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

The existence of a standard constitutes an irrelevancy if the application of it is based upon an unknowable, incalculable methodology.  Standards represent a paradigm which, if implemented, provide for stability and consistency, precisely because one can rely upon the same application in all instances, and indeed, that is what is often defined as “fairness”.

Thus, in sports — if the referee makes all calls based upon a known standard, there is very little to argue with respect to the “rules”; one may, of course, challenge the interpretation of the “facts” and charge that the referee is blind and did not see the play as reality reflected; but no one can argue the minutiae of the standard itself.  In society, and in a civilization governed by rules and accepted procedures of administration, if a standard is disagreed upon, then a democratic method of change is normally considered an appropriate methodology of redefining the lines previously demarcated by the “old” standard.

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 assumed that the standard which would constitute “fair play” will be one of “preponderance of the evidence”, but the actual implementation of such a legal standard will necessarily depend upon whether the Case Worker at OPM actually understands what that standard means.

It is, ultimately, a low civil “bar” to meet; and when a denial is rendered, the language contained within the denial will often reveal the extent of comprehension on the part of the OPM Case Worker.  Pointing a misapplication of the standard is sometimes a useful tool in taking the Federal Disability Retirement case to the next level — the Reconsideration Stage of the process — but unduly focusing upon the mistakes of the previous Case Worker is often a waste of time.

Balance is the key; application of the correct standard is vital to the working efficiency of a bureaucracy; pointing out a misapplication is why attorneys exist.  They are, ultimately, technicians of written standards.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: What Are You Trying to Prove?

The word “refrain” is an interesting one for its multifarious definitions — from restraining one’s self (a physical act of self-control) to identifying a phrase or group of phrases which are repeated throughout a verse, song, etc., the application of the word is useful by its very differences.  And, indeed, it is the differences between a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, from the entire administrative process of filing for Social Security Disability benefits, or obtaining a higher disability rating from the Veterans Administration, or even attempting to establish causality in a Federal OWCP, Department of Labor case — which makes all the difference.

Such a tautology and redundancy, while rather puzzling, is what must be kept in mind when preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  It is indeed the differences which make for the difference.  Thus, as to the refrain, “What are you trying to prove?”, goes to the very heart and essence of the differences.  That which one is trying to prove strikes at the essence of how you will approach a Federal Disability Retirement case, distinctly and differently from what you are trying to prove for an increased VA rating, OWCP case or a Social Security Disability case.

Furthermore, normally the “shotgun” approach will not be the most effective — i.e., that approach of shooting at everything and in every direction and hoping that you will somehow hit the mark.  Federal Disability Retirement requires certain specific elements to prove, different and distinct from OWCP, VA or SSDI, and it is indeed that which one needs to prove, which will make all the difference in a case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Proving with Purposive Intent

Each compensatory program, whether on a Federal, State or Local level, has an underlying basis which finds its inception in an idea, a proposal, then a statute.  The statutory authority of a “program” is the basis of its very existence.  Court opinions will interpret, expand upon, and “explain” the limits and boundaries of the program itself.

As such, each program of compensation contains a “raison d’être” (a reason for its very existence), and in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, it is often a good idea to understand the foundational basis of a compensation program, in order to be able to effectively attack it, comply with it, and ultimately to prove its purposive intent.

Thus, for Social Security Disability, for example, the underlying purposive intent involves a higher standard of “total disability” and how the medical condition impacts one’s daily living activities.  For the Department of Labor, Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (DOL/FECA), the underlying purposive intent involves an injury or medical condition related to the job itself, with a view towards (if at all possible) rehabilitating the Federal or Postal employee such that he or she can return to the position occupied prior to the injury.  For Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS, it is the “bridge” itself which defines the purposive intent — of the impact between the medical condition and the particular job which one performs.

It is for that very reason — the purposive intent behind a Federal Disability Retirement Statute — that the compensation program allows for the Federal or Postal employee, unlike the other programs, to go out and earn up to 80% of what one’s former position currently pays, in addition to receiving the Federal Disability Retirement annuity.

By understanding, one is able to begin to formulate a strategy of applying and proving a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal & Postal Service Disability Retirement: Differing Legal Criteria

Similar benefits, at the State, Local, Private levels, and at the Federal level, each contain differing legal criteria for eligibility. Thus, for instance, Social Security Disability benefits require one set of standards of eligibility; private disability insurance policies require a different set of standards; and state disability benefits often differ from state to state.  This is of course true of Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS and CSRS — where the legal standard of eligibility is different from Social Security, Worker’s Comp, and State or private disability criteria.

Often, a question is asked whether a medical narrative report which is prepared for submission to the Office of Personnel Management can be used for submission for other “similar” benefits.  The short answer is, “It all depends”, but the long answer is that, in most cases, one must be very cautious.  When I represent a Federal or Postal employee under FERS or CSRS, one of the first steps in preparing a viable case is to request of the treating doctors a detailed medical narrative report.  One must understand that the treating doctor has, generally speaking, next to no idea as to the legal criteria that must be met under FERS or CSRS.  Furthermore, the treating doctor has no legal knowledge as to the differences between private disability insurance policies, State, Social Security, OWCP or FERS & CSRS.  It is the job of the Attorney to make sure and guide the treating doctors as to the criteria which must be met as to the particular and specialized field for which the medical narrative is being prepared.  This must be done with care, and with detailed guidance.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Don't Confuse the Standards

People who call me for advice, who are potential candidates as clients for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, often interchangeably use terms which apply to different standards:  standards of total disability as opposed to a medical disability which impacts one’s ability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; whether a medical condition is an “accepted” disability (a concept which is often used in Social Security disability cases); whether a person can file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits even though he “hasn’t reached MMI” (“Maximum Medical Improvement”) — which is language encompassing a concept familiar to OWCP/DOL (Worker’s Comp) cases; or, on a different level, the statement that an agency has been “accommodating” an employee by allowing him/her to take sick leave, Leave Without Pay, or to “not have to travel as much” — mistakenly or loosely using the term “accommodation”, when in fact such agency actions do not constitute a legally viable accommodation, as that term is used in Federal Disability Retirement laws. 

It is the job of the attorney to correct, clarify, and otherwise explain the proper terminology and precise application of concepts in Federal Disability Retirement cases.  It is not surprising that people who are contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS use the various terms in error, or mix terms unknowingly — for there is alot of misinformation “out there”; it is the job of an Attorney who specializes in Federal Disability Retirement law to clarify such confusions.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Social Security Disability

Under the rules concerning FERS disability retirement applications, one must file for Social Security Disability.  As most people already know, there is an interaction/offset between Social Security Disability benefits and FERS disability benefits, if both are approved (100% offset in the first year of annuity, 60% offset every year thereafter).  One would assume (dangerously, as it turns out), that if an application for Social Security disability is approved, that it would automatically render an approval under FERS disability retirement a “sure” thing.  Nothing could be further from the truth. 

The fact that Social Security has a higher standard of proof — where one must be considered “totally disable” as opposed to (under the legal standards for FERS) “disabled from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job”) — one would think that, legally and logically, if you have met the higher legal standard of proof, then the lesser standard would have been automatically met.  Unfortunately, because the two standards are applied in different, independent agencies, the fact that Social Security Disability benefits are awarded is not a guarantee that the FERS disability retirement application will automatically be granted.  However, there is clear case-law stating that OPM must consider the approval by SSD as one factor among many in the consideration of FERS disability retirement applications.  It is important to cite such cases in support of your application for FERS disability retirement.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire