Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Irony of Favorable Laws

In certain areas of “the law”, statutes, regulations and case-laws have developed which tend to favor the individual seeking to obtain a benefit through such laws.  For the Federal or Postal Worker who is seeking Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, one could easily argue that the laws governing the process of seeking Federal or Postal Disability benefits from the Office of Personnel Management “favor” the applicant.  

Think about it:  a Federal or Postal worker (under FERS) needs only 18 months of minimum eligibility; light duty, or modified duties, do not preclude one from obtaining Federal Disability Retirement benefits; one has up to a year after being separated from Federal Service to file for the benefit; a Federal or Postal Worker who suffers from a medical condition only has to show that it prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job; one does not need to show “total disability”, but only disability as to one of the critical elements of one’s job; and so on.

The irony of such “favorable” laws governing Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS is, however, that such favor often invites greater scrutiny.  Thus, the fact that the substantive laws governing a legal process may provide an advantage to the seeker, does not in any way mean that the process itself is any easier.  On the contrary, one could argue that because the substantive laws governing a legal process favor the applicant, that the process itself is made all the more difficult.  Such ironies often arise in various facets of life, and it certainly seems to be the case for Federal and Postal workers seeking to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Beware the Layman

Federal employee attorneys create and manufacture a parallel universe of statutory interpretation, legal argumentation, case-law citations, and extrapolations from esoteric provisions in arguing the “finer points” of law.  Thus, it is a temptation for the lay person — the “non-lawyer” — to attempt to borrow from cases and take a stab at citing case-law and statutory authority in trying to garner support for his or her Federal Disability Retirement application.  In taking on a case at the Reconsideration Stage or the Merit Systems Protection Board, I have the opportunity to read some of the “legal arguments” which non-lawyers have attempted to make.  While many such arguments are valid, some (i.e., too many) mis-cite the law, and often fail to understand and proffer the substantive import of what the cases are saying.  On top of it all, I suspect that the Office of Personnel Management gets a bit annoyed when a non-lawyer applicant attempts to preach the law to another non-lawyer OPM Representative.  A word to the wise:  let lawyers entertain themselves in the parallel universe of the law; let the doctors render their medical opinions; let the non-lawyers make the best arguments possible, in layman’s language. 

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: The Doctor

Doctors hate administrative duties.  They went to medical school, and they want to practice medicine, not law.  If they wanted to engage in vast amounts of paperwork, they would perhaps have gone to law school.  As such, paperwork, writing medical narrative reports for their patients, providing medical opinions in a report — they are part and parcel of the dreaded “paperwork” — somewhat like filling out all of the forms for medicare, medicaid, insurance, etc. to get paid. Such paperwork is often left to the “administrative staff”, and therefore doctors are only sporadically required to actually prepare any paperwork.

This presents a peculiar problem for a potential disability retirement applicant, because in order to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, an applicant must have a doctor’s narrative report which delineates certain issues, addresses certain issues, and renders certain opinions.

Thus, the crucial question becomes: How does one approach a doctor and convince him or her that preparing a proper medical report is an integral aspect of treating the patient? The answer: It must be done with diplomacy, sensitivity, caution, guidance, and understanding, all bundled into one. Above all, it begins with a relationship — a patient-doctor relationship that has been formed over many, many years. And, indeed, that is the requirement under the case-laws at the Merit Systems Protection Board governing disability retirements — that those opinions rendered by treating doctors of long duration are accorded greater credibility than single-examination doctors. And it all makes sense.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Agency Supervisors

Federal Agencies, and the Postal Service, can act as little fiefdoms, with minimal oversight in the use of power. There is no school which teaches the proper use of power; power is something which is too often misused, misapplied, and abused. And, those who possess power, often exponentially apply it when the focus of such power has become vulnerable. Federal and Postal workers who suffer from a medical condition, who are in the vulnerable position of necessarily filing for disability retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS because of the imposition of an unwanted medical condition which impacts and impedes his or her ability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, are especially in a sensitive position, precisely because they are at the complete mercy of the Supervisor. Supervisors need to understand and appreciate the great power which he or she possesses. The powerful need not misuse such power in order to show how powerful he or she is; indeed, it is in the very act of kindness, empathy, and the ability to show sensitivity and “human-ness” which is the true showing of the powerful. Supervisors should “bend over backwards” to show what it means to truly be a Supervisor — one who recognizes and appreciates the long years of loyal service the disabled employee has shown; empathy for the vulnerable situation the employee now finds him/herself in; kindness in the treatment of the employee. Such kind treatment will go a long way towards encouraging a sense of community and family within an agency, and will foster the other employees in the department, office, and greater agency to work that much harder, knowing that it is not “just a job” — but a career worthy of greater devotion.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability: The Disabled Federal and Postal Worker

As with most attorneys, I try to maintain an appearance of detached professionalism. It is my job to provide sound legal advice; to guide the client/disability retirement applicant with logical argumentation, rational perspective, and legal foundations as to the strength or weakness of a case, and to guide my client over obstacles, around legal landmines, and through the briars and thickets of “the law”. I try to remain aloof from the inherent emotionalism which arises from the human story of my clients, because not to do so would be to defeat the essence of why a client hires me: to maintain and retain an objective perspective, in order to provide the best legal advice possible. However, to maintain that wall of professionalism is not always possible.

The human story of the Federal and Postal employee is indeed one of encompassing a juggernaut of loyalty, professionalism, dedication, hard work, and the driving force behind and undergirding the economic might of the United States. Yes, of course the United States is built upon the economic principles of the free market system of the private sector; but the services which the government provides are not accomplished by some faceless or nameless entity; each such service — from the letter carrier through “rain, sleet or snow”, to the Special Agents who investigate and put criminals behind bars; from the border patrol agents who guard our security, to the IT Specialist who safeguards our internet viability — is provided by a competent and dedicated worker. That is why I am often humbled by my clients; because, truth be known, the disability retirement applicants who come to me have come to a point with his or her medical condition, where there is no other choice. It is never a question of dedication or hard work; the Federal and Postal Worker has already proven his or her dedication and hard work through the decades of service provided, prior to coming to me.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire