OPM Disability Retirement: Power, Persuasion and the Legal Argument

FERS & CSRS Disability retirement is no different, in kind, than other areas of law which intersect with individuals and personalities.  As an area of administrative law, and specifically, where a government entity (the U.S. Office of Personnel Management) is involved, the Federal or Postal worker must encounter an agency which is large, powerful, and often immovable (sort of like Aristotle’s Primum movens, or the Prime Mover).  

The singular Federal or Postal worker may find the encounter with the Federal government to be a daunting, almost insurmountable task.  It is the classic meeting of two unequal forces; and, as such, there is always a question as to who will prevail.  

Fortunately, however, there are some mechanisms in place which allow for persuasive argumentation.  If a Federal Disability Retirement application is denied at the First Stage of the administrative process, then there is the Second, or Reconsideration Stage of the process, which places the disability retirement application in the hands of a different OPM case worker, in a different section.  If it gets rejected a second time, then it is taken entirely out of the hands of OPM, and will be placed before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Throughout the entire process, however, the Federal or Postal worker may feel lonely, small and irrelevant.  That is why the Federal or Postal worker who is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement must engage in substantive and persuasive legal argumentation.  Persuasion is the key where power is unavailable.  It is OPM which has the power; it is the Federal or Postal Worker who has the persuasive tools, and must use them to his or her advantage as the law allows.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Overwhelming Resources of the Bureaucracy

The advantage which the U.S. Office of Personnel Management has over the individual Federal or Postal disability applicant in a Federal Disability Retirement application is self-evident:  they control the timeframe of the decision; they are not subject to any repercussions or consequences for a decision contrary to law; they possess multiple templates in disapproving a Federal Disability Retirement application, and a single template upon approving a Federal Disability Retirement case, thereby making it administratively easy, simple, and without the necessity of expending much effort, either way.

For the Federal or Postal employee who is contemplating preparing, formulating or filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is a daunting task to go up against such a behemoth of a Federal administrative bureaucracy.

Indeed, one only needs to review a denial letter from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to comprehend the near-impossible obstacle which OPM can present:  in some denials, there is merely a brusque and short “discussion”, barely touching upon providing any rational reason for a denial; yet, in other denials, there are long and detailed templates — however erroneous or misplaced, and however lacking of any legal or factual basis — which purportedly “explains” the legal basis of the denial.  In either case, OPM has the “upper hand”, at least for that time and stage, because it is merely kicked-up to the next Stage in the process, and handed over to another OPM employee.

Against such an entity, it is important to be prepared with knowledge, legal tools, and the ability to cut through the administrative nonsense which passes for legal authority.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Regardless

It matters not for a bureaucracy, as to which Party occupies the executive or legislative branches of government (regardless — and we shall refrain from irritating those linguistic perfectionists who would vociferously object to inserting the term, “irregardless”, which is a meaningless but playfully interesting word, employing a double-negative and thus leaving one with the originating root word of “regard” — the bureaucracy of any administration will proceed uninterrupted).

A recent statement foretold of a truism before and after this election:  whoever wins, one thing will be certain:  government will continue to expand, and the bureaucracy will persistently chug along.

Often, people start, stop, or continue projects, initiate necessary actions, etc., based upon what someone else decides to do or not do, by depending upon an act or event outside of one’s control.  What one must understand, however, is that the bureaucracy of any government will continue to operate, regardless of any changes at the top.

As such, for Federal or Postal workers who are contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is best to ignore outside, third-party actions, in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  To depend upon the actions of others outside of one’s control will only lead to frustration and loss of time.  Affirmatively prove your case, and file when it is time to file.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: The Bureaucratized Process

One cannot expect any entity, organization, or group of individuals to reinvent the wheel for each product, service or response; streamlining and repetitive conformity of a product, issuance or completion of a case is the way of the world; it is how the Model T became a successful capitalistic venture; it is how China dominates the world of marketing.  But in the world of Due Process, one cannot formulate a mass production of effective advocacy without trampling upon the rights of an individual.

Thus, on both sides of the process of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, each case must be responded to in accordance with the specific, unique facts as constrained by the individual circumstances.

Conversely, one should expect — and demand of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management — that something more than a mere template of a response should be issued, after a careful and thorough review of a Federal Disability Retirement application.

If a FERS or CSRS Disability Retirement application is approved by OPM, then of course one can expect merely a letter of approval which is identical to thousands of others.  If denied, however, the denial letter should reflect a careful, thorough and individualized letter, reflecting the scrutiny of one’s particular OPM Disability Retirement packet.

Anything less would be to trample upon one’s due process rights as a Federal or Postal employee.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Power and Responsibility

It has often been stated that, when an individual possesses the power to do X, there falls upon the individual the concomitant need to exercise such power with responsibility.  Thus, the shortened statement, “With power comes responsibility”.

In applying for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the Federal and Postal employee quickly realizes that the entity which holds all of the “power” in the administrative, bureaucratic process, is the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  Like any large organization, OPM is possessed with a variety of individuals, each exhibiting differing facets of personalities and approaches.  Such variations, however, should of course be veiled by a veneer of professionalism, and the power which they hold — of determining the approval or denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application — is indeed extensive as it applies and impacts the Federal or Postal employee who has made the application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

The “power” which OPM holds extends not only to the approval or denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application, but moreover, to the length of time a person must wait for the decision, and then even after a decision, how long before payments will be initiated.

The “responsibility” portion of the equation involves and encapsulates the application of a fair and equitable review of one’s application; a thorough reading of the medical reports and records; and an objective analysis of the applicant’s statement of disability, the comparison to the position description, and a comprehensive understanding of the doctor’s reports.

That OPM holds the former (power) is unquestioned; that they exercise the latter (responsibility) is sometimes in question, but fortunately, there are different levels of appeals, and it is the administrative process as a whole which continues to retain its integrity, and for that, we may all be thankful.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Double Standards

Double Standards have always been applied throughout history; it is the mark of a bureaucracy and administrative process to apply one set of standards (normally, the prevailing legal criteria) upon the population at large, but be satisfied with an application of a different (albeit normally a less onerous) set of standards (a “watered down version”?) upon itself.  

Thus, in a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS, there are multiple self-contradictions and conundrums which cannot ultimately be reconciled, but must be lived with, but perhaps pointed out to the Office of Personnel Management in one’s rebuttal arguments.  For instance, when a denial is received from the Office of Personnel Management, the set of legal standards applied in the denial letter will often require multiple criteria which fails to comply with the substance of the law.  Thus, for example, the insistence upon “objective” medical testing; higher standards of proof than the prevailing “preponderance of the evidence”, such as “compelling evidence”; a medical condition which keeps a person “out of the workplace”; and other such standards which are nowhere to be found in “the law“.  

In parallel fashion, the Office of Personnel Management will often rely (without directly stating so or quoting from their “expert” source) upon “contract doctors” to render an opinion.  The puzzling contradiction here, of course, is the fact that while the law favors “treating doctors” and the opinions of treating doctors, nevertheless, if a “contract doctor” who merely reviews the medical documentation renders a negative conclusion, then OPM will rely upon that negative conclusion as opposed to the treating doctor’s opinion.  

Such is the world of bureaucracies, the the beauty of double standards:  from OPM’s viewpoint, it is merely the ability to assert power and authority, as OPM is the “arbiter” of all Federal Disability Retirement applications for Federal and Postal employees, whether under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Choosing the Medical Conditions

Often, in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, the question is asked as to which medical conditions should be included in a Federal Disability Retirement application.  The obvious answer, of course, is to identify the “most serious” of the medical conditions, with a secondary consideration being the ones which impact one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job.  

Whether to list “all of them” is a separate question, and then there are the subtleties which further delve into a more detailed analysis of the creation of an effective nexus between one’s medical conditions, the job description which one is supposed to be doing, and the provability of the medical conditions identified and described.  

Inasmuch as a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is a “paper presentation” to the Office of Personnel Management (and yes, the concept of a “paper presentation” still applies even if and when OPM converts entirely to the technological next-step of a paperless system; the Federal or Postal employee must still present a formatted application), the admixture of legal and medical issues will ultimately come about.  

The conceptual distinction between the diagnosis and the symptomatologies; the extent of willingness of what a treating doctor will state; the concordance between the diagnosis, the symptoms described, and their impact upon the particular elements of one’s position description; the potential impact of being found “disabled” by the Office of Personnel Management based upon a “minor” medical condition which may resolve itself in the future, as opposed to a more serious-listed one; the nebulous areas of “syndromes” (as in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and the description of symptoms and making sure to relate the symptoms to a particular medical condition — these are all “subtleties” which involve an intersection between the legal standard of proof and the medical “facts”, in formulating a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  But that it were as easy as simply listing one’s medical conditions.  But, alas, OPM is a Federal bureaucracy, and the combination of “the law” and “a bureaucracy” can only lead to one result:  a conundrum.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Time

Attempting to order life in accordance with a schedule which one has manufactured is often an impossible task to perform; when dealing with a Federal bureaucracy, it is moreover an unwise thing to attempt.  

Preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS necessarily and inherently takes time.  In addition to time, it requires foresight into possible delays, both predictable as well as unintended.  While a general timeline of 8 – 10 months from the start of the process (meaning, the initial gather of the medical documentation and narrative reports, compiling the evidentiary documentation necessary to prepare a case; formulation of the Applicant’s Statement of Disability, etc.) to the time when an approval letter is issued by the Office of Personnel Management in response to the First or Initial Stage of the Process, is a realistic assessment of the time involved, there are multiple events, issues and intervening pitfalls which can interrupt and disrupt such a generalization.  

A cushion of time should always be considered.  More than that, however, the Federal or Postal employee who becomes frustrated with the lengthy process avoids thinking about the months and months of delay and procrastination which was engaged in at the “front end” of the entire process — where, for months and months, the Federal or Postal employee kept putting off starting the process to begin with.  

Remember that preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is a process involving a Federal bureaucracy and, as such, the inevitable virtue of patience must be stored in plentiful quantities, to be harvested during the waiting time.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement for Federal and Postal Employees: Defining Terms

In proceeding through the administrative and bureaucratic maze of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS, one of the most frustrating encounters is the lack of an ability to concretely “define terms”, such that any disagreement with the Office of Personnel Management can be narrowly curtailed in order to allow for a proper response.  It is often contended that 99% of arguments and disagreements are non-substantive.  That is, because neither side defines the terms utilized in the argument, each side will argue at cross-purposes, never agreeing because there has been no prefatory attempt at defining the terms which are being used in the first place.  If you can, take the opportunity to sit and listen to two people arguing:  Are each using terms interchangeably and loosely?  Is person A using the terms in the same way and meaning as person B?  It is unfortunate that there is never an opportunity to have a “conversation“, in effect, with the Office of Personnel Management, before an Initial Decision is made. 

When one looks at an OPM denial, denying an initial Federal or Postal Disability Retirement application, the terms used, the criteria declared, the arguments made (if any), there is never a static point of reference in the terms defined.  Ultimately, of course, the point of needing to “define the terms” comes about at the Third Stage of the Process — at the Merit Systems Protection Board, where an Administrative Judge will be an arbiter and (hopefully) finally force a more stable use and definition of terms.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Viewing the Office of Personnel Management

Agencies are “like” people; they are “organic” organizations (a redundancy?), and as a corporate-like entity, they respond and react as people do:  cerebrally, emotionally, reactively, angrily, etc.  If one views an agency in this way — treating the entity as one would a person — then you will often get the same or similar results as when dealing with your brother, a spouse, or a neighbor.  And, indeed, as a logical approach, this only makes sense, because agencies and organizations are made up of people. 

Thus, when filing an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, it is often important to think of “incentives” in approaching the Office of Personnel Management, to make every effort to have a carrot/stick approach in filing a disability retirement application.  The “stick” part of it, of course, is the law — the threat of making sure that OPM knows that you will be willing to go the full course — to the Merit Systems Protection Board, to the Full Board Appeal, to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.  If OPM denies your case and they get it reversed at the appellate level, it makes them “look bad”.  That is the stick to hold over them — the force of the law.  The carrot part of it is to streamline it and make it as easy as possible by obtaining a clear and concise medical report.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire