CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Refinements

One often hears of a “refined” or “cultured” person; such a description often provokes an image of one who has had the leisure time in order to engage in the arts and of higher society; and the word itself leaves connotations of perfecting the rough edges of a person, thing or work.  But if the focus of one’s efforts is upon refinement at the outset, then there is the danger that the core of the focus will not have been adequately worked upon.

Refinements should come only after the essence of a work has been produced, just as leisure time should be enjoyed only after one has completed the necessary work.  Refinements should not be the focus of one’s attention if the centrality and essence of the issue is not first attended to; and so it is with all things in life.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is important to focus upon creating, formulating and producing an excellent Statement of Disability; expending the effort to obtain an effective medical report; promulgating the applicable legal arguments which support the substantive underpinning one’s Federal Disability Retirement application.

Refinements can be made; but such a focus should only be engaged once the core essence of a case has been formulated.  Leisure time is just that — only after the essence of a case has been attended to.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Beginning Points

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the familiar refrain from Federal and Postal Employees, whether under FERS or CSRS, in attempting to tackle the multifaceted complexities of a Federal Disability Retirement application, is the crucial starting point of the process:  Where do I begin?

The beginning point of any process is important precisely because it determines the tone, tenor, and ultimate outcome of the Federal Disability Retirement application.  A review of a Federal Disability Retirement application, when it has been denied by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, can often be backtracked to a beginning point in discovering an originating source of error.  On the other hand, sometimes (and more often than one would think) the so-called “error” is simply in having the bad luck of having one’s case assigned to certain OPM case workers who are less than thorough in his or her review and analysis.

In any case, it is important in putting together a Federal Disability Retirement application that one recognizes, at the very outset, those issues which are within the purview and control of one’s universe, and those portions of the Federal Disability Retirement application which are not.  Focus first and foremost upon those areas where one has either total control, or some guiding influence, and work for excellence within those parameters.

The rest is left up to fate — or, at the very least, to a good lawyer and sound legal argumentation.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: The Viability of the Case

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the initial question for the Federal or Postal employee who is contemplating such an endeavor — i.e., he or she is in the “preparation” state of the administrative process — is whether or not one has a “viable” case.

Viability of a Federal Disability Retirement case is based upon the supportive input of a treating doctor — whether it is one’s Primary Care Physician, Orthopaedic Specialist, Neurologist, Psychiatrist, etc. Because Federal Disability Retirement is not an entitlement, but rather a benefit which must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence, as such, one must approach the preparation and formulation of the case based upon factors pointing towards the viability of “winning”. There is never a guarantee that a Federal or Postal employee will be approved for a Federal Disability Retirement application.  Each case must be evaluated in light of the uniqueness of the facts, circumstances, and relevant positional requirements involved.

As part of any such review and analysis of a case, one must look at the extent of support one can expect from the treating doctor.  As such, a case will often require some further development; of persuasion on the part of the doctor that all reasonable modalities of treatment have been engaged in; that the condition will reasonably last for a minimum of 12 months (which can be part of the prognosis of the patient); and that it meets the legal standard in accordance with OPM, the MSPB and the statutory authorities which govern such standards — that, essentially, the medical conditions are inconsistent with the particular type of job which the Federal or Postal employee must perform.

Viability is determined by multiple factors — medical, legal, and the rational nexus between one’s medical condition and the particular kind of job one is required to perform.  It must be evaluated with a knowledge of all three — the law, the medical condition, and the unique, intimate connection to the Federal or Postal position.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Problem of the Incremental Loss of Time

This short adage has probably been told in the past, but it is nevertheless instructive and applicable:  In a local courthouse, there is a sign on the desk of the clerk which receives and processes pleadings from lawyers and lay litigants, and it states:  “The fact that you have waited until the last minute does not constitute a dire emergency for me”  Now, from the viewpoint of the attorney or lay person who is proceeding pro se, such a preemptive assertion may seem rather cold-hearted; but from the perspective of the clerk, who has seen many such pleas for mercy because of an imminent deadline, it is merely a warning of intolerance.

Time can pass away in incremental aggregates which become days, months; and suddenly, the calendric year has slipped away. This often happens for the Federal or Postal employee who is considering filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Time becomes delayed in incremental bits of precious bundles, and before you know it, one’s agency has lost any accrued good will or patience, and finances become increasingly more difficult to manage.   Illnesses and medical conditions have a way of suspending time and making such a constraining conceptual construct an irrelevancy; for, if time can be divided in the gauging of events, celebrations, occurrences bifurcated by differentiating responsibilities — i.e., work; chores; weekends; obligations; appointments, etc. — the great equalizer is a medical condition, precisely because whether it is the chronic pain, or a psychiatric condition which impacts one’s focus, concentration, mood, etc., then time becomes a single continuum indistinguishable because everything is concentrated upon overcoming the medical condition.  All that one can do in such a quandary, is to attempt to delay various responsibilities through incremental procrastination.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is important not to allow for the problem of incremental loss of time to impede the ability to effectively and properly prepare and file a Federal Disability Retirement case.  Now is the time to inquire, prepare, and begin to plan; for “now” constitutes the stop-gap to the loss of time.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Pre-Conditional Preparatory Steps

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether a Federal or Postal employee is under FERS or CSRS, there are steps to be taken — not only at each “stage” of the administrative process, but moreover, in the weeks and months prior to the actual formulation, compilation and submission of the Standard Forms, documentary support, writing of the Applicant’s Statement, etc.

As a “process”, one may bifurcate the necessary steps into the following:  the pre-conditional stage; the preparatory stage; the time of formulation & actualization; finally, the submission of the disability retirement packet.

In the “pre-conditional” time period, one should focus upon the single most important aspect of a Federal Disability Retirement case — that of garnering, concretizing and establishing the necessary physician-patient relationship, such that there is a clear understanding of what is required of the physician; what the physician expects of the patient; and, wherever and whenever possible, a continuing mutual respect and understanding between the doctor and the patient-applicant.

This is why the Merit Systems Protection Board has explicitly, through case after case, opined upon the preference for “treating” doctors of longstanding tenure.  For, in such a relationship of long-term doctor-patient relationships, a greater ability to assess and evaluate the capabilities and limitations of the patient’s physical, emotional and psychological capacities can best be achieved.

In every “rule”, of course, there are exceptions, and sometimes more “distant” methods of evaluations can be obtained — through OWCP doctors, referee opinions, independent examinations (indeed, one can make the argument that because it is “independent”, therefore it carries greater weight), functional capacity evaluations, etc.

For the most part, however, the cultivation of an excellent physician-patient relationship will be the key to a successful Federal Disability Retirement claim, and as such, the pre-conditional stage to the entire process should be focused upon establishing that solid foundation.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Process Argument and Legal Conclusions

Legal conclusions are extraordinary conceptual constructs:  without knowing the process of how one arrived at the conclusion, lawyers and others can utilize it to their flexible extreme without any contextual regard and argue with it on either side of a fence or, if there are more than two sides to a fence, those as well.

That is why, for instance, in a Federal Disability Retirement case before the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, one cannot simply provide the Office of Personnel Management with an approval letter from the Social Security Administration showing that SSDI has been approved.

Such evidence, while in and of itself certainly shows that one is “disabled” from gainful employment — does not “prove” that one is eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  Why?  One would think that a higher level of disability determination would necessarily constitute a showing of all lesser eligibility criteria, but there can be the rare exception, and it is that rare exception which the law allows for in refusing to accept the legal conclusion as evidence and in place of the “process” evidence.

First, it could be that SSDI was filed for based upon different medical conditions than that filed for in the Federal Disability Retirement application.  Or, it could be that the particular kind of job, with all of its essential elements, from which the Federal or Postal worker is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, is the one rare and exceptional work which can be performed, despite being totally disabled from all other jobs in the universe of employment.  As such, the context and “process” of how one got to Point B from Point A is a necessary component in a Federal Disability Retirement application.

One must still submit the medical evidence which shows that the Federal or Postal employee is disabled from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  While the conclusion of the journey is important, the process of how one got there is still relevant.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Knowledge

It has often been noted that “knowledge is power”, which necessarily and logically implies, of course, that lack of knowledge leaves one with weakness.  Preparing a Federal Disability retirement application under FERS or CSRS requires a vast amount of knowledge.

After practicing in this area of law for over twenty (20) years (with my first 10 years involving not only Federal Disability Retirement law, but also including a heavy trial practice, appellate practice and employment law and general practice — with the last 10 years devoted exclusively to disability retirement law), the consistent and persistent need to keep updated on any changes; on case-law updates; on nuances of cases which I may have previously missed — one might think that the practice of law in a specialized field might get easier over the years.

I find that, to remain on top of the constant changes and shifts in the law is an ever-present, all-encompassing endeavor.  One cannot, and must not, put a “generic” case before a Merit Systems Protection Board Judge.  To do so becomes transparent and phony.  The same goes with submitting a generic application to the Office of Personnel Management.  There is no such thing — all Federal Disability Retirement applications must be tailored to fit the individual, and knowledge — and more importantly, greater knowledge — allows for such tailoring.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Differing Perspectives

The old adage, “Walk in your fellow man’s shoes for a mile” is a saying which is meant essentially to teach a child (and many adults) to have a different perspective than one’s own, self-centered universe.  In practicing law, it is a good idea to attempt to obtain a perspective from the multitude of differing “shoes” — and this is especially important in putting together a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS. 

The gathering of such differing and different perspectives — that of the treating doctor; that of the applicant; that of the Agency (the Supervisor and the Agency in its determination that accommodation or reassignment is not available or appropriate for a given employee, given the particular medical conditions and the type of positional duties of the specific job which the Applicant must perform, as well as taking into account what constitutes “efficiency” in the Federal Service, etc.); and further, that of the Office of Personnel Management. 

It is the job of the Attorney representing a Federal or Postal employee in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement packet under FERS or CSRS, to pull together the various perspectives; write up and prepare, and gather the information from the multiple and differing perspectives; to neutralize those perspectives which may impact negatively upon the Federal disability retirement application; then to present the fullness of the different perspectives such that it meets the legal criteria and “perspective” of the Representative from the Office of Personnel Management:  that “ultimate” perspective which determines a “yes” or “no” in determining the viability of a Federal Disability Retirement Application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire