Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Reason for the Law’s Complexity

The growing complexity of any body of law often reflects the unintended consequences of a poorly-written statute which first created the access to a right, a benefit, or a legal assertion.  Complications and expansion of issues, clarifications of previously-obfuscated matters of law, evolve over time and begin to take on a life of its own.  

For Federal Disability Retirement law, there is the appearance of a simple process:  one only has to look at the Standard Forms which are made available to all Federal and Postal employees who are contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, to recognize that, at least on the surface, the administrative process seems simple enough.  

The SF 3107 series (for FERS Federal and Postal employees) and SF 2801 series (for CSRS Federal and Postal employees) requests basic information of a factual nature.  The “other” series of Standard Forms — the SF 3112 series (both for FERS and CSRS Federal and Postal employees) requests information directly impacting one’s Federal Disability Retirement application.  

The questions asked are quite simple, and appear somewhat innocuous; the body of law which has grown behind each question is comprised by years and decades of litigation, questioning, judicial decisions and case-law.  It is like the proverbial stranger who discovers what appears to be a tuft of hair (perhaps a mouse?) sticking out from behind a bush, reaches down and pulls, only to hear the roar of a lion for having yanked its tail.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Medical Disability Retirement: Complexity & the Law

The complaint heard most prevalent is that the “law” is deliberately complicated for the benefit of lawyers, and to the detriment of the lay person.  That is the one of the points which Dickens makes in his work, Bleak House — a lengthy work which meticulously follows the probate of a contested will, where the lawyers involved appear to be the only beneficiaries of the central litigation. But that only tells one side of a story.  

Complexities in any issue surface because of lack of clarity; and lack of clarity manifests itself as each case brings to the forefront questions and concerns previously unspoken or uncontested.  As an example — the issue in Stephenson v. OPM, where the U.S. Office of Personnel Management refused to recalculate one’s FERS Disability Retirement annuity even though the annuitant was no longer receiving SSDI benefits, because OPM interpreted the word “entitled” in a unique and perverse manner — could have been left alone without litigation, and therefore allowed to remain a simple matter.  

This had been going on for decades.  But somebody — Mr. Stephenson in particular — decided that OPM’s actions were unfair, and that it needed to be litigated.  Did it complicate matters?  Complexity is an inherent part of the law, and as issues become contested, the evolution of a body of law can expand into a compendium of complexity.  

It is no different with Federal Disability Retirement.  Yes, Federal Disability Retirement law is a complex body of administrative issues; it requires expertise; but if it was left alone, you can be assured that OPM would step over, on, and around many more Federal and Postal Workers who are otherwise eligible and entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits. That is why complexity can go both ways — for the agency, but also for the Federal or Postal employee.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Government Employees: Basics & Complexity

Appearance versus reality; ease of effort as opposed to great physical exertional requirements; basic components which make up for a complex composite — the inverse/converse of oppositional forces may seemingly contradict each other, but in most cases, they are entirely compatible.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the initial encounter with the multiple forms which must be completed, the complexity of the questions requested to be responded to — with the underlying sense that each question contains an implicit “trickiness” where the government is attempting to either cage you into a corner you do not necessarily want to be pushed to, or otherwise to state things which cannot be answered in such simplistic format — all betray a conundrum:  Is it as simple as the questions appear?  Or is the complexity hidden in the appearance of such simplicity?

Then, of course, a partial answer will surface when a Federal Disability Retirement application is denied by OPM at the First Stage of the process:  all of a sudden, various legal criteria are cited; standards of proof heretofore unmentioned are recited like a litany from a food recipe; and by the way, if it gets denied again, you get to read through a thick legal packet concerning your “appeal rights” from the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board.

Yes, it appears simple; it’s only that the complexity remains hidden in the compendium of laws, statutes and regulations which undergird the entirety of the complex administrative procedure encapsulating Federal Disability Retirement law.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: The Legal Standards

Recent decisions issued by the Full Board of the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board — specifically, Henderson v. OPM, decided on January 31, 2012, reestablishes the two general standards of applicable evidentiary approaches in proving a Federal Disability Retirement case, whether under FERS or CSRS.  Whether or not the U.S. Office of Personnel Management will “comply” with the applicable standards as set forth by the MSPB is another question.

Often, the “trickle-down” effect of a legal opinion can take years to accomplish — and by that time, further refinements by the courts and by the MSPB may have made such legal opinions moot, irrelevant or otherwise restrictive in its practical application, anyway.  For the time being, however, the two legal approaches can be generally stated thus:  One must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence in all Federal Disability Retirement cases, either (A)  That certain specific medical conditions prevent one from performing certain specific essential elements of one’s job (somewhat like a 1 – 1 correspondence, or more generally, a medical opinion showing that medical condition X prevents job duties Y because of Z) or (B) as stated previously in Bruner and multiple other cases, there is an “inconsistency” between one’s medical condition (or multiplicity of medical conditions) and the type of positional duties one must engage in to perform the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job.

The former criteria to satisfy may be deemed “particularized”; the latter may be seen as a more “generalized” approach.  While there is certainly a conceptual distinction between the two, in pragmatic terms, such a distinction may be without too much difference, if only because doctors will often go back and forth between the two approaches, anyway, in writing a medical narrative report.

The conceptual distinction is not as apparent as one between “explicit” and “implicit”, but certainly the former approach encapsulates a greater specificity of detailing a connection between X and Y, whereas the latter requires the reader or reviewer (i.e., OPM or the Administrative Judge) to think through and analyze the entirety of the issue.  But that life would not be so complicated.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Complexity and Tailoring

Every Federal and Postal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS is unique because of the particular medical conditions which comprise the specific factual makeup of each case.  

That said, there are various “templates” out there, put out by services and attorneys, who have formulated a methodology based upon a template — often, based upon a past success or two.  While templates are fine, one must always be careful that the uniqueness of a particular case is never lost.  For, ultimately, every Federal and Postal disability retirement application under either FERS or CSRS inherently contains a uniqueness because of the particular complexity of the case.

As such, each case must be tailored to reflect the uniqueness of that case.  There are certainly recurring themes and contextual frameworks, as well as statutory references and case-laws which repetitively apply to most, if not all, cases.  But such generalized applications must nevertheless be tailored to fit and apply to the particular facts and circumstances of a case.  Beware of borrowing from, or hiring someone to apply, a “One size fits all” approach.  You may find that you went to the wrong tailor.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Attorney