Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: The Independence of Each Program

The disparate nature of each Federal program, with little to no intersecting coordination amongst them (with the exception of SSDI and FERS Disability Retirement benefits in the coordination of payments upon approval of each) betrays the unplanned, thoughtless creation of each program, as well as a sense that each agency wants to maintain its feudal control and assertion of independent power.

That perhaps explains, in part, why each program ignores the extent of persuasive authority the approval of another program should logically have, upon an approval and acceptance by the “other” program.  Does it make sense that being granted “unemployability” status under the Department of Veterans Affairs ascription of percentage disability ratings would only have a nominal impact upon a FERS Disability Retirement application?  Or that an SSDI approval would have, at best, a persuasive effect upon a FERS Disability Retirement?

It is somewhat more understandable that a case accepted by OWCP/Department of Labor would have minimal impact upon a FERS or CSRS Disability Retirement application, precisely because the former is set up as a program of rehabilitation in an effort to return the Federal or Postal employee back to his or her job.

The only true “coordination” of benefits occurs between SSDI and FERS — and that, only if both are approved, and payments are received concurrently; but even then, there are often overpayment problems, lack of the left hand knowing what the right hand is doing, etc.

Thus Coordination and intersection between departments, agencies and various programs rarely occurs.  Agencies tend to want to remain independent.

Such lack of coordination, however, does not mean that the FERS or CSRS Federal or Postal employee should not force a legal argument upon OPM when a significant finding is made by another agency or program.  For, in the end, it may not be the U.S. Office of Personnel Management which listens, but an administrative judge at the MSPB, or a 3-judge panel on the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals; in which case, a precedent will have been set, for all to (hopefully) follow.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OWCP Payments & FERS/CSRS Disability Retirement

There are many Federal and Postal workers who have been receiving OWCP payments (Temporary Total Disability benefits) for years.  Such payments can, indeed, continue for many years, or for a few months, depending upon the length of time it may take for a medical condition to persist.  

The problem with relying upon OWCP as a retirement system is that, strictly speaking, it is not a retirement system.  The Department of Labor can begin the process of sending the benefit recipient to a “Second Opinion” doctor, and the process of attempting to cut off OWCP benefits has thus begun.  

Further, there is often the problem of reliance upon OWCP, resulting in a Federal or Postal worker failing to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits within 1 year of being separated from Federal Service.  This sometimes happens because the Federal or Postal Worker begins to feel secure in the monthly OWCP benefit, and because it pays a higher rate than FERS or CSRS Disability Retirement benefits.  However, one should never be fooled by the tenuous nature of OWCP — it is not meant to be a retirement system, and most Federal and Postal workers who have experienced first-hand the treatment by OWCP/DOL will attest to the fact that they can be sudden, arbitrary, and difficult to deal with.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: OPM Disability & OWCP Disability (Continuing…)

A person who is on OWCP Disability payments — 3/4 of one’s gross pay if married or with dependents, or 2/3 of one’s gross pay if single without dependents – may well find the comfort of such payments and the security of such income to be relatively “safe”.  The old adage that one does not read the fine print during times of smooth sailing, and only begins to worry about issues when things go awry, is something to be kept in mind.  If a Federal or Postal employee is receiving OWCP Disability payments, and as such, one’s financial stability is somewhat assured because of it, that is precisely the time to be considering one’s future.  

OWCP Disability payments have a formal designation — it is called “Temporary Total Disability“.  The focus should be upon the first of the three terms — temporary.  It is not meant to be a permanent feature; OWCP is not a retirement system.  If placed on OWCP for over a year, the Federal Agency or the Postal Service will often separate and remove a Federal or Postal employee from the employment rolls of the Agency.  Once removed, the Federal or Postal employee has only up to one (1) year to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  Once that year passes, you cannot file.  Years later, when OWCP & the Department of Labor stop those “Disability payments” for whatever reason, you cannot then start thinking about filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS. You will be reminded that TTD stands for just that — Temporary Total Disability. It will then be too late.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Approvals & Disapprovals

The Office of Personnel Management seems to have recently issued a volume of decisions on Federal Disability Retirement applications on Federal and Postal employees under FERS & CSRS.

From the calls received from non-clients, and from clients, one sometimes wonders whether or not some sort of “quota-system” isn’t being imposed at the top levels.  Yet, statistically, the percentage of disapprovals v. approvals is not noticeably different than before; it is difficult to determine in any given period of time whether or not there is a higher rate of denials/disapprovals than approvals, in comparison to other periods.

What matters is not the general rate of approvals or disapprovals; rather, each individual case must be taken on its own merit, and responded to with the Office of Personnel Management (or, if the denial is at the Reconsideration Stage, then an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board) in a timely fashion, and in a tailored, appropriate manner.

Each case is indeed “different”.  One cannot compare one case with “war stories” about how X filed his or her application and got it approved “within a week”.  Such rumors can never be verified, and even if it could be verified, there are always individual and unique circumstances which must be taken into account.

Comparisons between different time periods, as well as between two or more independent cases, are never helpful; instead, the focus must be to take the uniqueness of any given case, and decide on the best course of action in order to obtain the one and only outcome which is acceptable for any given OPM Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS:  an ultimate approval.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: OPM May Say So, But…

I often wonder how many unrepresented disability retirement applicants there are who, having received a denial letter at the First Stage of the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, never file a Request for Reconsideration because they believe what the Office of Personnel Management stated in the Denial Letter.  Sometimes, I will get telephone calls from people who want to file, and during the course of the conversation, it will come out that they had filed a few years previously, and had been denied.  “Did you file a Request for Reconsideration, at the time?” I ask.  “No,” is the answer.  “Why not?” I ask.  The typical answer?  “Because I just thought there was no way to fight them on it.” 

I used to be amazed at such answers, but after some thought, it makes sense.  As an attorney, my first instinct (both trained and natural) is to always take something to the next level, with the firm belief that I will prevail just by pure persistence, and by using the law as “a sword” in the process of fighting for my clients.  But most people are not lawyers (some would say, thank goodness for that, we have enough lawyers in the world), and when the Office of Personnel Management writes up a denial letter, then allegedly cites “the law”, and makes bold conclusions such as, “You do not meet the eligibility criteria under the laws governing disability retirement…”  It all sounds convincing.  It all sounds like any further action will be an act of futility.  But just because OPM “says so” doesn’t make it true, doesn’t make it right, and certainly doesn’t make it unwinnable.  They may say you don’t meet the eligbility criteria; I would argue otherwise.

Sincerely,
Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Service Disability Retirement: The Level of Objectivity

I was trained in Philosophy, first; obtained my undergraduate degree in Philosophy; then went on to graduate school to study Philosophy.  Somewhere along the line, I decided to switch lanes and go to law school.  However, the training I received in philosophy — of symbolic logic; of the analytical discipline of evaluating the logical consistency, force, soundness and validity of argumentation and methodology of argumentation, has remained with me throughout my legal career.  In recent years, I have found that logic, validity, soundness of arguments, and consistency of argumentation, has become a rare breed.  Whether this has more to do with a greater lack of rigorous education, or the belief that there is little to distinguish between “objectivity” and “subjectivity”, I do not know.  I do know, however, that there remains, even today, a sense of the “integrity” of an argument.  An argument’s integrity is found in an objective, dispassionate description of a case. 

That is the role of an attorney — to give the narrative of the Federal Disability Retirement applicant under FERS & CSRS a sense of proper context, a picture of objective validity, and a substantive presentation of the issues which are relevant:  medical, life, impact, occupation, and the intertwining of each issue with the others, without undue and over-reaching emotionalism which can often undermine the very integrity of the narrative presentation.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Decision (Again)

Yes, it is a difficult decision to make — to come to terms with filing for Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS.  It makes it all the more difficult when individuals wait until the last possible minute before calling up the attorney (me) to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  There have been a few times in the past (very few) when I simply could not take on a case with only a week left before the Statute of Limitations runs out.  The only thing I can do at that point is to identify which forms to fill out (however imperfectly), and give the fax number and the address to Boyers, PA for the individual to file. 

Remember the important point:  You can always make factual, medical and legal arguments after you have filed; you cannot make any arguments if you have failed to file on time.  Of course, it comes with the territory — as an attorney who exclusively represents Federal and Postal employees to obtain disability retirement benefits (there are many attorneys who practice Federal Disability Retirement law as one aspect of a larger practice which includes other areas of Federal Employment law), I understand how intertwining the medical condition is, with the anxiety and stress of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, and how procrastination is often part and parcel of the medical condition itself.  At the same time, however, I take pride in doing a good job; I like to service my clients; I like to see the successful outcome.  As such, I am reluctant to take on cases where there is very little time to file.  I have, and will, take on cases where the Statute of Limitations is about to run out, but there must be at least some time left.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire