OPM Disability Retirement: Key Words, Conveyance of Information, and Satisfying the Legal Criteria

There is often a misunderstand about a Federal Disability Retirement application, submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS or CSRS: that the magic of linguistic compliance will bring about success, as opposed to the compilation and delineation of information needed to meet the legal criteria in a case.

There are no “magic words” or “key phrases” which the Federal or Postal applicant, the treating doctor, or the lawyer representing the Federal or Postal employee, can utilize or include in any Federal Disability Retirement packet, which will ensure or otherwise exponentially increase the statistical variances of being successful in applying for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Rather, the “key” to a successful filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application is to compile the necessary and required documentation in order to meet the medical and legal criteria mandated by law, in becoming eligible and entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

The difference may be somewhat subtle: on the one hand is the misguided approach of thinking that Federal Disability Retirement application-X was successful because it contained certain key phrases and elements, and thus in thinking that a regurgitation and reenactment of those phrases or elements, if used in another Federal Disability Retirement application, will result in an identical outcome.

The proper approach (satisfying the converse grammatical requirement and avoiding the necessity of saying, “on the other hand”) in opposition to the “key phrase” thought, is to recognize that each Federal Disability Retirement application-Y is constituted by unique facts and medical data peculiar to the individual case, but that in the application of those facts and data, compliance with the administrative criteria is somewhat self-reflective. Similarity, however, does not imply successful extrapolation of previously-applicable content from another Federal Disability Retirement application.

That is the mistake which is often made: One success often leads to the laziness of regurgitation; to put it crudely, one can starve by feeding upon the same food within a confined organic digestive system. In the end, a successful Federal Disability Retirement application must not rely upon prior successes, but rather, recognize the uniqueness of each set of circumstances, apply the relevant law to such peculiarities, and argue the evidence in the context of the conveyance of information meeting the statutory criteria espoused by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in a Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Targeted Use of Collateral Evidence

Case-law from the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, as well as judicial opinions rendered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, maintain the standard of acceptable proof for a Federal Disability Retirement case submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, for Federal and Postal employees under either FERS or CSRS.

The primary basis for a Federal Disability Retirement application is clear:  A medical condition which exists, which prevents the Federal or Postal employee from performing at least one, if not more, of the essential elements of one’s job; that a legally viable accommodation is not possible; that reassignment to another position at the same pay or grade is not reasonably feasible; that the medical condition will last a minimum of 12 months; and that the Federal or Postal employee must file for such benefits during the tenure of one’s employment as a Federal or Postal Employee, or within 1 year of being separated from Federal employment.

The core of one’s proof is generally based upon the treatment and opinion of one’s treating doctor.

Every now and again, however, there are “collateral” sources of proof which should be considered, and for various reasons, which must be relied upon for establishment of one’s eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Such proof may include: opinions rendered by Second-opinion or “referee” doctors in an OWCP case; percentage ratings provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs; SSDI approval determinations; separation from the Agency based upon one’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job; medical notes for FMLA; and even (sometimes, but rarely) a decision granting disability benefits by a private insurer; and other such collateral sources of proof.

Such proof, of course, should never replace the centrality of one’s own treating doctor, and further, should always be targeted and submitted with discretionary judgment.  Sometimes, it can be the “other evidence” which makes the difference in a case; other times, if used indiscriminately, can be an indicator of the weakness of one’s case.

Be careful; be targeted; use discretion.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Beginning Points

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the familiar refrain from Federal and Postal Employees, whether under FERS or CSRS, in attempting to tackle the multifaceted complexities of a Federal Disability Retirement application, is the crucial starting point of the process:  Where do I begin?

The beginning point of any process is important precisely because it determines the tone, tenor, and ultimate outcome of the Federal Disability Retirement application.  A review of a Federal Disability Retirement application, when it has been denied by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, can often be backtracked to a beginning point in discovering an originating source of error.  On the other hand, sometimes (and more often than one would think) the so-called “error” is simply in having the bad luck of having one’s case assigned to certain OPM case workers who are less than thorough in his or her review and analysis.

In any case, it is important in putting together a Federal Disability Retirement application that one recognizes, at the very outset, those issues which are within the purview and control of one’s universe, and those portions of the Federal Disability Retirement application which are not.  Focus first and foremost upon those areas where one has either total control, or some guiding influence, and work for excellence within those parameters.

The rest is left up to fate — or, at the very least, to a good lawyer and sound legal argumentation.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: Learning from Experience

The problems inherent in filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS are multi-fold and multi-tiered.  Even today, after years and years of practicing in this particular area of law, there is rarely a day which goes by that I haven’t learned something new — whether a slight wrinkle in opm disability law; whether in a nuance of a description of a particular medical condition; or in simply how a doctor has described a specific condition and its particular and unique impact upon a patient.  Experience comes from making mistakes; mistakes can be human, technical, or a combination of both.

Unfortunately, for the Federal or Postal worker who is filing, or contemplating filing, for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the process itself is essentially a “one-time” endeavor.  Yes, a person can theoretically file, then refile at a later time (side-stepping the issue of res judicata, which can, in most instances, be gotten around); but for the most part, a Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is doing it once, and only once.

As such, it is NOT the time to obtain “experience” — i.e., there is little room for “learning” from “mistakes”.

There is “good experience” and “bad experience”, but both are experiences nonetheless.  In filing an application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, however, it is the former which needs to be experienced, and not the latter, and in such a filing process, there is indeed a difference between the two.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Knowledge

It has often been noted that “knowledge is power”, which necessarily and logically implies, of course, that lack of knowledge leaves one with weakness.  Preparing a Federal Disability retirement application under FERS or CSRS requires a vast amount of knowledge.

After practicing in this area of law for over twenty (20) years (with my first 10 years involving not only Federal Disability Retirement law, but also including a heavy trial practice, appellate practice and employment law and general practice — with the last 10 years devoted exclusively to disability retirement law), the consistent and persistent need to keep updated on any changes; on case-law updates; on nuances of cases which I may have previously missed — one might think that the practice of law in a specialized field might get easier over the years.

I find that, to remain on top of the constant changes and shifts in the law is an ever-present, all-encompassing endeavor.  One cannot, and must not, put a “generic” case before a Merit Systems Protection Board Judge.  To do so becomes transparent and phony.  The same goes with submitting a generic application to the Office of Personnel Management.  There is no such thing — all Federal Disability Retirement applications must be tailored to fit the individual, and knowledge — and more importantly, greater knowledge — allows for such tailoring.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Reconsiderations

The Office of Personnel Management does not give a decision over the telephone.  At least, that is their stated policy.  They ask that you instead wait for their written decision, which will be “sent in the mail shortly”.  Sometimes, of course, either by the tone of the conversation or by some slip of the tongue, one can discern whether or not a Federal Disability Retirement application has been approved or denied.  But such “guessing” can be a dangerous endeavor to engage in, and as such, I follow the very policy of OPM and will not convey to my client any “internal thoughts” following upon any discussions with an OPM representative. 

First of all, I find that calling an OPM representative too often is counter-productive; they are overworked as it is, and repeatedly inquiring about the “status” of one of my cases only irritates them further, and there is always the danger of having it denied simply to get rid of it (aghast — can this possible ever happen?).  Second, I made the mistake many, many years ago of once telling my client that his/her case had been approved, when in fact it had been denied.  I learn from my mistakes.  Hopefully, my experiences gained from such mistakes have made me wiser today.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire