

This is precisely why, in many administrative processes, there is an automatic first-level denial.

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement is somewhat different, and one would assume that there is no internal mechanism of automatically rejecting a submission at the initial stage of the application, because the merits of each case should be determined at each stage of the process.

Nevertheless, it would be “prudent” for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to take such an approach, if only to test the determination and seriousness of each applicant.  This is not to allege that such an approach is deliberately engaged in by OPM; rather, whether on a valid basis or not, there is nevertheless the likelihood that a certain percentage of Federal Disability Retirement applicants who are denied at the first stage, will simply walk away, not fighting for a benefit which they may well be eligible for.

And, of course, “walking away without a fight” is certainly an option for everyone; not a very viable one, and one which should not be recommended.  The sad part, of course, is that the very basis for not having “the fight” to contest an OPM denial, is often the same basis for which the Federal or Postal worker filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits in the first place:  the medical condition itself, and the debilitating manifestations which have weakened the human spirit to persevere.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: The Syndrome of, “I Can’t Understand It”

In all aspects of life, both professional and personal, it is easy to get stuck in a rut where one cannot walk away from a particular irritant.  

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, one cannot afford to engage in the luxury of pausing for too long in attempting to understand the reasoning, rationale, or alleged justification for a denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, as issued by the Office of Personnel Management.  

It is easy to get caught up in attempting to “figure out” the foundational basis of an OPM denial.  One can get stuck in a self-pity mode of asserting to one’s self that everything had been carefully gathered; the medical documentation was impeccable and irrefutable; even the Agency supported the Federal Disability Retirement application by acknowledging and conceding the fact that (A) the Federal or Postal employee’s medical documentation was of a severity such that (B) it prevented him or her from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  

Yet, while listing each of the medical evidence and recognizing the extent of the symptomatologies, the prior surgeries, the medication regimens, etc. — despite all of that, the concluding sentence by the Office of Personnel Management states:  “We cannot determine by the evidence presented that you are disabled under the law,” or, “The medical evidence submitted is insufficient to meet the criteria for Federal Disability Retirement purposes.”  

What?  However, it is best to simply “move on”.  

It does little to no good to remain entrapped in the syndrome of, “I can’t understand it,” because that same syndrome inevitably leads to, “I am going to waste my time trying.”  Extract what can rationally be understood; present updated medical information; prepare the best and most compelling legal arguments, and prepare for the long haul of the legal administrative process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Patience & the Hinge

The hinge on a door is the mechanical contraption which allows for the swinging motion to occur.  Without it, the door will remain in place or, if one attempts to pull at the door, it will merely move towards you and continue to block the pathway.  Metaphors have been created from the invented device — a person can become “unhinged” meaning, similar to a door collapsing, a man or woman can lose the hope that a door represents as an entrance or an exit, to enter or leave.  

Preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS for the Federal or Postal employee can represent that “hinge” on a door.  It allows for hope viewed from a perspective of “now”, representing one side of the doorway, involving the debilitating medical conditions, the impact both upon one’s professional abilities, as well as upon the personal life with its correlative issues touching upon wives, children, parents, financial instability, etc.; and on the other side, the potential to receive a basic annuity so that one may exit in order to attend to the serious medical conditions without fear of becoming homeless.  

Yet, during the process of attempting to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits, because of the long delays, the months upon months of uncertainty awaiting for the decision from the Office of Personnel Management, the hinges can begin to rust and crumble.  This is especially true if a denial is received at the First Stage of the process, because it appears as if the door has slammed shut, and the hope for exiting and entering a different phase of one’s life has been lost.  But one must never lose the proper balance and perspective that is necessary to survive the fulfillment of the entire administrative process.  

Filing for, and obtaining, Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is a process — the First Step is merely that:  part of the entirety of the process.  A denial at the Initial Stage of the process does not constitute an unhinging of the doorway to the future; rather, it merely represents a moment of time when the door got stuck because of the change in weather, where the wood expanded for a season, making it difficult to open it.  It just needs a little more effort, and patience, to take it to the next step of the process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Second Denial

The Second Denial — a denial from the Office of Personnel Management of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS — often fails to annotate or delineate an extensive basis for the denial, but simply reiterates that they believe the original decision was correct based upon a re-review of the application.  

It means nothing more than that another Claims Representative in a separate “branch” of the same Agency decided to support the original Claims Representative in denying the application.  No greater validity is obtained merely because two different people looked at the application, as well as any additional medical or other supporting documentation, and came to the same conclusion.  Two people can be wrong about the same issue, and indeed, OPM is normally wrong about issues concerning Federal Disability Retirement applications, precisely because many OPM Representatives (if not most) do not keep up with the Court opinions and evolving case laws rendered by the Merit Systems Protection Board and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals cases.  Moreover, most Claims Representatives at OPM support their fellow Claims Representative.  

A disabled Federal employee or an injured Postal worker should not become discouraged merely because a Second Denial has been issued.  Being wrong twice does not translate into a right decision.  This is not mathematics, where two negatives result in a positive conclusion.  It is merely the next “step” in the process of obtaining a Federal Disability Retirement approval under either FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Disability Retirement: The "Process"

In my last writing, I briefly discussed why filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is, and must be looked upon as, a “process” as opposed to a mere “filing” with an expectation of an “automatic” approval.  This is because there is a legal standard of proof to be met, based upon a statutory scheme which was passed by Congress, and based upon a voluminous body of “case-law” handed down by the Merit Systems Protection Board and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.  With this in mind, it is wise to consider that, because it is a “process” with two administrative “stages” to the process, as well as an Appeal to an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board, then potentially to the Full Board via a Petition for Review, and finally to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals — as such, each “step” in the process would naturally have a different and “higher” level of the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement. 

Because of this, it is often a frustrating experience for applicants, because a rejection or denial at the First Stage of the process often reveals the utter lack of knowledge by the OPM representative of the larger compendium of case-laws that govern and dictate how disability retirement applications are to be evaluated and decided upon.  Often, the so-called “discussion” of a denial letter is poorly written, meandering in thoughtlessness, and self-contradictory and with unjustifiable selectivity of statements from a medical report or record.  Such poor writing reflects a first-level decision-making process, and can be a frustrating experience upon reading the denial letter.  It is good to keep in mind, however, that the entire application procedure is a “process”, and each level is designed to have a greater level of competency and knowledge in the law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Patience During the FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement Process

It is now post-Labor Day Weekend. Summer is essentially over. The Office of Personnel Management will be back in “full force”. The inclination will be to call up OPM and impatiently — imprudently — demand that one’s disability retirement application be reviewed, because it has been sitting on Mr or Ms. X’s desk for the last 90 days. Be cautious of what you request, or demand — because you may get your wish, but with an outcome you do not desire — a denial. I often remark to my clients that if patience is a virtue, then Federal and Postal Workers must be the most virtuous people in the world, because you are the ones who must be most patient — during the years of service you have given, during the process of dealing with a demanding public, and finally, during the process when you need the Federal Government to act quickly — the disability retirement process. Be patient; thereby, be virtuous. Unfortunately, OPM does not have a statutory mandate during the administrative process. If you must call OPM, be courteous in your inquiry, and inquire only if necessary.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire