OPM Disability Retirement Lawyer: The Recurrent Nightmare

Perhaps it is explicit, of images which repetitively beat the drum of constancy; or, sometimes, despite every effort, one cannot recall the harrowing particulars of a nighttime of eternity filled with dissipation of fear and loathing.

Restorative sleep is lacking; whether from pain, nightmares or paralyzing panic attacks; and the medical designation of insomnia, Obstructive Sleep Apnea, or psychiatric conditions of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, intrusive nightmares; or perhaps it is much more direct and simple:  pain which prevents getting into a comfortable position in order to drift off into the dreamland of serenity, and where the sharpness compels one to awaken with a scream, only to find that it is the silence of one’s aloneness which permeates the quietude of the voice which no one hears.

The next morning, the profound fatigue and exhaustion, beyond the mere ache of tiredness, with residual cognitive dysfunctions,follows one throughout the day, like a scent of undefinable and unidentifiable aura, always there but never quite connected, either in location, distance or substantive content.  For Federal employees and U.S. Postal workers who experience a semblance of such a state of being, it becomes like a recurrent nightmare, and work becomes impacted in so many different ways.

In physical-intensive jobs, in the greater potentiality for mistakes and accidents; in cognitive-focused positions, in analytical miscues and inability to focus and concentrate.  Perhaps it all becomes reflected in one’s performance review, or one becomes placed on a “Performance Improvement Plan” (a PIP); or even be handed an Agency’s Proposed Removal; whatever the cost, for the Federal or Postal worker, it is time to consider preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether the Federal or Postal worker is under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset.

No, Federal Disability Retirement is not the “be all” and “end all” of solutions; but it is an option which should always be considered when once the recurrent nightmare engulfs the Federal or Postal worker with consequences of adverse actions imposed upon a fragile state of being ready to crack under the weight of a chronic disease or medical condition of such seriousness and sufficiency as to have impacted one’s capacity to perform all of the essential elements of one’s positional duties.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Agency Actions & OPM

The argument in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS goes as follows:  An Agency has determined that a Federal or Postal employee is medically unable to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; that Federal or Postal employee cannot be accommodated; the case-law states that, at a minimum, the agency conclusions have a persuasive effect upon a Federal Disability Retirement application; ergo, the Office of Personnel Management should approve the Federal or Postal employee’s Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS.

The problem with such an argument, if relied upon exclusively, is threefold:  (1)  The statutory mandate as to which agency makes a determination upon a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is misplaced, (2) The Agency, whether the Flight Surgeon at the FAA who determines that an Air Traffic Controller is medically unqualified to continue in his or her job, or the Postal Service who determines pursuant to the National Reassessment Process (NRP) that there is no longer a job available at the Postal Service, or any other agency which determines that no accommodations can be provided — has not applied all of the legal criteria under the laws and statutes governing Federal Disability Retirement applications, and (3) the focus from the perspective of the agency is a “second-tier” focus — of whether an accommodation can be provided to the Federal or Postal employee to see if the efficiency of the Agency can continue, as opposed to the “first-tier” issue of whether the Federal or Postal employee has a medical condition such that it satisfies all of the criteria for a Federal Disability Retirement application.  

As such, it is the focus of the respective agencies which differentiate the possibility of an agency action being merely persuasive, as opposed to determinative, in a Federal Disability Retirement applicationunder either FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: You Still Have to Prove your Case

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, many Federal and Postal employees operate under the misguided presumption that, if the Agency has acknowledged one’s medical conditions, cannot accommodate the Federal or Postal employee, and explicitly concedes that the disabled Federal or Postal employee cannot perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, that an approval of the Federal Disability Retirement application is nothing more than a mere formality beyond its submission.  

Thus, for example, the scenario as painted herein might include the Flight Surgeon’s determination for the Air Traffic Control Specialist who works for the FAA, who disqualifies the ATS for either his/her medical condition, or the medication regimen that he/she is taking; or it may involved the Postal Worker who is sent home pursuant to the National Reassessment Process; or it may be a Federal or Postal worker who has been administratively separated from Federal Service based upon his or her medical inability to perform the essential functions of one’s job, and thereby is entitled to the Bruner Presumption.  

All of these case-studies are “nice”; they are promising, and there is obviously substantive and useful evidence that the Federal or Postal employee is probably eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits — but what the Agency does or says is not enough.  The Federal or Postal employee must still meet the burden of proof and prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she is eligible and entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  

The Office of Personnel Management is an independent agency, separate and apart from the other Federal Agencies or the Postal Service.  What determinations are made by the other agencies will not persuade OPM of anything; in a Federal Disability Retirement case, you must prove your case of medical eligibility, above and beyond what the Agency says or does.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Standard Forms Do Not Mean “Standard Responses”

The problem with “Standard Forms” is that they often appear to solicit “standard responses”, and in a Federal Disability Retirement case under the Federal Employees Retirement Systems (FERS) or the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), nothing could be further from the truth.  Indeed, it is often because a Federal or Postal employee/applicant who confronts and begins to fill out SF 3112A, Applicant’s Statement of Disability, the very “blocked” appearance of the form, and the constricting questions themselves, makes it appear as if a “standard response” is required.  Don’t be fooled.

By way of example, take a “special animal” — that of a Federal Aviation Administration Air Traffic Controller who must take a disqualifying medication, loses his or her medical certification from the Flight Surgeon, and thinks that filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is a “slam dunk”.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Or, a Customs & Border Patrol Agent who goes out on stress leave, or suffers from chronic back pain.  Are there “standard responses” in filling out an Applicant’s Statement of Disability?  There are certain standard “elements” which should be considered in responding to the questions, but don’t be constricted by an appearance of “standard responses” to a “standard form”.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability: The Disabled Federal and Postal Worker

As with most attorneys, I try to maintain an appearance of detached professionalism. It is my job to provide sound legal advice; to guide the client/disability retirement applicant with logical argumentation, rational perspective, and legal foundations as to the strength or weakness of a case, and to guide my client over obstacles, around legal landmines, and through the briars and thickets of “the law”. I try to remain aloof from the inherent emotionalism which arises from the human story of my clients, because not to do so would be to defeat the essence of why a client hires me: to maintain and retain an objective perspective, in order to provide the best legal advice possible. However, to maintain that wall of professionalism is not always possible.

The human story of the Federal and Postal employee is indeed one of encompassing a juggernaut of loyalty, professionalism, dedication, hard work, and the driving force behind and undergirding the economic might of the United States. Yes, of course the United States is built upon the economic principles of the free market system of the private sector; but the services which the government provides are not accomplished by some faceless or nameless entity; each such service — from the letter carrier through “rain, sleet or snow”, to the Special Agents who investigate and put criminals behind bars; from the border patrol agents who guard our security, to the IT Specialist who safeguards our internet viability — is provided by a competent and dedicated worker. That is why I am often humbled by my clients; because, truth be known, the disability retirement applicants who come to me have come to a point with his or her medical condition, where there is no other choice. It is never a question of dedication or hard work; the Federal and Postal Worker has already proven his or her dedication and hard work through the decades of service provided, prior to coming to me.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Further Thoughts on Reasonable Accommodation by the Agency

The problem with Agency efforts to provide an employee with reasonable accommodations is that such attempts are too often than not, neither “reasonable” nor legally viable accommodations.  Let’s remember that a legally viable “accommodation” is that act, allowance, or modification, which allows the employee to continue to perform and complete the core or essential elements of one’s position.  Further, Federal and Postal employees need to understand that there is nothing inherently wrong with an Agency providing an accommodation that is neither legally viable (for Federal disability retirement purposes) nor “reasonable”.

Let me explain.  Let’s say that an employee works for the Postal Service.  He or she gets injured, and let’s even assume that it is a valid OWCP Department of Labor claim.  At some point, because OWCP/DOL is NOT a retirement system, they will often “create” a “modified position” and make a modified, or light-duty job offer.  It could be as extreme as sitting in a corner and answering the telephone.  Now, if the individual gets the same pay, there is nothing inherently wrong with such a modified job offer.  However, at the same time, you need to remember that accepting such a modified job offer does not preclude the employee from filing for, and getting approved, an application for Federal Disability Retirement.  This is because the modified (or “light duty”) job offer is not a real, previously-vacant position, and therefore is neither “reasonable” nor truly an accommodation under federal disability retirement laws.  Nevertheless, there was nothing wrong with the Agency making up such a “modified job” and offering it to the employee.  This is true of all Agencies in the Federal Government, across the Board, from FAA Air Traffic Controllers who have lost their medical clearances, to IT Specialists who have lost their security clearances, to executive level administrators:  modified duties, and “make-up” positions, while remaining in the same position, does not mean that there is anything inherently wrong with the modified job offer.  It just means that such a modified job is neither a “reasonable” accommodation, and nor is it an “accommodation” at all — at least, not under the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire