Federal Disability Retirement Representation: Substance and Process

In any bureaucratic, lengthy administrative process, one can become embroiled in the procedural aspects of an endeavor, and overlook the substantive elements which form the foundation of any case.  Conversely, one can make the mistake of approaching a case and declare to one’s self, “This is so obviously a good case,” and take shortcuts in the process of putting together an effective and persuasive case.

Either approach is one fraught with grave errors, and for Federal employees and Postal workers who are beginning the process of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Medical benefits, first through one’s own agency (if still on the rolls of the Federal agency or the U.S. Postal Service or, if separated, for not more than 31 days), and ultimately submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in Boyers, Pennsylvania (directly, if the Federal employee or U.S. Postal worker has been separated from Federal service for more than 31 days), it is important to keep the balance between the substance of a case, and the process of the case.

Substantive issues involve everything from the factual, informational content required on all standard forms (SF 3107, along with Schedules A, B & C, and the required attachment of one’s DD 214 showing prior active military service; SF 2801 for CSRS employees; and the substantive content of the description of one’s medical conditions to be considered, as required in SF 3112A, etc.), as well as the medical documentation needed to provide the evidentiary support for one’s case.

“Process” issues involve the timeframe in filing a case, the administrative procedures of where the disability application must be submitted through, as well as the myriad of sequential steps required for satisfaction of accommodation issues with one’s agency.

Substance and process — they are the necessary sides of a single, inseparable currency of an administrative reality known as Federal OPM Disability Retirement, and both must be attended to in order to reach the heights of efficacy mandated for a successful outcome in the preparation, formulation and submission of an OPM Medical Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Beginning the Federal Disability Retirement Process

The Chinese proverb, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, is meant to remind us that looking at a process in its entirety can result in self-defeat even before starting, and every daunting journey must begin with the small, almost insignificant, effort of initiation.

Facing a bureaucracy and an administrative process can feel like that metaphorical journey of a thousand miles.  The multiple and complex standard forms to complete; the legal criteria to meet; the need to gather, compile and consolidate the medical documentation into a linear, coherent whole; and all of this, in the face of voluntarily reducing one’s income by applying for an annuity and having to deal with the debilitating medical condition from which one suffers.

But the successful way to approach the entire administrative process known as Federal Disability Retirement, is to bifurcate it into workable portions. The SF 3107 series (reissued in May, 2014, where previous editions are now outdated) is merely informational in nature.  It is is the SF 3112 series of forms which one must take care in preparing and formulating, and especially SF 3112A, which requests for detailed information concerning one’s medical conditions, the impact of the medical conditions upon one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job; and other pertinent information needed to convey compliance with a legal criteria established through many years via legal opinions issued by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, as well as by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Yes, it is a difficult process, and one which can be eased by legal advice and expertise. But as with all journeys, to look upon the landscape and obstacles as mere hindrances to overcome, will serve one better, than to stand at the foothills and refuse to begin the journey at all.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Enhancing and Reinforcing the Case

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, it is often the case that enhancing one’s case, or reinforcing the strength of one’s case, is a continuing effort that can and should be engaged in, whenever the appropriate occasion arises and presents itself.  Of course, the key conceptual opportunity or pitfall (whichever perspective one chooses, depending upon the specific circumstances of the case) entails the word, “appropriate”.  

One should always let the strength of one’s case — based upon the medical reports submitted, upon the Applicant’s Statement of Disability, and upon the legal arguments made — stand on its own.  As the old adage goes, when one protests too much, one reveals the implicit weakness by the very protest one makes.  On the other hand, if additional information is relevant and enhances or reinforces what has been previously submitted, it may be a good idea to forward such information to the Office of Personnel Management.  

As with so many things and issues in life, such additional enhancement and reinforcement “depends” upon the circumstances and relevance of each case.  Too much enhancement may constitute an admission of weakness; too little, or none, may result in a lost opportunity.  It all depends upon the information spoken about, and the discretionary decision based upon the particular issues of a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS.

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

OPM Disability Retirement: Mistakes Made

There is obviously an assumption to be made that if a case is denied at the initial stage of the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, that a “mistake” must have been made.  The mistake, then, is given an opportunity to be “corrected” at the Second, or Reconsideration Stage, of the Federal Disability Retirement process.  Further, if the mistake is not properly corrected, or corrected to the satisfaction of the Office of Personnel Management, and it is again denied — at the Reconsideration Stage of the process — then there is the cumulative assumption that further mistakes were made in the application.  Just as success distinguishes between winners and losers, the general assumption is that a denial by the Office of Personnel Management means that there was something inherently wrong with the Federal Disability Retirement application at its inception. 

Yet, if this were true at each turn, for every case, then there would never be a case where, at the Third Stage of the process, in filing an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, that the Representative from the Office of Personnel Management would not reverse a denial and grant the disability retirement after listening to the legal arguments made by the attorney for the applicant.  Many times, it is the pointing out of overlooked aspects of a case which makes the difference between an approval or a denial — and not necessarily something that is inherently wrong, or that a “mistake” was made.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire