Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Rationality Still Exists

One may well disagrees with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management on its decision to deny a Federal Disability Retirement application, and yet find a rational basis for its denial.  Indeed, the fact that OPM may offer some rationality to its denial, does not mean that they are correct in their decision.  Often, there is a misunderstanding as to what “rational” behavior consists of.

On a recent Sunday morning talk show, a couple of political pundits were proposing the idea that certain hard-line regimes were not acting “rationally”.  The problem with such an analysis is that one assumes that if an individual or a country fails to act within certain universally-accepted normative behavior, that such actions constitute “irrational” conduct.  That is simply not true.

First of all, rationality — which finds its foundation in logic, whether propositional or syllogistic — depends upon the major and minor premises advanced.  Thus, if the major premise entails a person or country that cares for the welfare of his neighbor or its citizenry, then the logical conclusion may well be one which encapsulates rationality — of acting to protect its people, to safeguard human rights, etc.  On the other hand, if the major premise begins with the primary assertion of retaining authority and absolute power, then the conclusion would involve shooting or massacring its countrymen.  The latter logical trail is no less “rational” than the former. Such a mistake in defining and understanding the concept of “rationality” is often found in all areas of life.

Thus, in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, the fact that there has been evidence of “irrational” behavior on the part of those parties involved in the administrative process, should not result in a conclusion that the process is “arbitrary” or dependent upon some non-legal criteria.

Ultimately, all human endeavors embrace some semblance of rationality.  While one may disagree with the analytical thought-processes of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which often strays far beyond what the law requires and allows for, nevertheless, one can recognize the rational analytical procedures used in every denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS — albeit, one in which radical jumps from premise-to-conclusion with gaping chasms of generous implications may have to be provided, in order to be able to say that such argumentation incorporated a rational basis of explanatory analysis.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Initial, Reactive Response

When a denial is received at the first stage of a Federal Disability Retirement application process, the initial, reactive response is often one of two avenues, both of which are the wrong paths to venture down:  either a Federal or Postal employee immediately writes an angry, emotional response or he/she gives up and decides that the statements made, the reasons given, etc., in the denial letter from the Office of Personnel Management are too powerful and overwhelming to overcome.  

Both responsive avenues constitute the wrong approach; neither responsive approach reflects the true state of the case.  

While there may be cases where the applicant has failed to make even a minimal attempt at meeting the burden of proof in a Federal Disability Retirement application, such a case is one in which the undersigned attorney has never encountered.  For, there is a presumption (a truthful one, I believe) that filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is never out of choice, but always out of necessity.  

Federal and Postal workers don’t file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits without good cause.  In a denial letter from the Office of Personnel Management, the statements made and the claims of rational discourse as to the reasons for the denial, do not mean that they are true.  Just because OPM says so, doesn’t make it true. Careful thought, reflection, and thoughtfulness of strategy in responding to an OPM denial is what is needed.  Do not react — at least, not initially.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: The Denial Letter

During this Holiday Season when Federal and Postal employees who have filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, who are anxiously awaiting the decision from the Office of Personnel Management, a denial letter from OPM can appear disproportionately devastating.  Christmas and the New Year tend to bring difficulties precisely because it is seen as a season of celebration, when families get together, where work continues, but an expectation of being “joyous” pervades.  At such a time, a denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application from the Office of Personnel Management can be a seeming conclusion to a long wait.  It is not.  

Do not become discouraged just because someone at OPM has “decided” that your Federal Disability Retirement application did not “meet” the legal criteria.  Set the denial letter aside for a day or two (so long as it is not nearing the 30-day period to either file for Reconsideration or an appeal).  Then, proceed to fight it.  

Don’t let the Holiday Season become confused with the right to file for, be eligible for, and be entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  The filing of an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is a process which may take 6 – 8 months, or longer if it is needed to go to the Reconsideration Stage, or to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  

Do not get discouraged; instead, fight for your benefits.

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

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: The Problem with Answering an OPM Denial

A denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management always leaves the applicant and his or her attorney at a disadvantage.  This is because OPM is never answerable to any resulting consequence of a denial; at least, not directly.  Think about it this way:  In the initial application, if an OPM Disability Retirement application is properly prepared and submitted according to, and within the parameters of the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement, one would assume that it should be approved.  If it is denied, then the case is sent to the “Reconsideration” division of OPM — meaning, to another person. 

Now, taking it out of the hands of one OPM Representative into the hands of another, has both the good and the bad mixed together:  the good is that it will now be reviewed afresh by someone else; the bad is that the person who denied the original application has no further responsibility for the denial.  This is true, incidentally, with respect to the Reconsideration Stage of the process; if a second denial is issued, the person who issues the second denial also has no responsibility to answer for the basis given in the denial. 

The “light at the end of the tunnel“, however, comes when it is finally taken up by an Administrative Judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board.  While the AJ cannot hold anyone at OPM responsible for a denial which never should have been, at the very least, when the AJ reviews the record and finds that the previous denials were unfounded or rationally without legal foundation, an immediate recognition of a baseless denial can help the applicant.  Ultimately, rationality and legal integrity has a chance to prevail; it sometimes takes more than one bite at the apple.

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

OPM Disability Retirement: Differing Perspectives

The old adage, “Walk in your fellow man’s shoes for a mile” is a saying which is meant essentially to teach a child (and many adults) to have a different perspective than one’s own, self-centered universe.  In practicing law, it is a good idea to attempt to obtain a perspective from the multitude of differing “shoes” — and this is especially important in putting together a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS. 

The gathering of such differing and different perspectives — that of the treating doctor; that of the applicant; that of the Agency (the Supervisor and the Agency in its determination that accommodation or reassignment is not available or appropriate for a given employee, given the particular medical conditions and the type of positional duties of the specific job which the Applicant must perform, as well as taking into account what constitutes “efficiency” in the Federal Service, etc.); and further, that of the Office of Personnel Management. 

It is the job of the Attorney representing a Federal or Postal employee in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement packet under FERS or CSRS, to pull together the various perspectives; write up and prepare, and gather the information from the multiple and differing perspectives; to neutralize those perspectives which may impact negatively upon the Federal disability retirement application; then to present the fullness of the different perspectives such that it meets the legal criteria and “perspective” of the Representative from the Office of Personnel Management:  that “ultimate” perspective which determines a “yes” or “no” in determining the viability of a Federal Disability Retirement Application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire