OPM Disability Retirement: The Walking Anomaly

The identity of a person is represented by a composite of memories held, present activities engaged, and future endeavors planned, thus bringing into a complex presence the times of past, present and anticipated future.  It is because of this walking anomaly — of not just an entity living in the present, but of someone who possesses the retentive capacity of memories past, and plans made and being generated for future actions — that the complexity of the human condition can never be fully grasped.

For the individual, therefore, who begins to suffer from a medical condition, such that the medical condition or disability interferes with the delicate balance of the tripartite composite, the fear of destruction of present circumstances, and diminished ability for future progress, is what complicates matters, in addition to the capacity to remember how things were, which only exacerbates one’s anxiety and angst, in addition to the medical condition itself. It is like being caught eternally in the middle of a three-day weekend: one is saddened by the day already passed; one anticipates an additional day, but the knowledge of the diminishing present makes for realization that the future is merely a bending willow in the winds of change, inevitably able to be swept aside.

For the Federal employee or the Postal worker who suffers from a medical condition, such that the medical condition prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, it is that recognition of past performances and accolades, of accomplishments and successes, combined with present potentialities yet unfulfilled, which makes for a tragedy of intersecting circumstances.  Filing for Federal Disability benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal employee or the Postal worker is under FERS or CSRS, should not, however, diminish the hope for the future.

Federal Disability Retirement benefits allows for the impacted Federal or Postal worker to receive an annuity, and continue to remain productive and plan for the future. It is the solution for many Federal employees and Postal workers who are too young to retire, and have invested too much to simply “walk away” with nothing to show for the time of Federal service already measured.

In the end, Federal Disability Retirement may not be the best option, but the only viable option available, and for the walking anomaly known as man, OPM Disability benefits may be the methodology to complete that unfulfilled potentiality yet to be achieved.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: “What If” Scenarios

The problem with “what if” scenarios is that they rely upon fear.  What if I file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and the agency then removes me?  What if I file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and OWCP decides to send me to a Second-Opinion doctor and begins the process of trying to get me off of their rolls?

Fear and the anticipation of unknown future events is often the trigger-mechanism to prevent a person from acting.  The fallacy of making decisions based upon such fear factors, however, is an obvious one:  The agency can begin the process of removal with or without the Federal or Postal employee filing for Federal Disability Retirement (because of one’s medical conditions, his or her attendance, overuse of sick leave, less than full performance of duties, etc., is normally quite obvious to the agency already, anyway); OWCP can send the Federal or Postal employee to a second-opinion doctor or cut off benefits arbitrarily with or without the Federal employee filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits; and in general terms, “what if” scenarios can occur even if the event in question is never pursued.

Fear is the factor which bullies, totalitarian regimes, and Federal agencies and the U.S. Postal Service relies upon.  Filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is merely the great equalizer against the fear factor.  That which can happen regardless of a triggering event, will occur anyway; so the logical conclusion should be to decide to file for Federal or Postal Disability Retirement benefits in order to acquire the “safety-net” against the future possibility (and probability) of adverse actions which the Agency is already likely contemplating.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Using the Bruner Presumption

Argumentation on a point of law, persuasive argumentation based upon a logical implication of a legal finding, extended argumentation based upon an implicit extension of a finding of law — all can be effective tools in a formulation of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  

Thus, in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, often the question is posed as to whether the “Bruner Presumption” (that presumption which is derived from being separated from Federal Service based upon  a medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, or a finding of a parallel delineation of being administratively separated while concurrently showing that a medical condition was the underlying basis of such separation from Federal Service) can be applied based upon the proposal of an administrative separation, or whether the actual separation from Federal Service must occur.  

While the application of the legal presumption can be applied only upon an actual separation, certainly a persuasive argument can be made that OPM and the Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board should effectively grant the presumption, inasmuch as the intent of the Agency is (once a proposal to remove based upon the medical inability to perform the job is made) certainly to follow through on any proposal; nevertheless, technically, the Bruner Presumption is applied only after a decision on the proposal to remove is made.  However, as has been previously stated on many occasions, one should never wait upon the Agency to propose anything, let alone to act upon the proposal.  Instead, one should always affirmatively move forward — especially when contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Early Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: The “Almost” Medical Inability to Perform Termination

Often, Agencies will proceed to propose a removal of a Federal or Postal employee based upon reasons which clearly “imply” one’s medical inability to perform one or more of the essential functions of one’s job, but explicitly, based upon other stated reasons — e.g., “Failure to Maintain a regular work schedule” or “Being Absent Without Official Leave (AWOL)“.

Then, the frustrating scenario is when the Agency — in the body of the proposed removal letter — refers to and acknowledges the existence of multiple medical conditions which form the foundation, reason and justification for being unable to maintain a regular work schedule or being absent from the job (whether with or without official sanction or approval).

The key in such circumstances, of course, is to try and attempt to make the “implicit” (references to one’s medical conditions and their impact upon one’s inability to perform one’s job) “explicit” (having the Agency change or amend the reasons to instead state:  “Removal based upon the employee’s Medical Inability to Perform his or her job”).

Such a change, of course, would be helpful in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, precisely because it would invoke the Bruner Presumption, which would then make it that much more difficult for the Office of Personnel Management to deny a Federal Disability Retirement application.  For, that is the ultimate goal:  to obtain an approval of the Federal Disability Retirement application; and any such advantage gained brings the Federal or Postal employee one step closer to that ultimate goal.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: Bruner Revisited

In filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, one should never pause or hesitate from affirmatively going forward in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application based upon what the Agency will or will not do; is expected or not expected to do; or is predicted or not predicted to do.  One should simply move forward based upon one’s personal and professional circumstances, the extent of the medical condition, the impact of one’s medical condition upon one’s ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job, etc.  

Thus, for instance, where a Federal or Postal employee has informed the Agency of one’s medical condition, or one has filed for FMLA and submitted substantiating medical documentation, if the plan is to “wait” for the Agency to remove the Federal or Postal employee in order to obtain the advantage of what is generally known as the “Bruner Presumption,” such a plan is normally not the best course of action, for various reasons.  

First, the Agency may take an extraordinary amount of time, and in the end, may attempt to remove the Federal or Postal employee for “other reasons” (performance issues, for instance).  Second, whether or not one “gets” the Bruner Presumption in a case, that legal advantage is really for the Third Stage of the process — at the Merit Systems Protection Board — inasmuch as most of the Claims Reviewers at the Office of Personnel Management are not legally informed enough to know such a legal presumption from a nearby neighbor named John Doe Bruner.  And Third, one must affirmatively prove by a preponderance of the evidence, anyway, that one cannot perform the essential elements of one’s job because of a medical condition.  The Bruner Presumption, while a great thing to have, does not override the medical condition and evidence which must be presented.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Why Up to 1 Year?

In filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, why should a person be given up to 1 year after separation from Federal Service, to file for the benefits?  The underlying legal rationale can be conflicting, but there are multiple pragmatic reasons why such a statute allowing for a person to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits up to 1 year after separation from service, is “reasonable” and “sound in judgment”. 

Often, Federal and Postal employees get fired before the proper forms or medical documentation can be completed or gathered; proposed terminations and determinations on the proposals can come about quickly; a Federal or Postal employee who is focused upon getting treatment (surgery; psychiatric treatment, etc.) can be left with a sense of being overwhelmed, and incapable of filing for a benefit which requires rational thought, procedural organization, and an ability to be systematic in approaching the entire process; a person may not fully comprehend or appreciate the extent of a medical condition, and may quit, resign, or file for early retirement with a lesser annuity, feeling isolated and beset with a sense of hopelessness in not “having any other choice” but to walk away from the Federal or Postal job he or she loved; suffer from a Reduction-in-Force (RIF), and think that because of the RIF that disability retirement was not an option (it often is); and many other reasons.  Indeed, there is a rational and logical basis for allowing for the 1-year timeframe of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, after the Federal or Postal worker has been removed or separated from Federal Service.  On top of it all, to allow for it is simply “fair”.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Agency Actions I

Can adverse agency actions to terminate a Federal employee impact a potential disability retirement application?  The short answer is “yes”, but the longer answer would have to consider multiple factors:  what is the underlying basis of the adverse action?  Does a person’s medical conditions (often psychiatric, cognitive dysfunctions impacting upon less than stellar performance ratings, or perhaps impacting upon the essential elements of one’s job in other ways) explain, in whole or in part, the “adverse” nature of the action?  Has there been a “paper trail” established with respect to informing the Agency of medical conditions, such that it can “explain” — again, in whole or in part — the apparent basis of the adverse action?  Is the Agency open to negotiating a material change in the proposed removal — i.e., from one which is adversarial (and therefore would be appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board) to one based upon one’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job (with a stipulation that no appeal will be filed, thereby saving the Agency’s time, resource, and personnel).  It is important to “get involved” in the process of any contemplated Agency action — early.  If the Agency puts an employee on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), it is time — in fact, overdue — to become active in the future plans for filing a disability retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire