Early Medical Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: The Reset Button

We often hear in geopolitical circles about international relations taking a fresh turn because of a metaphorical and figurative ”reset” button which has been pushed.

Whether any substantive changes have taken place; regardless of an alteration in the behavior of one or both parties; the important event which seems to predominate in such declarations of a new partnership or alliance, is that the words which are spoken are now rearranged, and the harsh language of previous decades, or perhaps not even a fortnight ago, reflects a forgiven past with happy days ahead.

Often, however, the lack of substantive change manifests itself quite quickly, as words have the extent of impact only within the context of that momentary declaration of purpose.  Beyond the statement itself, unless the alteration itself is imposed upon the substantive behavior of the individual, group, entity or country, the reality of an unchanged heart slowly reveals its true nature as circumstances test the essence of who or what a person or country truly represents.

The real problem with the concept of a “reset” button is that it only works if both parties to an accord push the metaphorical object.  Eagerness by one side to declare the change of relationship is often the rule, while the “other” party who is the one who really needs the resetting of behavior stands by in silent indifference with a wry smile.  Ultimately, it is the need for change which underlies the entire resetting of a relationship.

For Federal and Postal employees who have come to a point in their career where a medical condition continues to impact the ability to perform the essential elements of their job and positional duties, the proposal and imposition of adverse actions, such as a Performance Improvement Plan (commonly known as a “PIP”); suspensions; letters of reprimands; Leave Usage Restrictions; or Proposed Removals — all are actions by the agency which reveal that a resetting of the relationship between the agency and the individual is sorely in need.

The ultimate tool for that resetting of the relationship, is for the Federal and Postal employee to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS or CSRS.  While taking such a step may not alter the behavior of the agency, it at least changes the relationship by letting the agency know that the underlying medical condition is the primary cause for the deterioration of the employer/employee relationship, and further, that the severing of ties will be the ultimate outcome.

Moreover, in the case of an OPM Disability Retirement, the pushing of the reset button is never to change the relationship for the benefit of the agency, but merely to change the relationship itself in order for the Federal or Postal employee to attend to the substantive importance of one’s health and wellbeing.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Impending PIP

The Performance Improvement Plan (otherwise known by the acronym, a “PIP”) is the formal imposition of an administrative procedural process to “assist” the employee into improving his or her specific work requirements, or for modification of certain behavior issues.

From the Federal Agency’s perspective, it invokes a paper trail which will justify additional future actions, if necessary.  From the Federal employee’s viewpoint, it should serve as a warning that unknown other conversations and discussions have been ongoing, and the PIP is merely a surface revelation, with much underworld life and activity unrevealed but indicated by the issuance of the PIP.

If a medical condition is a large part of the reason why underperformance and poor performance justifies the issuance of a PIP, then revelation of the medical condition in response to the PIP should be considered.

Concurrently, because a PIP is an open and declared step towards ultimate and likely termination — especially when the physical or mental condition will continue to prevent the Federal employee from being able to meet the requirements of the PIP — it is a good idea to begin the process of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Being a sitting duck merely means that you are the target in a shooting gallery; before your turn comes up, it serves the Federal and Postal employee well to chart one’s own course before it is determined for you.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Agency Pressures

Ultimately, the pressures which one’s Federal Agency places upon the Federal or Postal employee creates and manufactures a perspective that events have an urgency beyond the reality of the moment.  There is, further, a context of a build-up which is often lost; agencies view employees who have not been fully productive, in terms of “liabilities”, and begin to act and react accordingly.

From the employee’s viewpoint, actions initiated by the agency are often unfair, instigated without warning, and advanced with irrational promptness without regard to the particular situation of the Federal or Postal employee.  This is because much of the context which leads up to a decision is often kept in secret from the employee — internal discussions concerning the employee, etc.

A Federal or Postal employee who is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is often embroiled in the midst of an employment dilemma — whether the near-certain imposition of a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), which is essentially setting up the employee for failure; or continuation of systematic workplace harassment; the pervasive nature of a hostile work environment; suspension or restriction of sick leave usage; and multiple other pressure points.

From the perspective of the agency, their stated goal is to further effectuate the “mission of the agency”.  From the perspective of the employee, it is nothing more than undue pressure and harassment, and leaving one with little or no choice but to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits quickly, and immediately. But of course the Office of Personnel Management does not act in a quick or immediate manner, and so there is the problem of dealing with agency issues until the time of a decision.

That is all the more reason why it is important for the Federal and Postal employee to not wait until the last minute, and to begin to contemplate preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, with some time still ahead, both for planning and for handling potential agency issues.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Agency Actions prior to Separation

The question is often asked as to whether there is an adverse or detrimental impact upon a Federal Disability Retirement application if the Agency or the U.S. Postal Service initiates an adverse action, places an individual on AWOL, or administers a similar type of administrative sanction, action, etc.

The general answer is that such agency actions will not prevent or influence the prevention of a Federal Disability Retirement application from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, but such a generalized answer contains within the “details” certain implicit assumptions — the primary one being, that the medical support which would accompany such a medical retirement will be strong enough to withstand and effectively refute such an adverse action.

By “supporting medical documentation” is meant, at a minimum, two issues which the treating doctor of the applicant must address:  That, prior to separation from Federal Service, the Federal or Postal employee could no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, and further, that the medical condition is expected to last for at least 12 months.

Additionally, a third element would also be helpful — that the medical condition or disability began before the adverse action, or conversely, that the behavior or acts of the Federal or Postal Disability Retirement applicant which precipitated the adverse response of the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service occurred after the origination point of the medical condition, and such an origination point can be ascertained.

This is because OPM will sometimes argue that the underlying motivation and purpose of the Federal or Postal applicant filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits was based not upon the medical condition, but because of the adverse action.  Further, the Merit Systems Protection Board has stated that such circumstantial evidence of underlying motive or intent can indeed be reviewed.  Rebuttal of such implied intent can best be proven by a doctor’s assertion.

Motives are a peculiar thing, but the casting of such underlying motives are often difficult to refute, unless a timeline of facts can counter them.  Motives are found only in the depths of one’s consciousness; and like the air we breath, the fact that we assert its existence does not necessarily prove otherwise, especially if the doubter is receptive to the poisonous whispers of finger-pointing.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Agency Actions and the Bruner Presumption

Agency actions separating a Federal or Postal employee from Federal Service often contain language which comes close to allowing for a Federal or Postal employee to assert the “Bruner Presumption” (that legal presumption which essentially states that the declaration and admission by the Agency triggers a legal presumption that a Federal or Postal employee is entitled to, by a matter of law, to Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS), but not close enough.  

Such language will instead be couched in references to medical documentation which has been previously reviewed by the Agency; will embrace an acknowledgement that the Federal or Postal employee has a “medical condition”; and will sometimes even entertain verbiage evincing sympathy for the Federal or Postal Worker’s “situation” — but still will base the removal upon other considerations, such as “excessive absences”, “failure to maintain a regular work schedule”, etc.  

The question ultimately then becomes:  Is it important, leaving aside relevance, to fight the agency to amend or otherwise re-characterize the original proposal to remove, in order to obtain the Bruner Presumption?  

The Bruner Presumption is a legal mechanism which gains greater weight and importance when a Federal Disability Retirement application has been denied twice by the Office of Personnel Management (both at the Initial Stage of the process, than at the Reconsideration Stage), and one therefore finds one’s self before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board.  But such appearance before the MSPB presumably means that there are other problems with a case — most often, insufficient medical documentation.  

The Bruner Presumption aside, the Federal or Postal employee must still prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, one’s case, by submitting sufficient medical documentation.  The Bruner Presumption is simply that “extra” ingredient that may be helpful if all other factors have been met in proving a Federal Disability Retirement case.

While helpful, it is not a certainty for an approval.  While better to have than not, one must still prove one’s case.  While triggered most effectively at the MSPB, a less-than-Bruner-trigger can still be argued at all stages of the process.  Just some thoughts.

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

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: The Issue of Discretion

A Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS may also be undergoing concurrent disciplinary proceedings, or engaged in corollary grievances, EEO Complaints, or involved in a lawsuit in a separate forum, either in the Federal Circuit Courts or at the Merit Systems Protection Board.  

In either event, the question often comes to the fore as to whether such collateral issues should be brought up in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability (SF 3112A) or perhaps in a legal memorandum or cover letter which argues the merits of the case, the legal basis for eligibility, etc.  The answer to the question as to whether, how and where is one of discretionary choice, and there is never a singular answer.  

A separate question to be asked of one’s self (with no obvious answer) is whether or not, if the applicant who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS does not bring up the fact of a collateral issue being litigated in a separate forum, will the Agency bring it up and discuss it in a way detrimental to the Applicant, and further, will the fact that the issues was not brought up make it appear as if the Applicant is somehow trying to hide the issue?  As with all such hypotheticals, the answer to all of the above is:  It all depends…  

Often, not mentioning a potential “red flag” until and unless it becomes a red flag is the best approach.  Sometimes, making a passing reference to the collateral issue may be appropriate.  In all instances, unless a connection can be made between the collateral issue and the issues central to a Federal Disability Retirement application — the medical basis and the impact upon one’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job — it is normally best to leave it alone.  In any case, such discretionary decisions should be made with the advice of an attorney.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire