OPM Disability Retirement: Experience versus Articulation of the Condition

One of the first rules announced in any elementary creative writing course is for the budding writer to “show” the reader through descriptive sentences, as opposed to “telling” the audience what has happened.  The distinction itself is often difficult to describe; it is like the dividing line between light and darkness — we know it is there, but cannot precisely pinpoint the demarcation line.

Similarly, in law, there is a difference between the “facts of the case” and “proving the case“, and indeed, the difference can encounter major difficulties in overcoming the obstacles presented by the distinction (i.e., it is not the proverbial “difference without a distinction”).  Thus, even though one may have all of the facts in favor of one’s case, unless one can prove them (and overcome legal objections, technical obstacles for inclusion and introduction of such evidence, etc.), such an advantageous position may in the end be meaningless unless the articulation of the facts to the jury can be effectuated.

Analogously, in a Federal Disability Retirement application with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the fact that one may experience a debilitating medical condition is merely the foundational basis of an effective Federal Disability Retirement application.  Beyond the existence of a medical condition, a series of connecting steps must be established:  treatment of the medical condition; articulation of the medical condition by a treating doctor; a nexus between the medical condition and one’s positional duties with the Federal government or the U.S. Postal Service; information conveyed as to the impact between one’s duties and the medical condition, etc.

In other words, while the experiential value of the medical condition forms the foundational basis of a Federal Disability Retirement application, the articulation of that medical condition in a systematically persuasive vehicle of communication is paramount in “proving” one’s case.  Certainly, experience is the beginning point; but beyond that, one must set about to establish the necessary proof in articulating an experience.

In flying on an airplane, one would certainly rather have an experienced pilot than a brash young pilot who has never flown but who can talk a lot; but in a Federal Disability Retirement application, it is the one who has both — the “experience” of a medical condition, as well as the ability to articulate the condition — which will prove one’s case; and in so doing, hopefully the trip forward will result in minimal engine troubles, and fewer bumps in the administrative ride of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Writing an Effective Federal Disability Retirement Application

According to Ludwig Wittgenstein, the identification of context-appropriate language games is instructive in this linguistic-focused society.  With the explosion of information through the internet, via twitter, Facebook, texting and email, the changing and malleable nature of language is quickly evolving into a populace of blurred lines, where the virtual world and the substantive, Aristotelian world no longer possess clear bifurcations.  However language changes; whatever the form of communication; the need to convey clarity of thought will still and always exist.

It is one thing to experience life; it is another to tell about it.  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 be able to “tell about it”.

Yes, the primary satisfaction of the legal criteria necessarily requires the substantive experience of the medical condition; but there is a conceptual distinction to be made between “living it”, “telling it”, and “proving it.”  It is presumed that the Federal or Postal employee who is preparing to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits already satisfies the first of the three; it is the second, and especially the third, which presents a problem.

Don’t think that just because you “should qualify” because of the nature, extent and severity of one’s medical condition, that such experiential phenomena justifies the proving of one’s Federal Disability Retirement application.  Ask OPM about it; if you can even get a response back.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Describing One’s Medical Conditions

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management, the conundrum which one faces immediately is to attempt to overcome the seeming inability of third parties (OPM Personnel included) to understand, comprehend, relate to, and ultimately “feel” a sense of empathy and compassion for the particular genre of medical conditions a Federal or Postal worker suffers from.  

While the entire administrative process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is based upon a legal criteria, with a standard of proof set by law — that of “preponderance of the evidence” (which, simply put, means that one must prove that something is “more likely” the case than not — a relatively low standard of proof in the potential options of applying various legal standards) — it nevertheless comes down to having a fellow human being review, analyze, assess and evaluate one’s Federal Disability Retirement application at the Office of Personnel Management.  

Yes, there is an applicable legal criteria which is applied by the Office of Personnel Management.  Yes, there is a set of conforming documentation which must be submitted.  Yes, there are Standard Forms to be completed.  Yet, as with all processes of review, no evaluative process can be merely characterized as an objective calculus; otherwise, the eligibility requirement of a Federal Disability Retirement application should be able to be determined by a computer program.  

While such a possibility may well occur in the not-too-distant future, for the present, an actual person (although this is sometimes questioned, also, based upon the unresponsiveness of OPM and the voicemail messages one encounters) at the Office of Personnel Management must review, evaluate, and determine the viability of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  As such, part of the key to the success of the administrative process must be in the descriptive narrative of one’s medical conditions, their impact upon one’s ability/inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, and the qualitative and quantitative impact, direct or otherwise, upon one’s life.  

Here again, a cold, objective calculus should not be the only approach.  The “human factor” should be included — and to do so, one must extrapolate and apply all of the descriptive tools available in the English language.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Legal Arguments

Whether and to what extent legal arguments in Federal Disability Retirement cases under FERS or CSRS should be made, should rarely be ventured into by non-lawyers.  The boundaries of legal arguments are naturally constrained for lawyers both internally and externally:  internally, because (hopefully) lawyers are trained to recognize that maintaining the integrity of legal precedents is vital to the process, and externally, because all legal arguments are ultimately subjected to the review of a Judge — in the case of administrative laws governing Federal and Postal Disability Retirement, at the first instance by the Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board, then potentially at the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.  When laymen attempt to make legal arguments, there is the added danger of misinterpretation and mis-application of the law, which can further injure the chances of an Applicant filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits to obtain an approval.  And, finally, such chances for success may be further damaged if it needs to come before an Administrative Judge for review.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Reconsiderations

There is a line to be drawn between arguing the law within a boundary of integrity, and arguing the law beyond any reasonable interpretation of the law.  This principle is no less true in administrative law, which is what Federal Disability Retirement law is considered.  I often see non-lawyers make “legal arguments” in an initial application to the Office of Personnel Management, which is then denied, and I then enter my appearance in the case at the Second, Reconsideration Stage of the process.  That is fine — some applicants want to try and save the cost of hiring an attorney, and then decide it is necessary after it has been denied. 

However, as I often explain to clients:  while most mistakes in a Federal Disability Retirement application can be amended or explained, I do not have the magical ability to place “blinders” upon the eyes of the OPM Representative for legal or other arguments or statements made to them at the First Stage of the Process.  While my website and my articles & writings provide a good bit of information on filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, and anyone can use it to his or her advantage, one bit of caution:  Don’t make legal arguments if you don’t fully know what you are talking about.  To do so more often than not results in a loss of credibility, and if your case goes before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board, the Judge may not look favorably upon a case where a spurious argument was made at the initial stage of the process.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Beware the Layman

Federal employee attorneys create and manufacture a parallel universe of statutory interpretation, legal argumentation, case-law citations, and extrapolations from esoteric provisions in arguing the “finer points” of law.  Thus, it is a temptation for the lay person — the “non-lawyer” — to attempt to borrow from cases and take a stab at citing case-law and statutory authority in trying to garner support for his or her Federal Disability Retirement application.  In taking on a case at the Reconsideration Stage or the Merit Systems Protection Board, I have the opportunity to read some of the “legal arguments” which non-lawyers have attempted to make.  While many such arguments are valid, some (i.e., too many) mis-cite the law, and often fail to understand and proffer the substantive import of what the cases are saying.  On top of it all, I suspect that the Office of Personnel Management gets a bit annoyed when a non-lawyer applicant attempts to preach the law to another non-lawyer OPM Representative.  A word to the wise:  let lawyers entertain themselves in the parallel universe of the law; let the doctors render their medical opinions; let the non-lawyers make the best arguments possible, in layman’s language. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire