Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: The Purpose of Standard Forms

Standard Forms represent the Federal Government’s attempt to streamline and create efficiency.  For FERS & CSRS employees who are seeking to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, a compilation of Standard Government Forms will have to be completed.  

Obviously, this will not be a surprise to the Federal or Postal employee, inasmuch as such an encounter with the requirement of completing Standard Forms is a necessary evil during the course of any Federal or Postal career.  However, the difference in the case of filling out the Standard Forms for purposes of applying for Federal Disability Retirement may be encapsulated in a cautionary remark:  it is not just “information” which the Office of Personnel Management is seeking; it is also a particular kind of “proof” which, if not met, will result in a denial of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  

Thus, while SF 3107, and Schedules A, B & C (for FERS employees), and SF 2801 and Schedules A, B & C (for CSRS employees) may be the vehicles for providing basic personal information (e.g., name, address, agency for whom one works, etc.); it is the second series of SF Forms — 3112A, 3112B, 3112C & 3112D which seek to obtain information directly relevant to “proving”, by a preponderance of the evidence, one’s Federal Disability Retirement application.  

Remember the old cop-shows, where the officer says, “You have the right to remain silent, but anything you say may and will be used against you“?  The SF 3112 series should take that precautionary statement to heart.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal OPM Disability Retirement: Answering the Question Is Merely the Beginning

The question itself is obviously the starting point; however, whether answering the question is enough, presents a greater problem.

In any arena of law, the wider context of legal requirements will include the statutory authority upon which regulations and standard governmental forms are based upon; then, there are case-law opinions of judges — in the area of Federal Disability Retirement, this would include the administrative opinions of the Merit Systems Protection Board, both at the Hearing level, as well as from a Petition for Full Review; and further, Court opinions from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, one must obviously complete multiple Standard Forms. Chief among the forms is the “Applicant’s Statement of Disability“, or otherwise identified as SF 3112A.  There are multiple questions requesting information about one’s medical condition and the impact upon one’s ability/inability to perform the essential elements of one’s job.  The questions may seem straightforward enough; the answers can be; but the greater conundrum is whether completion of answers to such questions will be adequate in proving, by a preponderance of the evidence (which is the legal standard in meeting the adequacy of proof in a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS) one’s eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

It is precisely because there is a greater context of legal expansion in the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement, that merely answering the questions represents a beginning point.  In other words, we meet head-on the age-old distinction between that which is necessary, as opposed to what constitutes sufficiency in order to satisfy the criteria.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: The Adversarial Structure

Preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, has inherently an adversarial structure built into the entire administrative process.  This is ultimately unavoidable, but one should not be persuaded into complacency about the bureaucratic side of things, merely because a Human Resources office describes it as procedural in nature, and merely an “administrative” matter.

That is precisely why there are appellate stages built into the system — first, within the administrative procedure itself, of filing a “Request for Reconsideration” within the same agency which denies the Federal Disability Retirement application, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, then the ability to appeal the case to a separate, independent body, the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board; and further to a 3-Judge panel of the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, which is identified as a “Petition for Full Review” (PFR).  Beyond that, there is an oversight mechanism provided via further review, by the ability to file an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which reviews the legal application and its sufficiency through overview of the laws applied.

Indeed, one need only look at the structural mechanisms in place to understand that, far from being merely an “administrative” process, it is adversarial in nature, and should be treated at the outset as such.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Respites

Preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management — if one is a current employee of one’s agency or the U.S. Postal Service or, if separated but it has been less than thirty one (31) days since the separation, then the application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits must be processed through one’s agency; if, on the other hand, you have been separated for more than 31 days, then you must file the application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits directly to the OPM intake office in Boyers, Pennsylvania, which will then be processed and forwarded to the main U.S. Office of Personnel Management in Washington, D.C. — is a process which one should expect will require considerable energy, involving one’s emotional physical, and mental fortitude.  

Filing for the benefit and involving one’s self in the process of the administrative procedure, is rarely — if ever — merely a matter of “filling out forms“.  Yes, there are Standard Forms to be completed (the SF 3107 series for FERS employees; for CSRS employees, SF 2801 series; and the SF 3112 series for both FERS and CSRS employees) — but it is the “connecting of dots” between preparing one’s narrative in the Applicant’s Statement of Disability, the gathering of the medical documentation sufficient to meet the burden of proof of “preponderance of the evidence”, and all of the attendant actions which accompany the creation of the nexus between one’s medical condition and the positional requirements of one’s duties — all of the cumulative aggregation taken as a whole, constitute an imposing, formidable process.  

Fortunately, the Holidays, the weekends, etc., provide a brief respite from such challenges.  But the problem with such periodic and temporary respites, are that they merely serve to remind us that the hurdle still exists, and the process is still to be encountered, and the procrastination of the inevitable must be confronted at some point; and that, in and of itself, is an exhausting thought.  Medical Disability Retirement from OPM is precisely there is provide a long-lasting respite. Delaying by periodic respites only prolongs the time when the true respite, of meaningful duration, may be embraced.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Simplicity of the Process

In becoming deeply involved in the morass of the bureaucratic process of preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS and CSRS, it is often easy to become frustrated with the inherent complexity of the process.  

Because of the multi-faceted complexities of the administrative process (e.g., obtaining the proper format and language in a medical narrative report in order to meet the legal criteria for eligibility; creating and nexus between the essential elements of one’s position in the Federal Service with the symptomatologies of the interaction between the medical conditions and the essential elements; understanding and applying the various statutory authorities and legal precedents which have evolved over many years; of preempting — if necessary — statements by the Agency or the Supervisor; and multiple other issues to be addressed concurrently), it can be frustrating for an injured or disabled Federal or Postal employee to attempt to pull all of the intricate strings together into a singular yarn of coherency and succinct presentation of a narrative form.  

Such is the time to remind one’s self of the simplicity of the process — of the 3-part essence of a Federal Disability Retirement application which will ultimately be a paper-presentation to the Office of Personnel Management.  First, the medical narrative must be simple but concise, and must provide a proper bridge between the medical condition and why a Federal or Postal employee is unable to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  Second, one’s Applicant’s Statement of Disability must be consistent with the medical narrative reports — neither understated nor exaggerated, and guided by truth. And third, it is important to understand and apply the legal precedents, and use the law as what it is intended for — a tool for both a shield and a sword.  In life’s complexities, it is important to maintain a paradigm of simplicity.  Unfortunately, it is often the simplest forms which constitute the height of complexity.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement Benefits: Forms & the Total Picture

Ultimately, it is the difficulty of encompassing and coordinating all of the administrative details which boggles the mind when one is confronted with filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  To have a medical disability is hard enough; to then have to wade through the Federal Disability Retirement multiple forms and to coordinate the necessary evidence, documentation, paperwork, and delineation of facts, circumstances and bridging the connection to the essential elements of one’s job — the totality of the picture, coordinated in a rational, understandable and coherent picture, such that the application as presented to a stranger at the Office of Personnel Management:  that is the art of putting together a Federal Disability Retirement packet

As I often tell clients and potential clients:  If you believe that filing for OPM Disability Retirement is merely a matter of filling out the forms, don’t hire a Federal Disability Attorney.  Anyone can fill out forms.  It goes well beyond that; it is the coordination of the details, facts, circumstances, the coalescing of medical opinions with descriptive interpretation, and conveying a word-picture which, in its totality, is true and fits the person’s actual human condition.

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