Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Process versus Substance

The emphasis and magnified focus upon process-issues as opposed to the underlying substance of an endeavor is often misplaced; yet, the problem is, if one ignores the former, the latter may never reach fruition because it may never arrive at its intended destination.  The question of balance between the two is an important one; for, the greatest of ideas may have historically vanished not because the idea itself was one lacking in value, but rather because it never received the sales pitch which effectively presented itself into the stream of commerce.

Similarly, in a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, while it is important to understand the administrative process of the “nuts and bolts” of filing (i.e., who does it go to; which form is completed by whom; how long does it take at point X; what happens after destination Y, etc.), it is preliminarily of relevance to get the substance of the application in order (i.e., the proper medical report with all of the essential elements in place; one’s statement of disability which addresses the issues of concern to OPM; any legal arguments and invocation of precedent-setting arguments, etc.).

Process gets us there; substance is the “that” which gets there.  If there is no “that”, it will be no use for the “there”; and, conversely, if it never gets there, it will not make a difference.  Ultimately, however, while both are of importance, it is the substance of the case which makes the difference, and the focus should be upon that substance before one’s attention is placed upon the vehicle of delivery.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Targeted Use of Collateral Evidence

Case-law from the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, as well as judicial opinions rendered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, maintain the standard of acceptable proof for a Federal Disability Retirement case submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, for Federal and Postal employees under either FERS or CSRS.

The primary basis for a Federal Disability Retirement application is clear:  A medical condition which exists, which prevents the Federal or Postal employee from performing at least one, if not more, of the essential elements of one’s job; that a legally viable accommodation is not possible; that reassignment to another position at the same pay or grade is not reasonably feasible; that the medical condition will last a minimum of 12 months; and that the Federal or Postal employee must file for such benefits during the tenure of one’s employment as a Federal or Postal Employee, or within 1 year of being separated from Federal employment.

The core of one’s proof is generally based upon the treatment and opinion of one’s treating doctor.

Every now and again, however, there are “collateral” sources of proof which should be considered, and for various reasons, which must be relied upon for establishment of one’s eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Such proof may include: opinions rendered by Second-opinion or “referee” doctors in an OWCP case; percentage ratings provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs; SSDI approval determinations; separation from the Agency based upon one’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job; medical notes for FMLA; and even (sometimes, but rarely) a decision granting disability benefits by a private insurer; and other such collateral sources of proof.

Such proof, of course, should never replace the centrality of one’s own treating doctor, and further, should always be targeted and submitted with discretionary judgment.  Sometimes, it can be the “other evidence” which makes the difference in a case; other times, if used indiscriminately, can be an indicator of the weakness of one’s case.

Be careful; be targeted; use discretion.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Persuading with Persuasive Arguments

The question is often asked concerning whether or not and to what extent other collateral agency decisions can impact a Federal Disability Retirement application filed with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), whether under FERS or CSRS.

The only answer which can be provided is the standard, “It depends…”  The reason why “it depends” is precisely because utilization of any persuasive information or evidence is primarily dependent upon the persuasive efficacy of the evidence itself.

There is certainly legal case-law support for collateral evidentiary submissions, including SSDI, Department of Veterans Affairs ratings, Military Board findings, and DOL/OWCP second opinion and “referee” findings, etc.  Thus, the issue is not whether or not there is a basis for using such third-hand sources to support the primary evidentiary foundation of a Federal Disability Retirement application; rather, the issue becomes one of how effectively should one use such evidence.  Such a question, of course, can only depend upon the particular and unique circumstances of each case, by analyzing and reviewing the strength, applicability, and relevance of the documented information.

Sometimes, use of such collateral evidence can somewhat backfire, in that OPM will actually point to such evidence and discuss it in a way which supports a denial.  Care and discretion must always be taken in using collateral information; it is always the primacy of the primary information which must be used, and used effectively.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Collateral Work Issues

There is often, and inevitably (it would appear), collateral work issues which appear in parallel form, along with the impact of a medical condition upon a Federal or Postal worker.  Such issues can take multiple and varied forms — from actions on the part of the Federal or Postal employee which impact upon the performance of the job itself; to behavioral issues at work; to issues concerning actions by the Federal or Postal employee outside of the workplace, but which leads to legal issues which are brought to the attention of the agency.  Whether such collateral issues directly influence or have a peripheral reverberation upon a Federal Disability Retirement application is anyone’s guess.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, however, it is best to assume that (A) the Office of Personnel Management will know, or will somehow find out, about the collateral issues, via being informed by the agency or through some non-pertinent document which mentions or otherwise touches upon the issue, and (B) that OPM will use it as a basis for an argument that there was an underlying motive for filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, aside from the medical issue itself.

There are ways to counter such selective attempts by OPM to use a collateral issue to defeat a Federal Disability Retirement application, and it is best to have both a paper-trail as well as a clear time-line of events, to show that the collateral issue existed in a parallel, but separate, universe than the central issue of one’s medical condition.  OPM searches to defeat; it is the job of the Federal or Postal employee to rebut the search, and to destroy the effort in order to force the issue, and obtain an approval from the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Impact of Collateral Problems & Advice

The problem with not being guided in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, is that there are multiple collateral, and often unexpected, issues which come up in the course of preparing and filing for the eventuality, which may or may not impact the central issue of Federal Disability Retirement.

Whether a particular agency’s offer of an given action impacting one’s job can be used by the Office of Personnel Management in denying a Federal Disability Retirement application; whether a particular issue is relevant, significant, or of sufficient applicability to warrant immediate attention or a response, can only be determined by having a handle on the larger context of issues.

Much of disability retirement law and the issues which appear to intersect with the legal criteria for eligibility, are discretionary in nature; some have no impact at all; still others, have sufficient impact and possible reverberations such that they should be addressed in a legally appropriate and sufficient manner.  But the greater issue is whether the Federal or Postal employee should simply operate in the dark and hope that such seemingly collateral issues will not come back to haunt one at a later time.  That is the bliss of ignorance; unfortunately, that which one does not know, can indeed come back to hurt one.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Staying within the Acceptable Construct

Perspectives are funny matters:  everyone has them; some are more valid than others; in certain circumstances, the wrong perspective, however, can result in negative unintended consequences.

Thus, in a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS, the Federal or Postal employee who insists upon filing collateral actions against the Agency, while concurrently filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, can have different and differing perspectives for each legal venue filed.  

In an EEOC action, the Federal or Postal employee can allege the multiple incidents of the workplace environment and the hostility, discriminatory actions perpetrated, etc., and the resulting damages incurred (including medical conditions suffered); in a grievance procedure, the Federal or Postal employee can assert the wrongful actions of the agency; and in a Federal Court case, claims of Agency and Supervisor misconduct and their deleterious impact upon one’s career — all of these can be filed, asserted and claimed for, while at the same time have a pending Federal Disability Retirement application with the Office of Personnel Management.  

Each can have its own unique perspective; each can assert a different quadrant of one’s mouth.  However, be aware of the danger that, if a Federal Disability Retirement application is denied at the initial stage of the process, and again at the Reconsideration Stage of the process, and is appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board, the Office of Personnel Management is entitled to “Discovery” of such collateral procedures.  

Such evidence of collateral procedures may well lead to a potential conclusion that one’s medical condition can be characterized as “situational” — and that is a perspective which may well defeat a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Collateral Source Impact

The persuasive impact from collateral sources can take one of two primary forms:  legal or medical.  In fighting for one’s Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, it is becoming more and more apparent that the Office of Personnel Management is taking a very aggressive approach at evaluating each Federal Disability Retirement application.  

Whether this is a change in administrative policy — and no one knows or can find out, because only OPM possesses internal statistical findings of how many approvals versus rejections they have issued, year by year, over the past decade, and whether there is a significant change — or merely a “sense” by the undersigned writer; or, just as probable, there is a growing carelessness and lack of proper scrutiny because of a rush to catch up, resulting from the growing backlog of cases; whatever the multitude of reasons, it is important to utilize every tool available to the Federal or Postal worker in an effort to win one’s Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  

Collateral sources of administrative determinations and medical conclusions, whether they originate from OWCP/DOL Second Opinion reports; SSDI determinations and the medical records and reports upon which they are based; VA rating increases, as well as findings from the VA disability determinations; military board findings; Agency determinations, including results from “Fitness for Duty” examinations; other “Independent Medical Examinations” — all constitute collateral sources of evidentiary relevance, depending upon a careful scrutiny of each piece of such evidence.  

It is unwise to include everything; everything must be reviewed prior to submission; collateral legal determinations should be justified with legal arguments and precedents; medical determinations should be carefully noted as part of the Federal Disability Retirement packet.  Federal and Postal workers who are filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS should use every means available, including collateral sources, both for legal as well as medical evidence, in the quest to win an approval from the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire