OPM Disability Retirement Application: Starting with Basics

The complexities inherent in preparing, formulating, and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application with the Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, are well-documented.  It can indeed be a daunting, intimidating encounter — for, while the Standard Forms themselves (SF 3107 series for FERS; SF 2801 series for CSRS; SF 3112 series — 3112A, 3112B, 3112C & 3112D for both FERS and CSRS) are rather simple in their outlook, it is the questions which are posed, and how one answers them, which will determine the success or failure of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  

Further, the laws themselves have evolved over time into a complex compendium of technical modifications and adjustments, as various legal issues have arisen in response to different determinations and decisions rendered by the Office of Personnel Management.  

When one first approaches the possibility of preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application, a view of the entire process and procedure is helpful, but then to step back and ultimately start the meticulous formulation of a Federal Disability Retirement packet with the “basics” in mind.  What are the basics?  Proper and compelling medical documentation; a description of the essential elements of one’s job; then the proper bridge between the two.  Without the proper bridge, it will lead to nowhere.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Sometimes, It’s “The Law”

An assumption is often made that the “Disability Specialist” at the Office of Personnel Management who reviews the Federal or Postal Disability Retirement application understands, comprehends, and applies the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement applications.  Now, such an assumption may be logical and reasonable, to the extent that one thinks (A) that those who aspire to working in a specific specialty have some knowledge or understanding of the specialty, and (B) if a decision is made which involves discussing “the law”, one presumes that the mere discussion of it proves some knowledge of it.  

The problem with such reasoning, however (apart from the popular tripartite acronym which originates from the word “********-u-me”), is that it betrays the facts:  often, from reviewing the denial letters generated from the Office of Personnel Management, it is painfully clear that the administrative specialist, the legal specialist, or whatever other “specialist” designation has been embraced by the worker at the Office of Personnel Management, simply fails to apply all of the applicable laws which govern Federal Disability Retirement applications.  This is understandable, to this extent:  OPM representatives (other than those representing OPM at the MSPB level) are not lawyers, and as such, do not keep up with the latest evolution of the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement issues.  Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, is another matter altogether.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Irony of Favorable Laws

In certain areas of “the law”, statutes, regulations and case-laws have developed which tend to favor the individual seeking to obtain a benefit through such laws.  For the Federal or Postal Worker who is seeking Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, one could easily argue that the laws governing the process of seeking Federal or Postal Disability benefits from the Office of Personnel Management “favor” the applicant.  

Think about it:  a Federal or Postal worker (under FERS) needs only 18 months of minimum eligibility; light duty, or modified duties, do not preclude one from obtaining Federal Disability Retirement benefits; one has up to a year after being separated from Federal Service to file for the benefit; a Federal or Postal Worker who suffers from a medical condition only has to show that it prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; one does not need to show “total disability”, but only disability as to one of the critical elements of one’s job; and so on.

The irony of such “favorable” laws governing Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS is, however, that such favor often invites greater scrutiny.  Thus, the fact that the substantive laws governing a legal process may provide an advantage to the seeker, does not in any way mean that the process itself is any easier.  On the contrary, one could argue that because the substantive laws governing a legal process favor the applicant, that the process itself is made all the more difficult.  Such ironies often arise in various facets of life, and it certainly seems to be the case for Federal and Postal workers seeking to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Creativity Is Important In the Applicant’s Statement

It is important to creatively inter-weave facts, feelings, medical impact, symptoms and conditions into a persuasive Applicant’s Statement of Disability.  It should not be overly emotional; it should not be voluminously long; it should not be preachy; it should not be written as a doctor would write it.  It is the Applicant’s Statement of Disability, and it should be from the Applicant’s perspective; but as with every writing, the “audience” to whom anything is written, must always be kept in mind.  Remember that the audience is a reviewing Office of Personnel Management representative — one who is evaluating, analyzing, and making a decision upon the application for disability retirement. 

Of course the independent attachment of medical documentation will be persuasive; of course a review of the position description will have an impact; and of course the analysis of comparing the medical condition with the type of job one has will be scrutinized and will be relevant.  It is the applicant’s statement of disability, however, which will most often be the determining factor.  That is why such a statement must creatively weave all of the various aspects of a disability retirement application — facts, emotions, job impact, medical impact, doctor’s statement, personal statement, impact statement — all in a bundle, all inter-weaving, all in a persuasive, creative description.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Law

I will be writing an article of greater length on this issue, but suffice it for now that when “the law” works, it works well. A major second case has been decided in favor of the Federal employee — first, it was Vanieken-Ryals v. OPM, 508 F.3d 1034 (Fed. Cir. 2007), and now, Sylvia M. Reilly v. OPM, decided July 15, 2009. Vanieken-Ryals toppled the irrational imposition of a baseless standard by OPM — that there is a distinction to be made between “objective” as opposed to “subjective” evidence concerning medical evidence (example of the absurdity: How do you prove the existence of pain? While an MRI may show a physical condition, you cannot prove that such a physical condition equates to debilitating pain, leaving aside any quantification of pain. Similarly, how do you prove the existence of Major Depression? Anxiety? Panic attacks?).

Now, Reilly v. OPM has toppled another idol of a false standard imposed by OPM: that medical documentation which post-dates separation from Federal Service is near-irrelevant. This has never made sense, for at least 2 reasons: first, since a person is allowed to file for Federal Disability Retirement within 1 year of being separated from service, why would medical documentation dated after the separation be considered irrelevant? Second, medical conditions rarely appear suddenly. Most conditions are progressive and degenerative in nature, and indeed, that is what the Court in Reilly argues. Grant another win for the Federal employee, the law, and the process of law. It makes being a lawyer worthwhile when “the law” works.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Representation Anywhere

I receive multiple calls weekly asking whether I have a satellite office in a particular state.  The answer:  No, but Federal Disability Retirement law is a federal issue, not a state issue, and that is why I am able to represent Federal and Postal employees from all across the United States.  It matters not whether a Federal or Postal employee is in California, Alaska, Mississippi or Florida.  I have represented individuals from every state, including Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Europe, Japan, Korea, etc.  Modern technology has allowed for such representation, and I am able to communicate with each of my clients, effectively and efficiently, via Express Mail, email, fax, telephone, cell phone, Federal Express, UPS, and every kind of electronic & physical transportation & communication system.  Modern technology certainly has its drawbacks; it has, in many ways, made life more complex.  Yet, at the same time, it has given me the honor of representing a wide range of Federal and Postal employees from everywhere, and to be able to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits for a wide range of interesting people, in interesting jobs, in a variety of Federal Agencies, suffering from multiple medical disabilities, ranging from psychiatric disabilities to severe and chronic physical disabilities. No, I do not have a satellite office in your state — but I am able to communicate with each of you, and represent each of you, as if I was right there in your particular town.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal OPM Disability Retirement: Be Discerning

In many ways, there is too much information “out there” about anything and everything.  The area of Federal Disability Retirement Law under FERS & CSRS is no different (and, admittedly, the irony is that I may be adding to the compendium of information with my incessant blogs, articles, reflections, etc.).  The real problem, however, is not necessarily the quantity of information, but rather the quality — and for Federal and Postal employees who are attempting to understand all of the issues surrounding Federal Disability Retirement, it is often difficult to categorize and separate and distinguish between “good” information and “bad” information.  For instance, there is the local/district Human Resources personnel for an employee’s Agency.  Agency H.R. offices are made up of “people” — both good and bad, both competent and incompetent; both helpful and downright ornery.  Then, there is the Office of Personnel Management.  There are multiple internet sites, blogs, a plethora of lawyers (though, there are not that many lawyers who are versed in the area of Federal Disability Law).  The bottom-line issue is not one of “quantity” of information, but how to discern between “good” information and “bad” information.  Too often, a person will call me and tell me that “so-and-so told me that X occurs when you file for Federal Disability Retirement — is that true?”  My response is of a standard nature:  I do not sit and argue or contradict some third person whom I have never met, and against a statement which may have been taken out of context.  Instead, I ask my caller, potential clients, and anyone and everyone who reads my writings, to look at the substance of what I write and say; review the consistency of what I have written, and make your own judgment:  Discern well by checking out the facts, and seeing if what others have said about me, or what I have said, rings true.  Be discerning.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The First Denial

One should not be overly panicked when the Office of Personnel Management denies a disability retirement application at the initial stage of the process.  Certainly, the denial needs to be taken seriously; the basis for the denial (which is often couched in confusing terms, based upon conflicting — almost contradictory — assertions and claims) must be identified and addressed; additional medical documentation may be needed; the proper legal authorities must be cited.

 To put it bluntly:  while it is almost always a good idea to prepare, present, and file a Federal Disability Retirement application with the assistance, guidance and counsel of an attorney, it is essential that an OPM disability retirement denial be rebutted by an attorney who is familiar with the process, the laws, and the compelling arguments necessary in answering the reasons as stated in the “Discussion” section of OPM’s denial letter.  To panic is merely to waste time; to prepare is the wise course; to map out a cogent plan on how to win at the Reconsideration Stage — and, if necessary, the next stage of appeal, the Merit Systems Protection Board — is the wisest approach.  As Easter is a time of renewal, and Spring is now upon us, during the next few weeks, I will be “going back to basics” and reviewing  the process, the law, and the methodology of effectively applying to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits for FERS & CSRS employees.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: the Bruner Presumption – Agency Actions II

One must never misunderstand the law and its application.  This is true in any legal arena of every area of law; when it comes to Federal Disability Retirement law, the misunderstanding of an application of law can have direct and irreparable consequences:  the failure to secure disability retirement benefits and, therefore, the financial security for one’s future.  The “Bruner Presumption” is one such application of law which is often misunderstood.  Without revealing all of its proper applications, it can (and is) often misunderstood to be equivalent to a “presumption of innocence” — but that would be wrong.  The Bruner Presumption comes about as a result of an Agency Action — of removal based upon the employee’s medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of the job.  With or without the Bruner Presumption in Federal Disability Retirement law, the “Burden of Production” — i.e., of the medical documentation, the factual establishment that the Agency is unable to accommodate the individual — still rests and remains with the applicant.  One must never think that the applicability of the Bruner Presumption makes a case a “slam dunk” of any sort.  This is especially so where we are talking about those medical conditions which are often viewed as “suspect” by the Office of Personnel Management — such as Fibroymyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity cases, etc (by “suspect”, however, I do not mean to imply that such medical conditions make it harder for an applicant to get it approved; rather, it merely requires that the one who is preparing such an application, do it properly, thoroughly, and with legal force).  Remember that the initial, and continuing, burden of production always remains with the applicant; what the Bruner Presumption merely does is to “shift” some of the weight of the burden of proof over to OPM, and in the event of an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, of placing a Federal Disability Retirement case into a more favorable light with the Administrative Judge.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire