Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: The Bucket List

The notion itself has gained a level of popularity which defies the dignity of established social norms; somehow, there is underlying a suspicion that generations of staid individuals secretly desire for things they never acquired. A life of quietude is no longer acceptable; one must now traverse the Himalayan mountains and meditate in the far reaches of unexplored valleys in order to achieve a complete life; and as the virtual world of video sensations require an ever-heightened magnitude of excitement and accelerated testosterone levels, growing up and making a mere living in one’s own town constitutes a wasted life.

Bucket lists represent a proportionality of quiet desperation; for, the longer the list, the greater exponential symbolism of one’s failure to have accomplished a desired completion of life.  Aristotle’s contemplative perspective of a worthwhile life is no longer the paradigm; quantity, magnification, and romantic notions of adventure and comic book-like excitements represent the pinnacle of value.  Until, of course, the reality of human frailty and the mortality of finitude brings one back to the starkness of daily living.

Medical conditions have a peculiar way of bringing one back to reality, and humbling one into realizing that, bucket lists aside, there are mundane levels of priorities which override such artificial conceptual constructs of self-fulfilling interests. Being pain-free; having one’s short-term memory remain intact; the mere ability to walk from one’s car to the office, etc.  Medical conditions tend to force upon us the true priorities of one’s life.

For Federal and Postal employees who have come to a point in their careers where a medical condition prevents them from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal position, the “bucket list” is satisfied with one item on the list:  How best to attend to one’s medical condition.  OPM Disability Retirement is an option which must always be considered by the Federal or Postal employee, whether one is under FERS or CSRS, in order to satisfy the checkmark. Filed through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, it is a long, bureaucratic process which must be waded through in order to attain the desired end.

While an arduous administrative process, it is not quite as physically difficult as climbing a mountain, nor as exciting as diving from a cliff’s edge down a ravine into the deep blue of a cavernous lake;no, Federal Disability Retirement is a mundane process which may allow for a time to attend to the needs of one’s medical conditions, and perhaps to go on to engage a second, alternate vocation.

It is perhaps not on the top of most people’s bucket list. But then, such lists were always just another creation of Hollywood, meant to be completed in storybook fashion by those whose teeth are perfectly straight, white beyond nature’s coloring, and viewed in panoramic settings with a cup of steamed latte.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Pre-Conditional Preparatory Steps

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether a Federal or Postal employee is under FERS or CSRS, there are steps to be taken — not only at each “stage” of the administrative process, but moreover, in the weeks and months prior to the actual formulation, compilation and submission of the Standard Forms, documentary support, writing of the Applicant’s Statement, etc.

As a “process”, one may bifurcate the necessary steps into the following:  the pre-conditional stage; the preparatory stage; the time of formulation & actualization; finally, the submission of the disability retirement packet.

In the “pre-conditional” time period, one should focus upon the single most important aspect of a Federal Disability Retirement case — that of garnering, concretizing and establishing the necessary physician-patient relationship, such that there is a clear understanding of what is required of the physician; what the physician expects of the patient; and, wherever and whenever possible, a continuing mutual respect and understanding between the doctor and the patient-applicant.

This is why the Merit Systems Protection Board has explicitly, through case after case, opined upon the preference for “treating” doctors of longstanding tenure.  For, in such a relationship of long-term doctor-patient relationships, a greater ability to assess and evaluate the capabilities and limitations of the patient’s physical, emotional and psychological capacities can best be achieved.

In every “rule”, of course, there are exceptions, and sometimes more “distant” methods of evaluations can be obtained — through OWCP doctors, referee opinions, independent examinations (indeed, one can make the argument that because it is “independent”, therefore it carries greater weight), functional capacity evaluations, etc.

For the most part, however, the cultivation of an excellent physician-patient relationship will be the key to a successful Federal Disability Retirement claim, and as such, the pre-conditional stage to the entire process should be focused upon establishing that solid foundation.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Each Step as a Building Block for the Next

Of course, the penultimate approach would be to have the first stage of the process in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, to be the first and final step of the process.  But life in general is imperfect; particular lives are generally in disarray; and to expect any administrative process — especially one at the Federal level — to be one of attaining perfection at the First Stage, is to expect that there are no ancillary motives, purposes or quota-driven mindsets behind the decision-making process.

The very concept of a “building block” is itself an interesting one, for it is a metaphor used to convey a sense of progress.  And that would be the key.  One does not purposefully leave out any single building block in the process of constructing a foundation.  Instead, each block is an addition to the greater expanse of the structure, solidifying its base, preparing for the completion such that the end product will withstand weather, elements, unforeseen circumstances and potential challenges to the structural integrity itself.

Similarly, if the U.S. Office of Personnel Management questions an issue or aspect of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application, the entire structure of the application should not be in danger of crumbling; rather, it may be a question which leads to an easy resolution, or a clarification which can be answered, challenged or expanded upon.

That is why time expended at the initial stage of the process before the filing itself — the pre-formulation part of the process, if you will — is important.  Old adages die hard, and thus to be penny wise and pound foolish is perhaps the most appropriate, wisdom-filled statement which proves itself perennially valid.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: OPM & the Legal Argument

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, as with all venues of applications, it is important to recognize who the “audience” is, and to appropriately tailor the submission to the targeted audience.  However, when one engages in an administrative process — which involves various levels and stages comprised of multiple administrative and governmental procedures — it is important to always look beyond the initial audience targeted, and prepare for any subsequently receiving entities.

Thus, because Federal Disability Retirement is an administrative process which involves not only multiple levels of personnel at the agency level (i.e., the Office of Personnel Management for the Initial Stage of the determination process and, if denied at the initial level, then the Reconsideration Stage of the process), possessing varying levels of sophistication with respect to recognizing the applicability of legal citations, arguments, precedents, etc., but further, it involves multiple layers of legal arenas (i.e., Administrative Judges at the Merit Systems Protection Board, both at the appeal/hearing stage, as well as potentially for a Petition for Full Review; then, beyond, to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, where one will be before a Judge of the Circuit Court of Appeals) — because of the potential involvement of many such venues, it is important to prepare the initial stage of the application with a view towards addressing the later stages of the process.  

While everyone believes that his or her Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is a “sure thing,” the wise man prepares for every eventuality, and when it comes to having someone at the U.S.Office of Personnel Management review a Federal Disability Retirement application, it is best to consider the possible eventuality of an initial denial.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement Application: Complex Interdependence of the Stages

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application with the Office of Personnel Management, it is important to recite, note, identify and apply “the law” at each stage of the process, if not for the present, then always in preparation for the future.  

No one likes to think of his or her Federal Disability Retirement application as potentially being capable of being denied at any of the multiple levels of the administrative process; everyone believes that his or her Federal Disability Retirement application is a “sure thing”, a “slam dunk”, a certainty beyond question.  The latter is a natural belief, born from a subjective experience of one who personally and immediately suffers from the very medical condition which one is complaining about.  The former acknowledgement — of understanding the potential for a denial either from the Office of Personnel Management or from the Merit Systems Protection Board, or the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit — is an unavoidable reality to be confronted.  

To acknowledge reality is a mechanism of survival; to deny a potential future event is to avoid a reasonable occurrence which, if not recognized, can have unintended consequences which can result in greater devastating residual effects if not properly prepared for.  Indeed, one should reasonably expect that, with a lower-level “preponderance of the evidence” standard of proof, that if properly and carefully prepared and formulated, that one’s Federal Disability Retirement application will be approved at some point in the process.  

One has many opportunities — the Initial Application Stage at OPM; the Reconsideration Stage at the Office of Personnel Management; an appeal and a Hearing before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board; a Petition for Full Review at the Merit Systems Protection Board; and an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.  

Each stage is independent, yet co-dependent and interdependent.  Each stage must be meticulously prepared for its own merits, yet the groundwork set for the next stage.  Each stage is the crucial stage to win; yet, to cite legal precedents for an appeal to the next.  Never underestimate the potential for a denial; for to underestimate is merely to ask for that which one is unprepared for.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Situational Disability

In filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, one must always attempt to shy away from any characterization which might portray one’s medical condition as one of “situational disability“, because the Office of Personnel Management will not only immediately embrace such characterization and regurgitate it to your detriment; moreover, they will deny the disability retirement case based upon such grounds.  

A determination that one’s medical condition is merely “situational” will be the downfall of any Federal Disability Retirement application.  One can counter it, of course, with amended and updated medical reports, but it is always best to refrain from any such characterization from the outset.  To be deemed and portrayed as a “situational disability” can occur as a result of an inadvertent statement by a treating doctor, or by an attempt by the Applicant to provide some “historical context” of how one’s “medical conditions” arose, by relating stories about the stresses in the workplace, how the supervisor “caused” a hostile work environment, which then precipitated and exacerbated one’s medical conditions.  Don’t.  Go and file an EEO Complaint; file a grievance; do other things.  Leave it out of a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Time

Time is of the essence in almost everything we do.  There are timed deadlines for filing a Federal Disability Retirement application; a great amount of time is taken in the bureaucratic processing of the application; greater time is taken by the Office of Personnel Management in reviewing, analyzing and deciding upon a Federal Disability Retirement application; appeals to the Merit Systems Protection Board require time within which one must prepare a viable case before an administrative judge, etc.  Time is a presence in every aspect of our lives.  But within that framework, a comparative analysis of time should always be taken into consideration.  To “rush” the preparation of a disability retirement packet is often penny wise but pound foolish; care and patience should always be taken, both in the writing, preparation and filing of anything to be submitted to a Federal bureaucracy; the Office of Personnel Management is no different.  Rushing something in order to “save time” is often counterproductive.  To take the time to prepare an excellent disability retirement packet will actually save time in the long run.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire