Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Focus, or Lack Thereof…

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management, it is important in the beginning stages of the process to have a clear, charted course in creating the nexus between one’s medical conditions and the type of positional duties required by the Federal or Postal job which one is slotted in.  

Lack of clarity leads to meandering; meandering results in the potential danger of entering into territories which can have a negative and detrimental impact; such resulting negative endings at any stage of the process only extends the time by forcing the applicant to appeal the case to the next stage, and having to correct and explain the mis-steps which resulted from the original lack of clarity and focus.  Thus, a single mistake at the beginning of the process can have a compounding effect upon the entire application process, and that is why it is important to start off with clarity, focus, and a purposeful plan.  

In the study of Philosophy, the subject of Metaphysics almost always encompasses the concept of “teleology” — the idea that there is a purposeful end based upon various logical arguments, such as cause-and-effect, the argument from design, etc.  In analogous form, it is important to have a teleological approach to preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management.  

As with the design argument in metaphysics, there are certain “guideposts” which are important to use — i.e., what the doctors state in their reports; the parameters of one’s position description; the type of job which one has (sedentary or out in the field), etc.  Within those boundaries, one should remain.  Wandering in thought leads to areas of unintended harm.  Stay within the boundaries of the questions posed, and one has a safer haven away from trespassing into areas uncharted, unknown, and undesired.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Making it Easy for OPM

Whether inadvertently or not, an Applicant who has formulated, prepared and filed a Federal Disability Retirement application either under FERS or CSRS will make it easy for the Office of Personnel Management to deny a case.  

Thus, for instance, on the Applicant’s Statement of Disability, where the applicant is asked concerning the status one is in at the agency, if the applicant agrees with the Agency or the Supervisor that the Agency has “accommodated” the individual in his or her employment, then the Office of Personnel Management will often focus selectively upon that answer and argue that, inasmuch as X has stated that the employee has been accommodated, and Y (the employee — you) has agreed with the agency, therefore Y is not eligible or entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits because Y has been accommodated.  

But, as it has been previously stated on multiple occasions, the term “accommodation” is a technical term of art, and if one fails to appreciate the nuances of the term, the applicant who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS can fall into the trap of using the term in a non-technical, general way, and thereby defeat one’s own application for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

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: Mistakes Made

There is obviously an assumption to be made that if a case is denied at the initial stage of the process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, that a “mistake” must have been made.  The mistake, then, is given an opportunity to be “corrected” at the Second, or Reconsideration Stage, of the Federal Disability Retirement process.  Further, if the mistake is not properly corrected, or corrected to the satisfaction of the Office of Personnel Management, and it is again denied — at the Reconsideration Stage of the process — then there is the cumulative assumption that further mistakes were made in the application.  Just as success distinguishes between winners and losers, the general assumption is that a denial by the Office of Personnel Management means that there was something inherently wrong with the Federal Disability Retirement application at its inception. 

Yet, if this were true at each turn, for every case, then there would never be a case where, at the Third Stage of the process, in filing an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, that the Representative from the Office of Personnel Management would not reverse a denial and grant the disability retirement after listening to the legal arguments made by the attorney for the applicant.  Many times, it is the pointing out of overlooked aspects of a case which makes the difference between an approval or a denial — and not necessarily something that is inherently wrong, or that a “mistake” was made.

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

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Waiting too long

My approach to Federal Disability Retirement law is that there are very few, if any, mistakes made by the applicant which cannot be corrected, amended, or explained, especially where the essential ingredients of a “good” case are in existence: a supportive doctor; a position/duties which are incompatible with the type of medical conditions one suffers from, etc.

However, I receive telephone calls periodically where the individual simply has waited “too long”. Thus, to clarify: If you’ve been denied twice by the Office of Personnel Management, and you have a Hearing before an Administrative Judge 3 days from today, then you have probably “waited too long” (although, if you can get a postponement, or suspension of the case, there may still be time). If you’ve been denied by OPM and the Merit Systems Protection Board has already denied your case, then you have probably “waited too long”. Or, if you have been denied by OPM and by the MSPB and by the Full Board, then you have probably “waited too long”. I hope that I am getting the point across by overstating the case — while each individual must decided when it is the “right time” to get a lawyer to help in filing for disability retirement cases, and yes, while I take on cases at all stages of the process, the point is quite simple: It is better to have the expertise of an experienced attorney earlier, than later. In most case, that means at the very beginning of the process.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire