Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Someone Else’s Argument

Have you ever sat with company at a dinner table, and engaged in a conversation where it appears as if you are continuing someone else’s conversation?  Or your presence is merely a substitute for an extension of a previous debate or discussion?  Where a topic is brought up, and immediately a barrage of critical attacks — of arguments you have never made, and of statements you don’t recall disseminating (and where this is only 5 minutes into the salad and you’ve barely tasted the first glass of wine)?

The problem with unfinished business is that the transference of what one wanted to say is normally unloaded upon the wrong subject.  Conversations, debates, forums of intellectual exercises in linguistic battles — it is a rare person who has been able to convey the full force of one’s collective thoughts and beliefs on the matter, and it is more often the case that one leaves with the regretful remorse of, “I wish I had brought that point up…”  But rarely do second chances present themselves in a satisfactory follow-up forum; unless you are the unfortunate object for an unexpected dinner invitation.

In responding to a denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the applicant — through his or her Federal Disability Retirement attorney — needs to understand that the person who issues the denial will not be the same person who will review any additional submissions or legal arguments at the Reconsideration Stage.

It will be reviewed, in legal parlance, de novo.  As such, while the basis of the denial as issued by the Caseworker at OPM at the First Level should be taken into consideration, one should approach the case in light of the following question: To what extent will the Reconsideration Branch care as to the original basis of the denial of the first caseworker?  If it is being reviewed de novo, the approach should be to go over all of the elements — and to reinforce and amend those weak points, some of which may overlap what the first caseworker pointed out, others which may not.

It may not be the best approach to argue to a dinner guest who wasn’t present at the first round of arguments; the points you are trying to make may not be heard because the bell has already rung, and the fighter in the second round has been replaced with someone upon whom you have never previously landed a punch.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Apparent Independence of Each Stage

In some ways, the fact that each “stage” of the process of Federal Disability Retirement is independent from each other, is a “given”.   When a Federal Disability Retirement application is denied at the Initial Stage of the process, then again at the Reconsideration Stage of the process, it is considered a positive part of the administrative process that the Merit Systems Protection Board will evaluate and decide the case “de novo”, or “anew” or “afresh”, without regard to what the Office of Personnel Management stated, decided, affirmed or concluded.

To that extent — to have an independent eye and an evaluation unbiased by prior analysis — is a good thing.  However, when one reads the decision of the Office of Personnel Management at the Initial denial of the application, then again at the Reconsideration denial of the application, it is somewhat disconcerting that neither OPM Representatives relied upon the analysis of the other.  What this allows for, of course, is an independent review by both the Initial Stage of the application and the Reconsideration Stage of the application, and while such independence of review can be seen in a positive light (again, that one OPM Representative is not influenced or biased by the views of the other), more often than not, what happens is that the Reconsideration Stage OPM Representative merely comes up with new and previously unfounded arguments upon which to deny the application a second time.

In short, it is difficult to stabilize the arguments upon which OPM relies, in order to answer and refute them.  That is why the MSPB’s approach of viewing a case de novo is important.  For, by ignoring the malleability of OPM’s reviewing process, one may get an objective and truly independent analysis and evaluation of the case.  Independence is an important component of “fairness”; objectivity is an integral element; and integrity is the filament which holds the law together.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Laws, Facts & Persuasive Argumentation

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is important to distinguish between laws, facts, and persuasive argumentation, as well as the targeted audience to whom such distinguishing elements are being conveyed.

For the first two “stages” of the administrative process, the Federal or Postal employee will be addressing personnel at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  This is merely at the “administrative”, or “agency” level of the process. Thus, the initial review, analysis, and application of the legal criteria will be performed by a non-lawyer, and any application of a legal criteria to determine the eligibility of the Federal Disability Retirement application will be done in a rather mechanical manner.  

By “mechanical manner” is merely meant that the criteria to be applied is merely an extrapolated generic form of interpretation, and will be applied by comparing the “list” of legal criteria against the submission of the Federal or Postal employee.  Whether there is sufficient justification in the medical report and records; whether the description of the Federal or Postal employee’s job comports with the official position description; whether the agency has offered an “accommodation”, and if so, in what form; whether a reassignment to another position at the same pay or grade was offered and declined — and other applicable criteria will be applied, analyzed and annotated by the OPM Representative.  

If the Federal Disability Retirement application is denied at this initial stage of the process, then it will again be reviewed at the Reconsideration Stage of the process — assuming that the Federal or Postal employee files a timely Request for Reconsideration with the Office of Personnel Management.  

It is at the next stage of the administrative process — an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board — that any legal argument will ultimately begin to carry significant and relevant weight.  For, at the MSPB, an Administrative Judge will review the entire file, and proceed to conduct an administrative hearing “de novo”, or “fresh” or “anew”, and weigh the evidence, the legal arguments, and determine the persuasive impact of either or both.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Systematic Preparation for the Process

As has been stated many time previously, in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management, it is important to view the engagement with the entirety of the application procedure as a “process“, as opposed to a singular event.  

The multiple stages of this administrative process — from the Initial Stage of the preparation and filing; to the Reconsideration Stage (in the event of an initial denial); to the appeal to an Administrative Judge with the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board; to an appeal with a Petition for Full Review (PFR) with the MSPB; and finally to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals — it is a “process” because each of the forums or legal venues cannot be viewed in a vacuum.  

While it is true that a Hearing before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board will receive the information, testimony, and conduct the Hearing as “de novo” — meaning, “anew” or “freshly all over again” — nevertheless, it is quite apparent that the reason why such a stage as having a Hearing before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board is precisely because of the evidence filed in the prior portion of the process, and the one before that.

Thus, retrospectively, one must understand that the Federal or Postal Worker who finds himself or herself in any part of the administrative process, is there precisely because of its interdependence upon a prior, other part of the process.  Therefore, prospectively — looking forward at the start of the process — it is important to recognize this point, and to prepare and formulate one’s Federal Disability Retirement application with this in mind:  that each Stage of the administrative process identified as a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS cannot be viewed in a vacuum, but instead, must always be analyzed with a view from “on high” — meaning, preparing for the potentiality that it will be reviewed and heard before a judge.  

This often changes the perspective, and should give pause to the lay person who believes that his or her case is a mere “slam dunk” which will entail a singular event.  Systematic preparation for the entirety of the process is a perspective worth noting, and such notation may be the needed grammatical mark for a successful and persuasive presentation to the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Legal Arguments

Legal precedents are a necessary part of any process, and this is no less true when filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS.  Some argue that legal citations and references to legal precedents are less important at the Initial Stage of the process, but such a viewpoint ignores the fact that preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is a “process” — not merely a one-time filing.  

Indeed, the distinction is important to note, because that is precisely why the entire administrative procedure of having an Initial Stage, a Reconsideration Stage, then an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, then further appeals, is available for all Federal and Postal employees.  As a “process”, while each stage is considered in a “de novo” fashion (meaning, looked at “anew” without consideration of the prior decision), the legal precedents and citations which one refers to in order to establish one’s eligibility and entitlement to Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS provide the foundational justification, no matter what stage of the process one is at.  

Thus, a legal citation argued for at the Initial Stage is valid for the Reconsideration Stage; a precedential legal reference made and argued at the Reconsideration Stage is valid for the MSPB, and so on.  As such, legal arguments provide for a continuum of arguing for one’s entitlement to a benefit which the Office of Personnel Management must justify in any denial it renders.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: OPM’s Specific Denial II

It is important to always “define”, “corner”, and “circumscribe” any denial from the Office of Personnel Management.  If you do not, then what happens at the next level is that it becomes a “de novo” process.  Now, one might argue that all disability retirement appeals to the Merit Systems Protection Board are de novo, anyway.  That is true enough — meaning, that all of the evidence is looked at “anew” and without prejudice from any previous finding by the Office of Personnel Management. 

Yet, there is the “legal” definition of de novo, and the practical effect of de novo; often, the Administrative Judge at the MSPB will, at a PreHearing Conference, turn to OPM and say, Listen, OPM, it seems that the only reason why it was initially denied was because of X, Y & Z; the applicant certainly answered X & Y in his/her reconsideration answer; is the only thing you are looking for is Z?  What this does is to narrow the issue.  Often, to save time, face, aggravation and other things, OPM will concede the narrowing of such issues, and this is true if you respond to their administrative queries by defining what they are asking for, then providing it to them, then showing how it has been provided to them, so that they are “cornered”.  Thereafter, if it gets denied and it needs to go to the MSPB, the Hearing can then proceed with a narrower, streamlined and limited number of issues to prove.  Again, the reason why it is important to define what it is that OPM is asking for, is not only for the “present” case, but in preparation for the potential “future” case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: The “Nexus” Between the Reconsideration Stage and the Merit Systems Protection Board

It is an accepted fact that there is a “psychological” aspect to almost everything in life, and this is no less true in the field of disability retirement law.  The “psychological” aspect is the nexus, or bridge, from the Reconsideration Stage to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  From OPM’s viewpoint, this is the last chance to make a decision on a case, before it is taken out of the hands — and therefore “control” — of the Office of Personnel Management.  Thus, OPM wants to be able to “justify” that its decision was reasonable, and legally-based and legally sufficient to withstand the scrutiny of an Administrative Judge.   From the Applicant’s viewpoint, it is a chance to show that OPM was unreasonable for not approving the case.

While it is true that all cases which come before the MSPB are heard de novo (meaning, anew, without regard to prior decisions by OPM), OPM nevertheless never wants to be viewed as ignoring the law and appearing unreasonable, and the Applicant wants OPM to appear unreasonable in the face of the medical evidence already provided.  This is the psychology behind trying to convince OPM to approve a case at the Reconsideration Stage.  Thus, at the Reconsideration Stage, it is important to cite applicable law to OPM, to corner them into a position of appearing unreasonable if the disability retirement application is denied.  On the other hand, the reasonings and underpinning of foundational bases provided in Reconsideration Decisions are often far more superior and accurate than those handed down at the Initial Stage.  In any event, always remember that there is a “psychological” aspect to everything, and it is the duty of an attorney to identify it, use it to the best advantage possible, and cite the appropriate law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire