FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: To Be or …

Often, the question is asked whether or not it is advisable to “just resign” from one’s Federal or Postal employment, and whether such resignation would impact one’s ability to file for, and obtain, Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS.

Such a question actually contains multiple sub-questions, which often need to be extrapolated, dissected and bifurcated, then answered independently.  Then, upon answering such questions separately, they can be reconstituted to provide a greater picture.  In answering any or all such questions, however, the proper context of each case — for each case is unique in their facts, circumstances, and potential impact upon future decision-making processes — must be revealed, identified, analyzed and properly addressed.  

Whether the Agency is making any “noise” of proposing to remove the Federal or Postal employee, and the basis of such removal; whether they are open to suggestions or negotiations pertaining to the basis of the removal; whether the Federal or Postal employee has already secured a doctor, a medical narrative report, and proper substantiating medical documentation which shows that, prior to such removal or resignation, the Federal or Postal employee could no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, etc. — all of these, and many more besides, are questions which must be considered before one takes the finality of the leap which determines whether to be, or not to be, a Federal or Postal employee as of a date certain, and its impact upon one’s ability to secure the benefit known as “Federal Disability Retirement” benefits under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: The Process of Eligibility

The problem with possessing power is that it must be accompanied by truth, validity and rational foundations, if it is to be effective over the long term.  

In filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, there is the process of proving one’s eligibility by meeting the burden of proof, termed as the “preponderance of the evidence“.  A disagreement can occur during the process, in that the Representative from the Office of Personnel Management can deny the Federal Disability Retirement application.  

Such a denial can occur twice at the OPM level — at the Initial Stage of the process, then at the Reconsideration Stage of the process.  OPM possesses the power to approve or deny each Federal Disability Retirement application.  Often, however, the denial itself fails to be accompanied by a rational discourse which strives to meet the high standards that a Federal Agency should always adhere to — guided by the truth and validity of any claims made in a denial letter.  Too often, the discourse which is the basis of the denial merely regurgitates a series of template-like statements, and then the OPM denies the claim.  

Fortunately, however, OPM is not the only Agency which makes the determination during the entirety of the process.  After the second denial, it then loses its jurisdiction over a case, and an appeal can be made to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  

The integrity of the entire process depends upon the independence of the MSPB in reviewing all such cases, and indeed, the Administrative Judges at the MSPB review each case carefully, with an open mind, and with the proper application of the law.  Each Judge must render a decision which contains the rational basis of a decision, based upon precedents and statutory legal underpinnings.  To have the full benefit of the process is indeed the basis of a system with integrity.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: OPM & SSDI

In filing an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS (Federal Employees Retirement System), the applicant must file for Social Security disability benefits (SSDI) sometime prior to the approval of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  This is because the “system” of FERS is tied to the Social Security System, and the Federal Government wants to see whether or not a FERS disability retirement applicant is concurrently eligible and entitled to Social Security Disability benefits.  Those Federal or Postal Workers who are still under the “old system” (CSRS — Civil Service Retirement System) — and you are getting rarer and fewer each year — need not apply.  Those who are of a “hybrid” nature (CSRS offset, etc.) also should apply.

 There is an inconsistency in the way the Office of Personnel Management “requires” the filing for SSDI.  Sometimes, OPM will insist that a FERS Federal Disability Retirement applicant file for SSDI and obtain a receipt only after he or she has been unemployed or separated from the Federal Agency; other times, OPM will be fully satisfied with a receipt of an SSDI filing obtained even while employed by the agency, even though it would mean that an SSDI denial was based upon employment, and not upon whether a person was disabled or not.  In any event, an applicant who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS should comply with the requirement by filing for SSDI, and getting a receipt showing that one has filed.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: FERS & SSDI

Of course one must file for SSDI (Social Security Disability benefits) when a Federal or Postal employee under FERS (the Federal Employees Retirement Systems, as opposed to CSRS, the Civil Service Retirement System) files for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  If approved by Social Security, there is a 100% offset of benefits in the first year, and a 60% offset of benefits every year thereafter until age 62.  The real underlying question for most people, is how aggressively one should, or one wants to, pursue Social Security benefits.  This is often determined by what one plans to do after becoming a Federal Disability Retirement annuitant.  For, if you plan to work part or full time, and think that you will be earning more than the yearly ceiling allowable under SSDI, which is around $12,000.00 per year, then it is probably not worthwhile to pursue it very aggressively.  On the other hand, if you plan on relying exclusively on your disability annuity, it is probably a good idea to pursue it with the intent of obtaining it. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Case of Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is one of those medical conditions that the Office of Personnel Management systematically “targets” as a condition which is prima facie “suspect”. This is despite the fact that there are cases which implicitly “admonish” OPM from engaging in the type of arbitrary reasoning of denying a disability retirement application because they “believe” that “no objective medical evidence” has been submitted, or that the “pain” experienced (diffuse as it might be) is merely “subjective”, or that the chronicity of the pain merely “waxes and wanes”, and a host of multiple other unfounded reasonings. Yet, cases have already placed a clear boundary around such arbitrary and capricious reasonings.

A case in point, of course, is Vanieken-Ryals v. OPM, a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit case, decided on November 26, 2007. In that case, it clearly circumscribes the fact that OPM can no longer make the argument that an Applicant’s disability retirement application contains “insufficient medical evidence” because of its lack of “objective medical evidence”. This is because there is no statute or regulation which “imposes such a requirement” that “objective” medical evidence is required to prove disability. As long as the treating doctor of the disability retirement applicant utilizes “established diagnostic criteria” and applies modalities of treatment which are “consistent with ‘generally accepted professional standards'”, then the application is eligible for consideration. Further, the Court went on to state that it is “legal error for either agency (OPM or the MSPB) to reject submitted medical evidence as entitled to no probative weight at all solely because it lacks so-called ‘objective’ measures such as laboratory tests.” Statues are passed for a reason: to be followed by agencies. Judges render decisions for a reason: for agencies to follow. Often, however, agencies lag behind statutes and judicial decisions. It is up the an applicant — and his or her attorney — to make sure that OPM follows the law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Psychology of the Process

There is, of course, the “psychology” of the process of filing for disability retirement benefits. The term itself (psychology, psychological) is all too often misused. All that is meant in this context is that, at each stage of the process (the initial application stage; the Second, Reconsideration Stage; the Third, Merit Systems Protection Board Stage; the fourth & fifth stages of an appeal, either for a Petition for Full Review or an appeal to the Federal Circuit, or sequentially), the applicant should have a general idea of the level of people the Applicant is dealing with. Thus, for example, at the initial stage of the process, one should not expect the OPM Representative to be fully conversant in the law; whereas, if the case gets to the Merit Systems Protection Board Stage, the OPM representative is fairly well-versed in multiple aspects of the laws governing disability retirement. Additionally, the level of medical knowledge varies from one OPM representative to the next. This is not to say that each stage of the process requires a greater level of intellectual input or information; nor does it mean that each stage should be “tailored” based upon the expected level of competence. Rather, an awareness of what to expect, how to respond, and what level of intellectual responsiveness are all necessary ingredients in preparing and filing a successful disability retirement application. In short, it is important to know the “psychology” of it all.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire