Federal OPM Disability Retirement: The Mistakes People Make

The greatest mistake of all is to “assume” X or to “presume” Y; and this is not uncommon, precisely because the wording of the Standard Forms as presented on SF 3112A (Applicant’s Statement of Disability), which is the central basis upon which a Federal Disability Retirement application is formulated (both for FERS as well as for CSRS employees), makes it appear as if obtaining an approval from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is merely a pro forma activity.  

And, indeed, many have informed the undersigned attorney that Human Resources’ personnel at various agencies will understate the scrutiny which OPM will apply in reviewing and evaluating a Federal Disability Retirement application.  

The problem with H.R. Personnel dismissing the arduous and meticulously scrutinizing administrative process as applied by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is that such underestimation is barely acknowledged when a denial is received from OPM on a Federal Disability Retirement case.  All of a sudden, the Human Resources personnel put up their hands and state, “It’s not our responsibility”, when all along they had been insisting as to the ease of the process.

No, it is true — it is not the ultimate responsibility of the Agency or its Human Resources Department.  Yes, it is also true that any application for a Federal Disability Retirement is the responsibility of the individual applicant.  As such, because responsibility falls squarely (why, by the way, is it “squarely“, as opposed to “triangularly” or “circularly”?) upon the Federal or Postal Worker, it behooves one to take the entire process seriously, and to invest the proper time, attention, and expenses needed, to do it right “the first time”.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Common Mistakes

There is of course the old adage (and old “sayings” are neatly formulated, refined over time, and revised and updated for applicability and relevance to the significance of the current times), stated in its variety of forms, that those who fail to study history, are condemned to repeat it.  But what if the historical repetition of such foolhardiness results because of the disparate nature of history, scattered among thousands, and never based upon a common essence from which all can draw?

A corollary of the previous words of wisdom is the following (made up by this author):  Historical mistakes repeat themselves because everyone believes that he or she is smarter than the ones before.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, common mistakes abound, and repetitively reveal themselves throughout the process.  Writing to preempt what one thinks a Supervisor will state or not state; listing every medical condition without prioritizing the impact upon one’s inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job; writing long, meandering narratives; including “red flag” concepts such as “hostile work environment“; simply giving to the doctor the 3112C with the return address of one’s Human Resources Department at one’s agency; and multiple other such follies.  Yet, such mistakes are not only common; they are to be expected.

The administrative process of Federal Disability Retirement is constructed to appear “simple”.  The questions asked on the standard forms appear straightforward, if not cleverly uncomplicated in their very formulation.  Yet, the laws which govern the benefit identified as “Federal Disability Retirement” is amassed in a compendium of statutes, regulations and case-law, all of which have evolved in interpretive significance over many years.

History does repeat itself; for Federal and Postal employees who are contemplating or have initiated the filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, the age-old adage concerning history not only confirms the truth of such a saying, but reinforces it daily.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Misreading the Law

As the old adage goes, a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.  The Bruner Presumption is one of those legal tools which is often misunderstood and misapplied. The legal presumption stems from a Federal Circuit Court of Appeals opinion which basically declared (among other things) that when a Federal or Postal employee is separated from Federal Service for his or her medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, that there is a “presumption” that the Federal or Postal employee is entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management.  

Does this make it a certainty that one will receive an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application from the Office of Personnel Management?  No. Does it enhance the chances of obtaining an approval from the Office of Personnel Management?  Maybe.  

One must remember that the Office of Personnel Management, at least for the first 2 stages of the process, does not assign attorneys as Case Managers to review a Federal Disability Retirement application.  As such, relying too heavily on the “Bruner Presumption” would be a mistake.  Further, to wait for the agency to terminate you based upon your medical inability to perform your job so that you can argue that you “have the Bruner Presumption” would be foolhardy.  It is a legal tool.  In order to use it, you must apply it in the right manner.  It would be like using a screwdriver to open up a can of peas.  As another old adage goes:  “Leave it to the professionals“. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: A Proper Sense of Objectivity

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS & CSRS, one might ask the legitimate question as to why a “proper sense of objectivity” is even necessary, given the obvious fact that:  A.  The applicant is identical to the person whom the application is about and B.  

From the Merit Systems Protection Board cases touching upon the types of evidence which the Office of Personnel Management is required to accept and review, subjective evidence of pain is acceptable and must be considered.  While both of these statements (A & B) are true, the problem comes about when the focus of the discussion concerning the basis and reasons for granting of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS are without a proper discussion of the medical conditions which should be discussed in the medical reports and records themselves.

This is where the bridge between the applicant’s own narrative of the medical condition and a proper perspective and balance of a discussion concerning the medical evidence being submitted, is often lost when the applicant for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is unrepresented, and is therefore one and the same as the person who is preparing the application.  

Some sense of emotion is never harmful; some sense of passion and strength of conviction is certainly preferable; too much of the “I” will, however, often result in the loss of the proper sense of objectivity in the formulation of a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Legal Standard & Persuasion

There is a distinction between the existence of a legal standard and the citing of such legal standard — to include statutory references, case-law citations, etc. — and the art of persuasion.  In reviewing Federal and Postal Disability Retirement applications which have been previously prepared, formulated and submitted by unrepresented Federal and Postal employees, which have been denied, it is often refreshing to see how laymen (i.e., “non-lawyers”) have utilized cases and case-law citations (often straight from some of my articles and blogs) in arguing his or her case. 

The problem with such an approach, however, is that the unrepresented Federal or Postal employee will often refer to such legal standards without engaging in the necessary art of persuasion.  Legal standards are certainly there to be used; however, there is a proper way and methodology of utilizing legal standards, and an improper way.  The improper way is to use the legal standard as a hammer — of stating:  X exists and states Y, therefore you must conclude Z.  The proper methodology in utilizing a legal standard is to engage in the art of persuasion:  X exists, and X determines why Y must come about, and therefore Z should be the logical conclusion, and here are the reasons why. 

Normally, I advise against non-lawyers using the law precisely because of the potential mis-application of the methodology.  Leave the law to lawyers; that is why lawyers are hired.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Knowing the Law

When an OPM Disability Attorney cites the law as a supporting, authoritative basis upon which a Federal Disability Retirement application (in part) should be approved, one hopes that the proper and relevant legal authorities are “matched” with the factual and medical issues which are presented.  When a lay, non-attorney applicant for Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS attempts to refer to, cite, or otherwise “tie in” legal authorities as supporting authority, it is more often the case that the law is inappropriately used, referred to, and misquoted.  This is not necessarily because the law is so esoteric a discipline that non-attorneys cannot “use” the law for one’s advantage; rather, what is often the case is that too much “cutting and pasting” occurs, as opposed to actually reading the cases, statutes, and regulatory references, and attempting to first understand the import, relevance and significance of the laws, statutes, legal opinions and regulations surrounding, supporting, and directly impacting upon Federal Disability Retirement issues.  On the other hand, if you are going to file a Federal Disability Retirement application, and you decide to cite the law as supportive authority, take a word of wisdom from an ancient adage:  An individual who represents himself more often than not has a fool for a client.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement Benefits for Federal & Postal Employees: Knowing your own Case

In preparing and submitting an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, it is important to know your own case.  This will often take some time and effort, but it is worthwhile, for many reasons:  Knowing and understanding the extent to which your doctor will support you; understanding fully the medical terminology which your doctor has used; knowing that what you say in your Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A) does not contradict or otherwise invalidate what your doctor states in his or her medical report — these are all important aspects of a Federal Disability Retirement case.

Often, doctors use medical terminology which, read in the context in which it is written, can be misunderstood and mininterpreted.  Such misreading then leads to a misstatement by the applicant in his or her Applicant’s Statement of Disability, thinking that it is supported by the medical documentation which is submitted. Even if it is an honest error, such a self-contained contradiction can harm a case, as when the Office of Personnel Management is able to point to a doctor’s report and is able to state:  While you claim X, your own doctor states Y…

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire