FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: The Cost of Doing Nothing

The Office of Personnel Management has been sending out a number of decisions, and many have been denials.  They seem to come in batches; whether by coincidence, or in systematic fashion, OPM has tended in recent months to send out denials which fail to explain, leaving aside any concept of “discussion“, the basis of their denials.  

The irony of having a section entitled, “Discussion”, then merely delineating a regurgitation of the “applicable criteria to be eligible for Disability Retirement benefits“, then making a conclusory & declarative statement somewhat in the form of:  “You do not meet criteria X and Y” is hardly a “discussion” of the issues.  Moreover, even in the denials which appear to be lengthy is the number of sentences, paragraphs or pages, the content is devoid of any substantive discussion of the issues.  It is more often simply a reference to a doctor, without any rational basis given as to what is lacking, but merely ending with a statement of conclusion, saying, “No objective medical evidence was provided,” or “The medical evidence does not show that…”  One would expect that a logical structure of reasons would be provided, but such an expectation would fall short of what actually occurs.  The real problem is that, in reading such a denial letter, one doesn’t know where to start, what to answer, or what additional information needs to be submitted.  Thus, you must “read between the lines”.  The cost of doing nothing is to get a further denial; that is simply not an option.  The best option is to reinforce what is already there.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Reconsideration Response — Refrain from Reflexive Response

When a denial is received for an Application for Federal or Postal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, sometimes they are replete with comical “errors” and omissions.  Thus, anywhere from mistaken identities, to wrong job identifications, to the wrong doctors named; from medical conditions which were never claimed, to diagnostic tests and surgeries which were never submitted; these are just some examples of errors and omissions which one might find in the body of the “Discussion” in an OPM denial letter.  The reflexive temptation is to put together a string of harangues and accuse the OPM Representative of incompetence, incoherence, ineptitude, and inability to perform the essential element of his or her job.  Such a reflexive response would be the wrong tact to take, however.  One should refrain from making such “ad hominem” attacks.  Instead, the better way to go about it would be to politely point out the major errors, the omissions of any medical or other substantiating documentation, in an understated way, then to argue the main points that need to be argued to rebut the denial letter.  While the former methodology may make you feel good, in the end, it is an approval which will prove to be of lasting elation.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Strategy of Disheartening the Opposition

When Federal and Postal employees who have filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, and have been denied at the initial stage of the process, many are sincerely disheartened.

In my initial contact with the denied applicant, there are multiple levels of reactions, including:  the denial letter points to legal criteria which they were unaware of; it refers to doctors notations which are taken completely out of context; they have completely ignored major portions of what the doctor has stated; OPM points to legal criteria which has been met, but which OPM simply denies that it has been met.

What can be done?  This is the strategy of disheartening the opposition.  In other denials, it is simply a matter of referring to a doctor’s report here, and to a medical notation there; then to simply declare:  You have not submitted sufficient medical documentation and fail to meet the legal criteria to be eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  What can be done?  No explanation; just scant references, then a unilateral declaration.  Again, this is the strategy of disheartening the opposition.  What to do?  Don’t get disheartened.  Respond.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: An Additional Problem with Answering an OPM Denial

Spring and summer are finally upon us; the warmth of the sun finally brings some hope that the multiple series of snowstorms may be finally behind us (now that I have said it, the chances are exponentially multiplied that we will accumulate an additional 20 inches of snow in March).  Thoughts of the beach will soon become visually real, as opposed to virtually experienced.  Sand.  The metaphor of the “shifting sand” is one which is applicable to the Office of Personnel Management in its denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  Those of you who have followed my stream of consciousness on the issue of templates, denial letters and the arbitrary nature of OPM’s decision-making process, will not find it surprising to find that OPM merely shifts, changes positions, and dances around (albeit, not always gracefully) any attempt to “corner” the argument which purportedly is the basis for a denial of a Federal or Postal Disability Retirement application

Do not, however, underestimate the importance of properly, directly, and clearly answering the concerns of an OPM denial.  It is not enough to gather more medical documentation and sending them in.  It is not enough to address, point by point, the basis of a denial letter.  One must corner, clarify, and clearly define the basis of an OPM denial, then refute them.  This way, if it is denied a second time, and the case goes before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board, the AJ will see that the issues previously brought forth by OPM have already been addressed, and that any necessity for a Hearing may be avoided by clarifying any remaining concerns which the OPM representative may need to search for and articulate. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: OPM & the Problem of Templates

The problem with the use of templates is that they are, over time and overusage, predictable; being predictable, they become ineffective.  Now, from the perspective of the Office of Personnel Management, applying a template to a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, whether predictable or not, is somewhat irrelevant, to the extent that a denial is still a denial, and an approval is simply an approval. 

It is only if and when a case is appealed (after an initial denial and a denial at the Second Stage, at the Request for Reconsideration Stage) to the Merit Systems Protection Board, that the template has to be “defended” if the Administrative Judge asks for clarification of the issues by referring to the template-based denial.  Moreover, what is predictable is the combination of medical condition/denial rationale.  For instance:  for Fibromyalgia:  “The condition waxes and wanes”; for Major Depression:  “Not enough time has been allowed for the efficacy of a medication regimen“; for anxiety & panic attacks:  “There is insufficient objective medical evidence”; for Chronic pain:  “Physical therapy has not been sufficiently given a chance to…”   These are some examples of templates used by the Office of Personnel Management, each of which can easily be refutted in any particular case.  The methodology of refutation, obviously, is where a federal disability attorney can be of greatest counsel and representation.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: OPM & the Template Approach

Starting from a template is not necessarily a bad thing.  One should not have to repetitively reinvent the wheel in any endeavor.  It is when one uses a template blindly, without carefully reviewing and evaluating the facts and circumstances of a particular case, that the problem arises. 

Each case in a Federal Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS is unique, not so much because a specific medical condition is unique (although, obviously, it is “unique” to the individual suffering from it); and not so much because of the type of job that a particular Federal or Postal employee works in.  Rather, the uniqueness of the particular case normally arises in the combination of the two — the symptoms manifesting from a particular medical condition, and how it impacts the ability or inability to work at a particular kind of job. That, in essence, is the core of a Federal Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS — the combining and clashing of the medical condition with a particular kind of Federal or Postal job, and the incompatibility between the two.  How the Office of Personnel Management reviews that combination is what is often at issue — and, because templates are generic treatments without regard to particular and unique facts and circumstances, that is precisely the reason why they fail to address the uniqueness of a particular case.  (Next:  How OPM’s template is often predictable and ultimately ineffective in a Federal Disability Retirement case)

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire