Misnomers and the OPM’s Disability, Reconsideration & Appeals Division

The problem with misnomers is not just the inaccuracy of designation which is either explicitly or implicitly conveyed, but the unintended consequences of the string of reactions and responses which can occur as a result thereof.  Sometimes, interpretive mistakes occur purely on a subjective basis; in which case it is not truly a case of a misnomer, but rather merely the misunderstanding by the recipient of the information.  Other times, a word or designation can be open to multiple meanings, where reasonable people can differ on the inferences to be made.

For Federal and Postal employees who have filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal or Postal Service employee is under FERS or CSRS (such acronyms have specific, esoteric meanings only to Federal or Postal employees, and as such, cannot constitute an objective misnomer, but rather a potentially subjective one), the complexity of the administrative and bureaucratic process can result in the failure to recognize and properly respond to various misnomers throughout the process.

For example, when a Federal Disability Retirement case is assigned to an Administrative Specialist at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and one receives a letter informing the Federal or Postal Disability Retirement applicant that X is further needed — the identification of the OPM Representative that he or she is from the “Disability, Reconsideration & Appeals Division” is both confusing and a misnomer.

For, the recipient of the letter (and just to receive any correspondence from OPM other than an approval letter or a denial letter is an amazing fact in and of itself) can well infer from the designation that his or her Federal Disability Retirement application has already been denied without notification (i.e., because it is in the “Reconsideration & Appeals Division”). In fact, all cases fall under the aegis of “Disability, Reconsideration & Appeals” section of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Misnomers may be unintended. It is the recipient and the responder who must, unfortunately, live with the consequences.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Independent Entities

If Federal agencies were created with the proverbial single “stroke of the pen”, all at once, in unison and coordinated intersections of thoughtful complexities, then of course there would be a lack of overlap, duplication and repetition. The essence of efficiency is precisely to limit duplicative efforts. But then, some would perhaps say that it is an inherent self-contradiction to assert that Federal agencies can both be coordinated as well as efficient.

In the disability compensatory systems impacting Federal and Postal workers, there are multiple “pockets” which the Federal and Postal worker can be eligible for, given the right qualifications and by meeting certain threshold criteria. Under FERS, the system of retirement and disability retirement was fairly well-planned (and, again, some would say that such planning was a historical first, in many ways), in that it envisioned a coordination of benefits between the retirement system and Social Security. That is precisely why, in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS, the Federal or Postal employee must also file for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits sometime during the process.

Then, of course, there are a multitude of other programs and agencies, such as VA benefits (for Veterans of the military services) and OWCP/FECA, for “on-the-job” injuries. Each are independent entities, created for specific purposes, goals and targeted personnel.

Over the years, the Courts, and specifically the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, have somewhat “clarified” the interconnecting impact of a decision from one independent agency upon the decision-making process of another, and such decisions should be used in arguing one’s Federal Disability Retirement case.

Benefit coordination, offsets and simultaneous filings aside, how one utilizes the decision of one administrative agency in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, is an important component in reaching the goal of a successful Federal Disability Retirement application.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: The Danger of Malleable Concepts

Concepts which retain the ability to alter in chameleon-like fashion, switching from subject to object, from noun to adjective, is one which must be used with care and loathing.  For, as the old adage goes, that which can be used as a shield, may also be applied as a sword, and such malleability and changeability can both protect, as well as be used against one.  So it is with stress.

The word itself can be applied in various language games and conceptual constructs, as in:  “I am under a lot of stress”; “The stress is killing me”; “The place where I work is very stressful“; “I suffer from stress”; “The stress I am under is literally killing me”; and many other linguistically transformational usages.  But when it comes to applying the term and concept in a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, one must take care in usage, applicability, and appropriate insertion both as a medical term as well as in everyday common verbiage.  For, stress itself is rarely a valid basis, standing alone, for a Federal Disability Retirement application; and if used wrongly, can be deemed as implying a situational medical condition unique to the individual’s workplace — something which OPM will pounce upon in order to deny such a claim.

Malleability can be a positive force; but that which stands with you, it can also switch sides and suddenly turn against you.  Better to have a steadfast friend than one who seeks greener pastures in a wink of the eye.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: What Are You Trying to Prove?

The word “refrain” is an interesting one for its multifarious definitions — from restraining one’s self (a physical act of self-control) to identifying a phrase or group of phrases which are repeated throughout a verse, song, etc., the application of the word is useful by its very differences.  And, indeed, it is the differences between a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, from the entire administrative process of filing for Social Security Disability benefits, or obtaining a higher disability rating from the Veterans Administration, or even attempting to establish causality in a Federal OWCP, Department of Labor case — which makes all the difference.

Such a tautology and redundancy, while rather puzzling, is what must be kept in mind when preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  It is indeed the differences which make for the difference.  Thus, as to the refrain, “What are you trying to prove?”, goes to the very heart and essence of the differences.  That which one is trying to prove strikes at the essence of how you will approach a Federal Disability Retirement case, distinctly and differently from what you are trying to prove for an increased VA rating, OWCP case or a Social Security Disability case.

Furthermore, normally the “shotgun” approach will not be the most effective — i.e., that approach of shooting at everything and in every direction and hoping that you will somehow hit the mark.  Federal Disability Retirement requires certain specific elements to prove, different and distinct from OWCP, VA or SSDI, and it is indeed that which one needs to prove, which will make all the difference in a case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Appropriate Language Game

In filing an application for OPM Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, there are many questions that are posed for the person who is just being introduced to the concept of potentially filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, and many of the sub-topical concepts are often “counter-intuitive”.  This is because most people — including doctors and practicing lawyers — are unfamiliar with the laws, processes, procedures and regulations surrounding and governing Federal Disability Retirement laws under FERS and CSRS, but are instead familiar with the legal arenas of Social Security Disability, Veteran’s Administration disability benefits or Department of Labor, Office of Worker’s Compensation issues

In those “other” areas of legal specialties, there are doctors who simply specialize in making disability determinations — of evaluating a “patient”, determining the extent of the disability, having the Federal or Postal employee undergo a “Functional Capacity Evaluation“, and ascribing a “disability rating” and determining when, or if, the person has reached “Maximum Medical Improvement“.  Each arena of law has what Wittgenstein once coined as a “language game” — a specific set of language usage which applies only within a certain context, and those “other areas” of law are often inconsistent and foreign to the arena of Federal Disability Retirement issues under FERS or CSRS.  Often, when people call me, one of the first things I do is to set about “teaching” the caller the differences, distinctions, and inapplicability of one set of language games upon another set of language games, as well as how the two (or three) relate to each other.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire