Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: The Agency & the Burden of Proof

In a Federal Disability Retirement case, submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the burden of proving one’s medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, always remains with the individual Federal or Postal applicant.

Certainly, there are actions by the agency which may add to such proof (e.g., declaring that the Federal or Postal worker is “not fit for duty” will further concretize an assessment made by a third party; or initiating a separation from Federal Service based upon one’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of the job will trigger the Bruner Presumption, which then invokes a rebuttable presumption and shifts the “burden of production” (note that it is not the shifting of the “burden of proof” — a conceptual distinction important to recognize) over to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Waiting for one’s agency to act upon anything is, however, a very dangerous venture to begin with; thinking that one’s own agency will provide the proof necessary to establish one’s eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits would not only be dangerous, but foolhardy.  For, at its most fundamental level, the fact that the very entity which makes a decision on a Federal Disability Retirement application (OPM) is one which is separate and independent from the agency for which one works, creates a chasm which only further magnifies the inherent problem.

OPM pays little to no attention to what the agency does — except, perhaps, when the agency attempts to directly confront and challenge a Federal Disability Retirement application.  Otherwise, don’t look for help from one’s agency (generally speaking) when one is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits; such unfounded reliance will only disappoint, at best.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Expectation of Ethical Behavior

Ethics requires the containment and delineation of certain parameters of behavior.  The single intervening cause which provides for an exception to such constraints of behavior — as a practical matter — is the accumulation of power.  Power serves as an aphrodisiac which propels one to override any knowledge or sense of what it means to “behave properly”.

Just observe the behavior of those who are considered part of the “glamour” set — movie stars, politicians, wealthy entrepreneurs, etc.:  the common thread is that, because one acquires and retains money and fame (and therefore power), one need not be constrained within the parameters of ethics.  Just as individuals may act in certain ways, so agencies and conglomerations of individuals will act in a macro-reflection of how singular persons will act.

Thus, when a Federal or Postal employee begins the process of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, wisdom should guide the Federal and Postal employee to expect his or her agency to act in ways contrary to ethical behavior — if not outright violating any rules of ethics, at a minimum, to act in a harassing and mean-spirited manner.

Power brings out the worst in individuals, and in agencies; and when the “weakling” shows his or her vulnerabilities, the claws and fangs manifest themselves in the most ferocious of manners.  Ethics is for the protection of weaklings, and for manipulation by the powerful.  That is why it is often a necessity to seek the counsel and guidance of an attorney to countermand the actions of those who deem themselves to be powerful — by leveling the playing field.  Now, as to the power of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management… that is a different story altogether.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Language, Truth, and the Agency

Wittgenstein’s conceptual identification of society’s creation of various “language games” is indicative of a relativistic approach to truth and reality.  For, Wittgenstein rejected the classical tradition of the correspondence theory of truth, where language corresponds to events in the “objective” physical realm, and in the course of such correspondence, arrives at a notion of objective truth.  Instead, the world of language is an artificial creation within the consciousness of societies, and is tantamount to board games which we play.

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 often interesting and instructive to view the entire bureaucratic process as a kind of “language game” which one must master and engage in.  Indeed, encounters with how one’s own agency views the game, then how OPM views the game, can be quite shocking.

The fact that it is not a “game” per se, for the Federal or Postal employee who is depending upon the Federal Disability Retirement annuity for his or her livelihood for the short-term, does not undermine the fact that agencies and OPM act as if it is just another board game — say, for instance, chess, in the the manner in which various strategic moves and counter-moves are made to try and corner the Federal or Postal employee; or the classical game of go, in which territories are asserted and surrounded in order to “defeat” the opponent.

Language is meant to convey meaning and to communicate human value, worth, emotions and factual occurrences as reflected in the physical world; it is only us humans who create a universe of artifice in which we sequester ourselves in order to torment the weaker members of such participants.  But because language is the only game within the realm of human living, we must contend with the language games played by Federal agencies, and especially the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: The Pilot

It is actually a misnomer to connect the terms “automatic” and “pilot” , precisely because the former term completely and unilaterally undermines the latter.  Think about it:  the entire concept of the term “pilot” denotes and encompasses the ability of an individual to control the destiny, direction and distance of that which he is maneuvering; once it is turned over to an engineering phenomenon which performs the activity with data already inputted by others, such control is lost, and the fullness of what it means to pilot a vehicle becomes meaningless.

It is, ultimately, a question of who controls the destiny.

For Federal and Postal employees contemplating preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the question is often one of being pulled and controlled by one’s circumstances, or becoming the pilot of one’s destiny and proceeding to dictate the terms and timing of one’s future.

Agencies by nature like to have control; whether it is in hiring, promoting, separating or engaging in adverse actions, agencies enjoy being the determining entity in all aspects of a Federal or Postal employee’s life.  One can wait for an agency to make a determination on one’s career or future; and, to that extent, they become the “automatic pilot” of one’s destiny.

It is up to the Federal or Postal employee to make a decision as to whether or not one should erase the former term, leaving one with the unmistakable role of being the pilot who determines one’s own destiny.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Agency Self-Interest

Self-interest is an interesting characteristic to observe — one which everyone possesses, but only the obtuse deny.  In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, be aware that the Agency has its own self-interest.

If the stated interest is couched in terms of the Federal or Postal employee’s “best interests”, it is good to be suspicious, or at least modestly cautious in embracing such a claim.  Such wariness in accepting the stated claim of one’s agency is obviously not a warning which most Federal or Postal employees would receive with any surprise; you have been Federal or Postal employees for many years, and those initial years of idealism and youthful enthusiasm have already been stamped out of you (let not the cynicism of this writer dampen the ardor of youth).

If one follows the advice of the Agency blindly, ask yourself the following question:  If you receive a denial at the First Stage of the process, will the agency respond in a helpful manner, or will they say:  It is not our responsibility — it is the Office of Personnel Management which makes the decision?  Is it a common experience that agencies defer responsibility when something goes wrong?

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Agency Procedures

It is an argument which cannot be won, and one which is avoided, if possible, but nevertheless I find myself engaged in from time to time.  It is the argument of one’s historical background, and whether one has the viable power to justify the improper action (or inaction), and it goes something like this:  “The Agency requires that…”   Response:  “Yes, but that is not what the Office of Personnel Management requires, and it is OPM who is the final arbiter in the matter.”  “Well, that may be, Mr. ___, but I have been doing this for over 10 years and that’s the way it’s always been done.”  Response:  “Well, I have been doing this for over ___”   “We are just trying to help.”  Beware of the “helpful” agency.  

In filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, if an individual has not been separated from Federal Service for more than thirty one (31) days, the entire packet must go through the Federal Agency for which the applicant is working or was working.  Even if the separation occurred over 31 days prior to the filing, certain Standard Forms must be obtained from the former agency.  In “dealing” with the Agency, one often gets into the “back-and-forth” game of how a certain procedure needs to be followed, and that is when the childish playground game of “who has the greater historical experience” is often engaged in.  At bottom, it all comes down to a power game.  It is best to avoid it.  It is best to be courteous and civil.  But when the Human Resources person says, “I’m just trying to be helpful,” beware.  You have probably just lost the game.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire