FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: As a Process

It is often a necessity to be reminded that the preparation, formulation, and ultimately the filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is an administrative process.

By “process” is meant that it involves multiple levels of time frames and stages, and is not merely constituted by a single “filing” of paperwork.  It is not a defined “right” to a benefit which is triggered by a certain event — such as age, filing of a form, etc.  Rather, it is a benefit which is determined by an administrative process of eligibility.

One must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that one is “eligible” for the benefits.  In order to do that, one must, of course, meet each of the legal and regulatory criteria as set out by statutory authority, regulations propounded by the Office of Personnel Management, and case-law authorities handed down by the Merit Systems Protection Board and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.

As such, time frames for issuing determinations are made by the agency granted such authority — the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  And, further, the process will often necessarily involve multiple stages — the Initial Stage, the Reconsideration Stage, an appeal to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, then a Petition for Full Review, and if necessary, an appeal to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.

Time frames, stages, applicability of the law, meeting each of the statutory requirements — they all constitute a long and complex “process”, and one which must be dealt with whether one agrees with it, wants to, or is somehow unprepared to do so.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement Application: Complex Interdependence of the Stages

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application with the Office of Personnel Management, it is important to recite, note, identify and apply “the law” at each stage of the process, if not for the present, then always in preparation for the future.  

No one likes to think of his or her Federal Disability Retirement application as potentially being capable of being denied at any of the multiple levels of the administrative process; everyone believes that his or her Federal Disability Retirement application is a “sure thing”, a “slam dunk”, a certainty beyond question.  The latter is a natural belief, born from a subjective experience of one who personally and immediately suffers from the very medical condition which one is complaining about.  The former acknowledgement — of understanding the potential for a denial either from the Office of Personnel Management or from the Merit Systems Protection Board, or the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit — is an unavoidable reality to be confronted.  

To acknowledge reality is a mechanism of survival; to deny a potential future event is to avoid a reasonable occurrence which, if not recognized, can have unintended consequences which can result in greater devastating residual effects if not properly prepared for.  Indeed, one should reasonably expect that, with a lower-level “preponderance of the evidence” standard of proof, that if properly and carefully prepared and formulated, that one’s Federal Disability Retirement application will be approved at some point in the process.  

One has many opportunities — the Initial Application Stage at OPM; the Reconsideration Stage at the Office of Personnel Management; an appeal and a Hearing before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board; a Petition for Full Review at the Merit Systems Protection Board; and an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.  

Each stage is independent, yet co-dependent and interdependent.  Each stage must be meticulously prepared for its own merits, yet the groundwork set for the next stage.  Each stage is the crucial stage to win; yet, to cite legal precedents for an appeal to the next.  Never underestimate the potential for a denial; for to underestimate is merely to ask for that which one is unprepared for.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Basic Elements

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, it is important for the Federal and Postal worker who is contemplating filing for such benefits to keep in mind certain basic elements before engaging in the entire process:  

First, it is a long and arduous process, involving multiple stages (potentially) and requiring a great amount of patience.  

Second, the Federal or Postal employee should mentally expunge from one’s mind any view that Federal Disability Retirement is an entitlement — it is not.  The conceptual distinction between an “entitlement” and a “benefit” should be clear from the outset.  The former requires one to simply satisfy certain requirements in order to obtain the benefit; the latter requires that one prove all of the legal criteria, and submit evidence showing that one is eligible by a preponderance of the evidence.  The former requires nothing more than meeting certain basic requirements, which are normally automatic (age, for example); the latter mandates that one prove one’s eligibility.  

Third, there is almost never a “slam dunk” case, where one merely gathers the most recent medical records and reports, fills out the forms, and sends in the application.  Yes, there are certain limited cases, perhaps — i.e., of a Letter Carrier or a Special Agent who becomes bedridden — but these are rare and unique cases, and even then, it is still possible that the Office of Personnel Management will find a reason to deny such a case.  

Fourth, one must always prepare a case both for success at the First Stage of the Process, while at the same time laying the foundation for subsequent stages of the process.  

And Fifth, one should attempt to avoid inconsistencies, both internal and external, in the application, as OPM always targets inconsistencies as the basis for a denial, and likes to extrapolate and use such issues to base their denials.  

These are just some basic elements to keep in mind in preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Simplicity v. Complexity

Each Stage in the process of proving eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS requires a unique approach and methodology of response.  It requires the combination of responding to, and thoroughly completing, forms required to meet the criteria at the initial stage of the process; of responding to any perceived lack of evidence in responding to a denial at the First Stage of the process, issued by the Office of Personnel Management, and therefore requiring a Request for Reconsideration; and finally, an ability to persuade an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board of the completeness of the application for Federal or Postal Disability Retirement, as well as to prepare the case well for submission of further evidence.

There are, in addition to the three stages mentioned, two further stages of the process (a Petition for Full Review to the Merit Systems Protection Board, which is comprised of a panel of administrative judges; and then to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit), but both such appeal stages will only review the issue of whether or not there was an “error of law” committed by the Administrative Judge at the third stage of the process.  

The entirety of the process is comprised of inherent complexities — involving issues of medical (obviously), legal, administrative, agency, credibility, etc. — issues impacting each Federal Disability Retirement application in its own unique and specific manner.  One can try to simplify the process by breaking each component down into its basic elements, but the complexity of the whole process cannot be avoided.

Understanding each relevant component, addressing the specific issues, dissecting each, then compiling the evidence from each to make up the whole, results in wading through the complexity while maintaining the simplicity of each component part.  Keep the application simple, concise, and to the point.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire