CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Decisions, Decisions

I am often asked questions by people of which I am unable to answer.  They are not questions concerning “the law” underlying Federal Disability Retirement, but rather questions which go to my “professional discretion” as an attorney in putting together a Federal Disability Retirement packet, prepared to go forth to the Office of Personnel Management. 

By “professional discretion” questions, I mean those questions which go to making decisions and choices concerning medical reports, percentage ratings received from the Veterans Administration; permanency ratings received from Second Opinion or Referee doctors, or the fact that one has reached “maximum medical improvement” and is now “permanent and stationary”, and whether to use such collateral sources of medical documentation in putting together a disability retirement packet. 

The practice of law is not all objective and straight-forward; part of the “practice” of law is of an art form, based upon one’s experience, and professional discretion sharpened by repetitive experiences in working with the Office of Personnel Management and in representing Federal and Postal employees before the Merit Systems Protection Board.  Further, there are some questions which I answer only for those whom I represent.  I am happy to provide general information about the process of filing for disability retirement.  For those whom I represent, however, I reserve for them the art of practicing Federal Disability Retirement law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Filing II

People often come to me at the 2nd (Reconsideration) Stage, or the 3rd (Merit Systems Protection Board) Stage, and ask that I correct the mistakes made in the initial filing. Most mistakes can be corrected. Of course, it would have been better if the Applicant had done it properly the first time, for once the Office of Personnel Management views something which should not have been submitted, it cannot be easily retracted — only further explained.

There are, moreover, certain mistakes which cannot be “explained away” — such as deliberate omissions or deceptions. Thus, if the Office of Personnel Management gets the idea that there is an element of deceptiveness in a disability retirement application — either through omission or deliberate avoidance of an issue — then it becomes a difficult case to win. Honesty is always the best policy, and no Disability Retirement applicant should ever engage in any act of covering up any information. This is conceptually different from emphasizing the elements in a disability retirement application which favor an approval, as opposed to de-emphasizing those elements which tend to obscure the primary elements of an application. Such artful emphasis/de-emphasis should always be a part of every disability retirement application, coordinating the Applicant’s Statement of Disability with supporting medical documentation, to convey a consistent “whole” to the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability: The Filing

Never be deceptive in your filing. Always be truthful. To be deceptive or untruthful will harm your credibility, your case, and ultimately, may defeat your ability to obtain disability retirement benefits. Now, there is a conceptual distinction between being “truthful” and emphasizing certain issues of your case, while leaving certain other issues as secondary and less prominent in the documents & supportive papers filed. Thus, to take a rather crude example, while everyone in the world spends a great deal of his or her life in the restroom, we rarely — if ever — talk about such events. Is it because we are not being “truthful”? No — instead, while it is an issue which is not emphasized, it is not something which we are also being deceptive about.

Thus, with respect to disability retirement issues, one should never deliberately attempt to mislead, hide, or otherwise “expunge” certain aspects of the disability retirement application. At the same time, however, those aspects which are not very helpful, or which may harm your case, should not be placed in bold-type or underlined in red. Wherever possible, those aspects which will weaken your case, should simply be de-emphasized — but never deliberately hidden.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability for Federal and Postal Employees: The Federal Disability Attorney

I often get calls from people who have filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, from people who are represented by an Attorney but who, for one reason or another, are not satisfied with the work that the attorney has performed.  It is not, in my opinion, proper for an attorney to criticize or judge the work of another attorney, because each attorney has his or her particular methodology in the practice of law.  The fact that another attorney’s methodology of practicing a specific area of law (in this case, Federal disability retirement law) may differ from mine is not a basis for me to criticize another attorney.  The mere fact that a disability retirement application, prepared and submitted by another attorney, is denied by the Office of Personnel Management, is not a basis for concluding that the application packet was prepared in less than a professional manner.  Indeed, if that were the case, I would be subject to the same type of criticism each time one of my client’s disability retirement application was denied at any given stage of the process.  Further, and more to the point, it is a waste of time to criticize the past; what another attorney did or failed to do is besides the point.  The focus needs to be:  What is necessary to move forward, compile additional supporting documentation, and help get the disability retirement packet approved at the next stage of the process.  As to whether or not an individual should switch attorneys mid-stream, that is not for me to say; as with everything in life, such determinations must be made based upon consideration of all of the facts and circumstances of the case, and the client must do what is in the best interest of his or her future.
Sincerely,
Robert R. McGill, Esquire

I often get calls from people who have filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, from people who are represented by an Attorney but who, for one reason or another, are not satisfied with the work that the attorney has performed.  It is not, in my opinion, proper for an attorney to criticize or judge the work of another attorney, because each attorney has his or her particular methodology in the practice of law.  

The fact that another attorney’s methodology of practicing a specific area of law (in this case, Federal disability retirement law) may differ from mine is not a basis for me to criticize another attorney.  The mere fact that a disability retirement application, prepared and submitted by another attorney, is denied by the Office of Personnel Management, is not a basis for concluding that the application packet was prepared in less than a professional manner.  Indeed, if that were the case, I would be subject to the same type of criticism each time one of my client’s disability retirement application was denied at any given stage of the process.  

Further, and more to the point, it is a waste of time to criticize the past; what another attorney did or failed to do is besides the point.  The focus needs to be:  What is necessary to move forward, compile additional supporting documentation, and help get the disability retirement packet approved at the next stage of the process.  As to whether or not an individual should switch attorneys mid-stream, that is not for me to say; as with everything in life, such determinations must be made based upon consideration of all of the facts and circumstances of the case, and the client must do what is in the best interest of his or her future.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The First Denial

Your Federal disability retirement application was well-prepared:  perhaps it was prepared with the help of an attorney; the medical documentation seemed solidly unequivocal; the doctor made the necessary connections between one’s medical conditions and the type of essential elements of one’s job; the packet, by all accounts, should have been approved, and by all expectations, the approval should have been reasonably expected. 

Instead, you receive a letter stating that your disability retirement application was disapproved, and a “Discussion” section follows, explaining why the Office of Personnel Management denied your application.  Why did this happen?  There are multiple reasons why such a denial can occur:  the OPM specialist could be a person who lacks a clear understanding of the applicable laws governing disability retirement applications (more often than not, this is the case, and what you actually get in the so-called “Discussion” Section of the denial letter is merely a regurgitation of the statutory criteria for eligibility for disability retirement, without a recognition of the interpretation of such criteria by Federal Judges for the Federal Court of Appeals or by Administrative Judges from the Merit Systems Protection Board); it could be as simple as the OPM representative selectively choosing to read the medical reports and records, and disregarding or ignoring supportive portions of the medical records and reports; or it could be that additional medical reports and records need to be obtained in order to “shore up” the application. 

In any event, whatever the reason for the denial, one should not panic.  It is merely one step in a long, administrative process.  The mere fact that OPM denies your disability retirement application does not mean that they are “right” in doing so; indeed, in my opinion, they are rarely right.  That is why one has the right to have it “reconsidered”, and the opportunity to make further legal arguments, and obtain further medical documentation in support of your claim.  And, beyond that, you have the right to file an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board — and beyond.  Never give up; always take it to the next step.  In most cases, it will prove that OPM was in error, and in fighting the denial, you will have secured some semblence of financial security for your future.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Responsibility of the Office of Personnel Management

Perhaps it is an anomaly to even speak about the issue of “the responsibility” of the Office of Personnel Management — at least, from the general consensus of experiences as told by countless individuals who have filed for disability retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, especially in recent years, one might conclude that OPM is slow to respond, or often refuses to respond at all.  However, to be fair, OPM — as with all other Federal Agencies — is made up of individuals; and the “good” or “bad” of an Agency is entirely dependent upon such individuals. 

Most of the disability retirement specialists at OPM are, in my opinion, of the “good” sort.  Without naming names, there are a few of the “bad” sort.  Of course, that says very little, because such a generalized statement could be true of all Federal Agencies. 

Moreover, OPM is presently short-staffed, overworked, and way behind on the processing of disability retirement claims.  What used to be a 60-day wait at the initial application stage is taking 90 – 120 days; and at the Reconsideration (2nd) Stage, what used to take 90 days is now taking 120 – 150 days, in many cases.   More than the “time” it takes, however, just remember that the primary responsibility of OPM is to take a careful and serious look at your disability retirement application/packet.  Also, remember that those disability retirement packets which are streamlined, logically constructed, and coherently argued, are the ones which will likely be quickly processed.  Don’t just strap a volume of medical records onto an application and hope for approval; in this day and age, it might be a wise investment to hire an attorney to “streamline” your packet.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Long View

What I find when individuals have attempted to file on their own, and get it rejected, is the lack of preparing for the “long view.” Many people hear stories about how “such and such” obtained a disability retirement approval for “far less than the medical conditions I have.” Fair enough. Those stories may be true (I never engage in a discussion about the validity or truth of such stories; they are what they are — stories); nevertheless, there are multiple factors which are considered at each stage of the process of filing for disability retirement: Who the OPM Specialist is that will be reviewing an application; the subjective application of which criteria are applied in a given case; the personal and professional differences that arise between different bureaucrats at the Office of Personnel Management (no, don’t believe in the story that there is an “objective” methodology of applying the law when reviewing each disability retirement application); and multiple other factors, including whether or not your particular disability retirement packet was reviewed by someone at the Office of Personnel Management when he or she had a “bad day”.

To counter all of the multiple factors over which we don’t have any control, one must always take the “long view” — the view that it may take two denials, and end up before a Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board. At that point, it is important for the Judge to see how well-documented the case has been prepared; that legal arguments have already shown that OPM was unreasonable in its initial decision and its Reconsideration Denial; and how, despite additional attempts at fulfilling OPM’s requests for additional medical documentation, that OPM continued to be unreasonable. By preparing for the “long view”, a disability retirement packet not only has the best chance of getting it approved in the “short run”, but also at the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire