Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Agencies and Their Response

Compassion and empathy are commodities discovered rare in form and content, and even scarcer in the wrappings of timeless sincerity.  Individuals in the era of modernity lack any sense of communal obligation, precisely because of the fractured existence which naturally flows from a society built upon independence and self-reliance.

Further, when one encounters an entity, organization, corporate structure, or agency, it becomes that much more removed from any sense of personalized emotional contact, and instead we can deal with unwanted and unwelcome concerns by speaking in neutral platitudes; “the mission of the agency”; “it detracts from the team concept”; “performance-based incentives have not been met”; and on and on.

In the end, it is an antiseptic existence of an impersonal kind, but one which constitutes the reality of who we are.

For Federal and Postal workers who must face the daily grind of working within a bureaucracy which engulfs tens of thousands of workers, the need for simple kindness may be easily rebuffed when a crisis occurs such as the development of a medical condition.

There is, however, “the law” — of Federal Disability Retirement benefits, offered to every Federal and Postal employee under either FERS or CSRS.  Where compassion ends and the law begins, that available option is considered by a faceless entity as its replacement of the former, in order to neutralize the need for personalization.  Utilizing it and taking advantage of that which is available, is all that one can expect in terms of a human response from one’s agency.  So it is that the Federal and Postal employee, whether under FERS or CSRS, at least has the option at all.

It is a benefit which is filed through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and can allow for the individual to regain one’s foothold back into the world of sanity, and perhaps onto the pathway of one’s local community.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Independent Entities

If Federal agencies were created with the proverbial single “stroke of the pen”, all at once, in unison and coordinated intersections of thoughtful complexities, then of course there would be a lack of overlap, duplication and repetition. The essence of efficiency is precisely to limit duplicative efforts. But then, some would perhaps say that it is an inherent self-contradiction to assert that Federal agencies can both be coordinated as well as efficient.

In the disability compensatory systems impacting Federal and Postal workers, there are multiple “pockets” which the Federal and Postal worker can be eligible for, given the right qualifications and by meeting certain threshold criteria. Under FERS, the system of retirement and disability retirement was fairly well-planned (and, again, some would say that such planning was a historical first, in many ways), in that it envisioned a coordination of benefits between the retirement system and Social Security. That is precisely why, in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS, the Federal or Postal employee must also file for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits sometime during the process.

Then, of course, there are a multitude of other programs and agencies, such as VA benefits (for Veterans of the military services) and OWCP/FECA, for “on-the-job” injuries. Each are independent entities, created for specific purposes, goals and targeted personnel.

Over the years, the Courts, and specifically the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, have somewhat “clarified” the interconnecting impact of a decision from one independent agency upon the decision-making process of another, and such decisions should be used in arguing one’s Federal Disability Retirement case.

Benefit coordination, offsets and simultaneous filings aside, how one utilizes the decision of one administrative agency in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, is an important component in reaching the goal of a successful Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Agency Independence

Each agency is tooled with a statutory mandate as to its mission and purpose, and from the origination of the statutory mandate, Federal Regulations and policies are formulated.  The independence of each agency within the Federal Government results in the anomaly of a patchwork of Federal Agencies, few of which are coordinated in their efforts or purposes.  

Conceptually, this is thought to be a good idea — precisely because by preserving the independence of each agency, it can singularly focus upon the mandated purpose and goal — and better accomplish its “mission”.  But the flip-side to the positive consequences of such conceptual formulation is that there is often an overlap between missions, and where the logical result of one action should almost automatically (logically) result in another, such is not the case because of the wall of separation between agencies, preserving their independence from each other.  

In Federal Disability Retirement issues, one would think that where a stricter standard of eligibility is imposed in one agency (e.g., the Social Security Administration for disability determinations), an approval based upon that stricter standard should automatically result in an approval by the Office of Personnel Management for purposes of evaluating and deciding upon a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  

Such is not the case, however.  

Hypothetically, it is possible to conceptualize a case where a Federal or Postal employee is deemed “totally disabled” by a doctor, but still be able to perform all of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job.  Conversely, it is possible to think of a case where an individual is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job (FERS or CSRS Disability Retirement) and yet not be considered “totally disabled” (SSDI).  The latter, of course, happens all the time; the former continues to occur — although, to actually come up with a true case involves mental gymnastics which exists only in the world of myths and language-games.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: The Limitation of Agency Actions

Often, in the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the client will ask the question, “Well, doesn’t that prove that I can’t do the job?”  Such a question invariably points to some action by the Agency — a letter or a memorandum; a statement which the Supervisor made, etc.  While it may be true that the Agency believes that a Federal or Postal employee is unable to perform, or is not performing, all of the essential elements of the job, remember that actions of the Agency can never replace the affirmative burden of proof that one is unable, medically, to perform the essential elements of one’s job.  

One must keep in mind that the Office of Personnel Management is a separate Agency which is not necessarily in communication with the Agency which employs the Federal or Postal employee.  The “mindset” of the Agency is not being considered by the Office of Personnel Management.  Whatever the motivations of the Agency in doing what it is or will do, is to a great extent irrelevant to OPM.  What the Agency is doing may well indicate “proof” as to other issues — i.e., inability to accommodate; acknowledgment that certain essential elements of one’s job is not being performed, etc. — but it does not prove that an individual is unable, as a result of a medical condition, to perform all of the essential elements of the job.  Only a doctor can do that.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Influences

The fear that failure experienced in one path & process will impact and influence another process is one that is often of concern.

When a Federal or Postal employee files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, there are often concurrent and parallel paths which are undertaken — whether it is concurrently filing for OWCP (Worker’s Comp) benefits; SSDI (which is a requirement under FERS, anyway); a third-party personal injury claim; application for unemployment benefits, etc.  And then, of course, there are EEOC Complaints which may be filed; collateral lawsuits, and other administrative and judicial processes which may be entered into in parallel fashion.

Do any of these other processes impact or influence a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS?

Fortunately, Agencies are like uncoordinated hands appended to multiple personnel with different brains and different neurological centers; rarely do they communicate with each other.

Even assuming, however, that some sort of communication does occur, because the applicable laws and criteria which govern each independent administrative process is different from each other, it is rare that a denial in one administrative process will adversely impact a Federal Disability Retirement application for a Federal or Postal employee under FERS or CSRS.  Imagine that — Federal agencies not coordinating with each other.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire