Disability Retirement for U.S. Federal Workers: The Second Bite at the Apple

Rarely in life does one have a second chance; in important matters, an opportunity will often present itself, and depending upon the option chosen, one must live with the consequences of such a choice, or live the remainder of one’s life with grumblings of quiet regret and remorse.

In the legal arena, the process of what the public views as “endless appeals and procedural maneuvers” allows for the litigant to have multiple chances, and not just a “second bite at the apple”, but often a third, fourth…and seemingly infinite opportunities.

For Federal and Postal employees filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, there are multiple chances at filing for and obtaining Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  The only obstacle is if the Statute of Limitations has come and gone — the filing deadline of 1 year from the date of separation from Federal Service.  Even that hurdle contains some exceptions — as in a Federal or Postal employee being deemed incompetent by a psychiatrist to file within the timeframe.

For those who have filed and been denied, and for some reason failed to file for Reconsideration or an appeal to the MSPB — you can refile.  For those who filed and were denied at every level — you can refile. Does OPM still keep your previous file?  Yes. Will they review your old file along with the new filing?  Yes.  But if the new filing is stronger and better prepared, you stand the same chance as a Federal or Postal employee who has just submitted an initial application.

Rarely does one get a second bite at the apple; fortunately, under our system of legal procedures, the taste of the fruit is within reach for another time, and often the taste is more satisfying than the first encounter.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Certainties and Presumptions

Life presents conundrums of certainties and presumptions; the former in order to retain sanity; the latter in order to appear sane.  A certain event is one which is expected to occur because of a natural law, a habitual repetition of reliance, or because the daily routine has engrained it upon our consciousness.  A presumption is a wish for certainty which may not even be rationally-based, but one in which we conclude will likely occur because of past events, contextual probabilities, and a sense that the present should reflect the historicity of the past.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, it is best to establish the strict bifurcation between certainties which are clearly so, and avoid presumptions.

It is certain that Federal Disability Retirement is a process which will likely require multiple stages to obtain; it is certain that the Office of Personnel Management will scrutinize each Federal and Postal employee’s application and find it deficient or inadequate; it is certain that one’s agency will likely be two-faced and feign loyalty and support but act in ways which defy such declarative embracing of the Federal or Postal employee.  Conversely, one should never presume that one’s case is a “slam-dunk”; nor that OPM will make a decision sooner than later; nor that OPM will provide a rationally-based reasoning for denying a case.

Hume and Berkeley aside, we live in a world where cause-and-effect are relied upon, and where the world does not merely depend upon our perceiving it; but certainties should always be tempered with an understanding that Federal Disability Retirement is an administrative process which must be fought for, then protected, and presuming an easy path with any Federal agency is to defy the logic which both Hume and Berkeley took to the extreme.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: As a Process

It is often a necessity to be reminded that the preparation, formulation, and ultimately the filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is an administrative process.

By “process” is meant that it involves multiple levels of time frames and stages, and is not merely constituted by a single “filing” of paperwork.  It is not a defined “right” to a benefit which is triggered by a certain event — such as age, filing of a form, etc.  Rather, it is a benefit which is determined by an administrative process of eligibility.

One must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that one is “eligible” for the benefits.  In order to do that, one must, of course, meet each of the legal and regulatory criteria as set out by statutory authority, regulations propounded by the Office of Personnel Management, and case-law authorities handed down by the Merit Systems Protection Board and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.

As such, time frames for issuing determinations are made by the agency granted such authority — the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  And, further, the process will often necessarily involve multiple stages — the Initial Stage, the Reconsideration Stage, an appeal to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, then a Petition for Full Review, and if necessary, an appeal to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.

Time frames, stages, applicability of the law, meeting each of the statutory requirements — they all constitute a long and complex “process”, and one which must be dealt with whether one agrees with it, wants to, or is somehow unprepared to do so.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement Application: Complex Interdependence of the Stages

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application with the Office of Personnel Management, it is important to recite, note, identify and apply “the law” at each stage of the process, if not for the present, then always in preparation for the future.  

No one likes to think of his or her Federal Disability Retirement application as potentially being capable of being denied at any of the multiple levels of the administrative process; everyone believes that his or her Federal Disability Retirement application is a “sure thing”, a “slam dunk”, a certainty beyond question.  The latter is a natural belief, born from a subjective experience of one who personally and immediately suffers from the very medical condition which one is complaining about.  The former acknowledgement — of understanding the potential for a denial either from the Office of Personnel Management or from the Merit Systems Protection Board, or the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit — is an unavoidable reality to be confronted.  

To acknowledge reality is a mechanism of survival; to deny a potential future event is to avoid a reasonable occurrence which, if not recognized, can have unintended consequences which can result in greater devastating residual effects if not properly prepared for.  Indeed, one should reasonably expect that, with a lower-level “preponderance of the evidence” standard of proof, that if properly and carefully prepared and formulated, that one’s Federal Disability Retirement application will be approved at some point in the process.  

One has many opportunities — the Initial Application Stage at OPM; the Reconsideration Stage at the Office of Personnel Management; an appeal and a Hearing before an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board; a Petition for Full Review at the Merit Systems Protection Board; and an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.  

Each stage is independent, yet co-dependent and interdependent.  Each stage must be meticulously prepared for its own merits, yet the groundwork set for the next stage.  Each stage is the crucial stage to win; yet, to cite legal precedents for an appeal to the next.  Never underestimate the potential for a denial; for to underestimate is merely to ask for that which one is unprepared for.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Early Retirement for Disabled Federal Workers: Areas of Practice

Invisible demarcation lines exist within each area of law, and if one envisions each such area of law somewhat like circles in a Venn Diagram, one can picture an overlap (sometimes quite significant) within the various areas of law.  

Thus, while the generic designation of “Administrative Law” might represent the primary demarcation, there will be subsets of legal practices, which include Social Security benefits, OWCP/FECA (Federal, as opposed to state OWCP attorneys), Veterans Benefits, EEOC, employment disputes, Federal Civil Rights violations, etc.  Some attorneys and law firms have specialties which include and embrace multiple disciplines; others attorneys or firms specialize in a single and exclusive area of law.  

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, there are very few attorneys “out there” who are either experienced or have the requisite knowledge and experience to adequately represent Federal or Postal employees in putting together a compelling Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  

It must be clearly understood that while preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS may be “similar” to other areas of legal practice, the practice of Federal Disability Retirement has its own unique sets of laws, rules, criteria and statutory authorities.  Knowing one circle in a Venn Diagram does not mean that such knowledge automatically translates and crosses over into another circle.  Beware of anyone who expresses expertise in multiple areas of law; it might be that traveling in too many circles will result in a circularity of abilities.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Recognizing the Process & the Necessity for Patience

In filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, it is important to recognize that the entire application endeavor — the initial preparation, formulation and filing; if denied at the First Stage, the ability to file a Request for Reconsideration within thirty (30) days of the denial; the appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board; a further appeal to the Full Board; then, if necessary, an appeal to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals — constitutes a “process”, and one which must be prepared for from the very beginning.  

Recognizing that the entire endeavor is a process will help to prepare one for the long haul — not only in being patient with the Office of Personnel Management at the first two stages of the process, but further, with the Administrative judicial process at the Merit Systems Protection Board; then (if necessary) with the Federal Court system.  Without such recognition, one will only experience frustration and anxiety.  As has been stated many times, Patience is a virtue; as such, Federal and Postal employees must be the virtuous of all classes of people, because of the constancy of patience they must endure.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: When to file for an MSPB Hearing

Filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS is what is generically known as falling under “Administrative Law“.  That is, Federal and Postal employees must undergo the administrative process of filing with a Federal Agency, the Office of Personnel Management, in an attempt to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that one is eligible for, and therefore entitled to under the law, Federal Disability Retirement benefits under either the Federal Employee’s Retirement System (FERS), the Civil Service Retirement System (the “older” system, or CSRS), or its hybrid, the CSRS-Offset.  

If the Agency which makes the decision on eligibility denies a Federal or Postal employee’s application twice (both at the Initial application Stage of the process, then again at what is termed the “Reconsideration Stage” of the process), then the case can be appealed to an Administrative legal forum specifically set up to hear such cases (as well as many other types of cases involving Federal and Postal employees).  In order to file with the Merit Systems Protection Board (the “MSPB”), one must have received a “final denial” letter from the Office of Personnel Management — and, by “final”, is merely meant the “second denial” letter.  Thus, in order for the Merit System Protection Board to consider an appeal for one’s Federal Disability Retirement benefits, the Federal or Postal employee must have been denied by the Office of Personnel Management on the first two tries — first, with the Initial Application, then for the Reconsideration of that application.  Only then may a Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS, CSRS or CSRS-Offset file an appeal with the MSPB.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The MSPB Hearing

If you find yourself at the Merit Systems Protection Board trying to prove to an Administrative Judge that your are entitled to Federal Disability Retirements benefits under FERS, and you have already filed a Prehearing Statement, and your witnesses have been approved at the Prehearing Conference, and further, you have outlined all of the issues, set forth the legal basis, and proffered the expected testimony, it is then “showtime”.

It is obviously preferable for an applicant who is filing for OPM Disability Retirement benefits to be represented by a Federal Disability Attorney — if possible, from the inception of the process, through the Reconsideration Stage, to the MSPB.  However, if a Federal or Postal employee finds that, for one reason or another, you simply cannot afford an Attorney, then here are three (3) tips if you find that you are before an MSPB Administrative Judge:  (1)  Have a doctor testify, and make sure that the testimony of the doctor is precise and to the point (2) Make sure that what you prove to the Judge correlates with what you said you would prove in your Prehearing Statement, and (3) Be prepared to make objections to any of OPM’s cross-examination questions.

Finally, remember that the point of making an objection during a Hearing is not to necessarily stop the question or answer, but rather, to preserve the point for a possible appeal.  It is ultimately difficult for a non-attorney Federal Disability Retirement applicant to formulate and prepare for an effective Merit Systems Protection Board Hearing, and further, it would be better if the Federal or Postal employee had an attorney (who is well-versed in Federal Disability Retirement law) throughout the entire process; but one must play the hand one is dealt with, and that old adage is true even with a Federal or Postal Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Preparing for an MSPB Hearing

There is a singular focus when preparing for a Hearing at the Merit Systems Protection Board:  that of persuading and convincing an Administrative Judge that you have proven, by a preponderance of the evidence, that you are entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Of course, as I have often pointed out in the past, the full and complete preparation for an MSPB Hearing should have come about throughout the first two stages of the process — in the initial application for Federal Disability Retirement, and in responding to the Office of Personnel Management at the Reconsideration Stage of the process.  The fact that the Office of Personnel Management denied a case twice does not mean that the Applicant or his/her attorney did anything “wrong”; rather, it merely means that the Office of Personnel Management was wrong twice over.  Beyond the singular focus upon the MSPB Administrative Judge, there must be a multiple focus before the actual day of the Hearing:  Prepare, prepare, and prepare.  That means:  Go through the Agency records with a fine-toothed comb; prepare by anticipating any cross-examination questions which OPM may have; prepare the witnesses; prepare the closing argument.  Preparation is the key to every litigation, and a Hearing before the MSPB Administrative Judge is no different.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire