CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Complexity & the Law

The complaint heard most prevalent is that the “law” is deliberately complicated for the benefit of lawyers, and to the detriment of the lay person.  That is the one of the points which Dickens makes in his work, Bleak House — a lengthy work which meticulously follows the probate of a contested will, where the lawyers involved appear to be the only beneficiaries of the central litigation. But that only tells one side of a story.  

Complexities in any issue surface because of lack of clarity; and lack of clarity manifests itself as each case brings to the forefront questions and concerns previously unspoken or uncontested.  As an example — the issue in Stephenson v. OPM, where the U.S. Office of Personnel Management refused to recalculate one’s FERS Disability Retirement annuity even though the annuitant was no longer receiving SSDI benefits, because OPM interpreted the word “entitled” in a unique and perverse manner — could have been left alone without litigation, and therefore allowed to remain a simple matter.  

This had been going on for decades.  But somebody — Mr. Stephenson in particular — decided that OPM’s actions were unfair, and that it needed to be litigated.  Did it complicate matters?  Complexity is an inherent part of the law, and as issues become contested, the evolution of a body of law can expand into a compendium of complexity.  

It is no different with Federal Disability Retirement.  Yes, Federal Disability Retirement law is a complex body of administrative issues; it requires expertise; but if it was left alone, you can be assured that OPM would step over, on, and around many more Federal and Postal Workers who are otherwise eligible and entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits. That is why complexity can go both ways — for the agency, but also for the Federal or Postal employee.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Coordinating the Various Elements

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is important to coordinate the various elements necessary in its core formulation and preparation, to the extent possible.

Aside from simply declaring that there is “insufficient medical documentation” to warrant an approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application, such that one’s case does not provide “compelling medical evidence”, the Office of Personnel Management will often cite various inconsistencies between the medical documents, including comparing what Doctor X stated as opposed to Doctor Y, or by noting internal inconsistencies where a particular medical note states “improvement” on a specific date, and contrasting that singular note with the body of the narrative report which the doctor has submitted for purposes of Federal Disability Retirement; or with the lack of performance deficiencies, or in comparison with what the Supervisor stated, etc.  

The problem with attempting to correct all inconsistencies, whether apparent, minor, or substantive, is that most issues in life contain inconsistencies.  Think about it — in normal situations of everyday life, do people act and speak in perfect narratives, where everything and everybody is coordinated in speech, action and motive?  Or are there always some inexplicable inconsistencies where one simply throws up one’s hands and says, Nevertheless, that is what happened?  Yet, the Office of Personnel Management will focus upon such inconsistencies and attempt to compare, contrast, and form the basis for a substantive denial.  

At the Reconsideration Level, of course, the Federal or Postal employee is given the opportunity to explain or to unravel such inconsistencies; but to the extent possible, the effort to coordinate between all of the various elements should be engaged in at the outset.  However, such coordination should be real, and one should never force an artificial coordination of efforts.  

Truth must always be the guide; but that the Office of Personnel Management, in reviewing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, would also be guided by the same criteria, as well as by a balanced approach of fairness.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Building Blocks

The analogy or metaphor in preparing, filing, and waiting (for a decision) in a Federal Disability Retirement application for FERS or CSRS employees, submitted for review before the Office of Personnel Management, is of a child with square building blocks. If at the first try, the outcome is a nod of approval, nothing further needs to be accomplished.  If, however, a third party (the Office of Personnel Management) comes along and knocks down the building blocks (analogy:  a denial from OPM), then the child must rearrange the building blocks anew, and perhaps add one or two more for reinforcement.  

Thus, depending upon the basis of OPM’s denial (which is often either irrelevant or self-contradictory, or both), one may want to reinforce that which was already gathered and organized, for a re-presentation of both the original evidence, and additional medical or other supporting evidence.  Again, if a third party (OPM) knocks down the second set of building blocks (a second denial at the Reconsideration Stage of the process), then it will be time for further reorganization, and for gathering of additional supporting building blocks.  When it gets to the Third Level of the process, the Merit Systems Protection Board, remember that all of the original building blocks of the process will still be there for the Administrative Judge to review.  That is the point of having the perspective of the entire process as one of “building blocks” — that the entire foundation is still there to be added to and reviewed, in the end, by an Administrative Judge.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire