Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: The Beast of Burden

The burden is undertaken by those have little choice in the matter, but who willingly submit to the responsibility and obligation.  Traditionally, the “beast of burden” (other than being a Rolling Stone song) refers to a somewhat-domesticated animal, perhaps a donkey or an ox, who must bear the weight of man’s work.

In law, the “burden” is one of proof — of the affirmative obligation to present one’s facts, persuasive argumentation based upon such facts, and the application of the relevant law which supports both the facts and the arguments.  The “other side” in the litigation has no burden at all, and can simply sit and do nothing, if he or she so chooses, and see whether or not the plaintiff, the appellant or the Federal Disability Retirement applicant has submitted sufficient proof such that he or she has met his/her burden of proof.

As the weight placed upon a beast of burden is often heavy and demanding, so in a similar vein the litigant who has the burden of proof should always expect to exceed what is “necessary” in any given case.  For the Federal or Postal employee who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is indeed a heavy burden to bear in order to meet the legal criteria of a Federal bureaucracy who has the unmitigated power and authority to approve or deny.

The burden of proof — it is as heavy as that which we place upon a beast of burden, and the weight of such responsibility can overwhelm us, lest we have the reserve of strength to plod onward.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: The Agency & the Burden of Proof

In a Federal Disability Retirement case, submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the burden of proving one’s medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, always remains with the individual Federal or Postal applicant.

Certainly, there are actions by the agency which may add to such proof (e.g., declaring that the Federal or Postal worker is “not fit for duty” will further concretize an assessment made by a third party; or initiating a separation from Federal Service based upon one’s medical inability to perform the essential elements of the job will trigger the Bruner Presumption, which then invokes a rebuttable presumption and shifts the “burden of production” (note that it is not the shifting of the “burden of proof” — a conceptual distinction important to recognize) over to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Waiting for one’s agency to act upon anything is, however, a very dangerous venture to begin with; thinking that one’s own agency will provide the proof necessary to establish one’s eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits would not only be dangerous, but foolhardy.  For, at its most fundamental level, the fact that the very entity which makes a decision on a Federal Disability Retirement application (OPM) is one which is separate and independent from the agency for which one works, creates a chasm which only further magnifies the inherent problem.

OPM pays little to no attention to what the agency does — except, perhaps, when the agency attempts to directly confront and challenge a Federal Disability Retirement application.  Otherwise, don’t look for help from one’s agency (generally speaking) when one is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits; such unfounded reliance will only disappoint, at best.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: And the Question is …

The responsive statement often given is:  Federal Disability Retirement is not a matter of merely filling out forms; if that were the case, anyone should be able to do it without an attorney.  So, as in many gameshow forums, what is the question?  Filing for regular retirement, or even early retirement, is a matter of filling out the proper and standard forms.

Filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, while submitted to the identical agency (OPM) for “processing”, is a matter of proving one’s case.  In order to prove one’s case, one must gather the substantive evidentiary documents; compile the relevant materials; make the proper “connections” and create the “nexus”; make the compelling and relevant legal arguments; and, yes, “fill out forms”. However, this latter act of filling out standard forms, as a prerequisite, while a necessary component of the entire administrative process, is not a sufficient act which constitutes a demand for an approval.

Thus, for a regular or early retirement, one may well argue that once the forms are filled out, one has satisfied both the necessary and sufficient components of what constitutes fulfillment of all obligations required for admission into the fraternity of Federal Disability Retirement annuitants.

For Federal Disability Retirement benefits, however, the additional requirement of proof by a preponderance of the evidence must first be satisfied.  And for that, one must play the gameshow format of answering the critical, million-dollar question:  What satisfies the standard of proof in order to qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from OPM, whether under FERS or CSRS?  The answer:  It has already been given, only in a form of negation:  Federal Disability Retirement is not a matter of merely filling out forms.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: The Burden

Ultimately, a Federal Disability Retirement application is a paper-presentation to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  Yes, yes, we are entering into a “paperless” technological society, and that is fine; but by “paper presentation” is meant in a generic sense, that the proof necessary to obtain eligibility and entitlement to a Federal Disability Retirement benefit, must be presented in a format which is readable, comprehensible, and coherent — whether on a computer screen or in paper format.

The burden of providing such proof is upon the “applicant” — the Federal or Postal employee who is attempting to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  That “burden” is both a legal one, as well as a regulatory one.  There are different levels or requirements of what constitutes proof, depending upon the requirements of what must be proven.

In a general sense, one can assert that all that is necessary in a Federal Disability Retirement case is to gather together one’s medical records, wrap them in a secure bundle, and forward them to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  Will such an approach “prove” one’s Federal Disability Retirement application?  It might — depending upon the seriousness of one’s medical condition, and whether the Disability Retirement Specialist assigned to such a case will take the time to infer and imply.  But to make an inference, or to expect an implication to be discerned, takes an unnecessary chance at misunderstanding, failure, and the unwanted “denial”.

Instead, the better approach is to explicitly explicate.  Always remember that in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, there is a difference between suffering from a medical condition, and proving that the medical condition prevents one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  It is the latter which is necessary to be approved for a Federal Disability Retirement benefit.  As to the former — while an unfortunate circumstance — it is not enough to suffer to prove one’s case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Proof

This is a proof-based process.  It is not merely a matter of completing some forms and meeting procedural guidelines in order to obtain a benefit; rather, it is an administrative process in which evidence and documentary support from third parties must be obtained in order to meet the legal criteria imposed by statute, regulation, and ever-evolving case-laws as handed down by the Administrative Judges of the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, as well as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

There are administrative processes which are “entitlements”, such as certain economic assistance programs, Social Security, Medicare, etc., where one has paid into a system, and upon reaching a certain age, or meeting income-qualification criteria, etc., such procedural guidelines are merely shown, met, and approved.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, however, it is not merely a matter of meeting procedural criteria (although that, too, is required), but moreover, one must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that one is eligible, by submission of substantial and adequate documentation that one cannot perform, because of a medical condition, one or more of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job.

Proof is the lynchpin by which the standard of winning a Federal Disability Retirement case is won or lost.  Proof is a “must”.  As such, never consider filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits as merely a matter of filling out paperwork; one must prove one’s case.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Proof, Assertion, and the Conceptual Distinction

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is necessary — first and foremost — to understand that the benefit of Federal Disability Retirement is not an “entitlement” under any definition of the word; there is no automatic triggering mechanism by which a Federal or Postal employee becomes a Federal Disability Annuitant, unless one proves, by a preponderance of the evidence, that one has met all of the eligibility requirements necessary to obtain the benefit.

Further, while the standard of proof established by statute is a relatively low one in comparison to others (i.e., “preponderance of the evidence” merely requires that the truth of X is more likely than not, as opposed to other, more onerous standard of proof, such as “beyond a reasonable doubt” or “clear and convincing”, etc.), nevertheless, the mere assertion of a statement of facts will not qualify the Federal or Postal employee for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

A standard — or “burden of proof” — means exactly that:   One must prove it, and proof requires more than the mere assertion that X is so.  Specifically, in a Federal Disability Retirement application, one must prove that one is medically unable to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal position, and in order to meet that burden, medical documentation of a sufficient and persuasive nature must be submitted along with a Federal Disability Retirement application, which includes many Standard governmental forms.

Knowing and recognizing the conceptual distinction between asserting X and proving X is an important first step in preparing, formulating, and successfully filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Corresponding Responsibilities

The problem with being responsible for something, is that the moment there are any consequences which result from the assertion of it, everyone lifts their finger and points it in another direction.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, it is the responsibility of the Applicant to prove by a preponderance of the evidence, that he or she is eligible and entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  Yet, those who simply go through either the local or district Human Resources (sometimes euphemistically referred to as the “Human Capital” or appended with a conceptually interesting term, “Services”) Office, will be requested to sign SF 3112C, the “Physician’s Statement“, where, at the top of the form, a box for a return address exists.  The address to which the physician’s statement and medical records are sent, is often filled in as the Agency’s H.R. Office.

Thus, the consequence of such a chain of events will often be:  the individual Federal or Postal employee, who has the responsibility to prove by a preponderance of the evidence one’s Federal Disability Retirement application from OPM, will have a doctor, medical facility, psychiatrist, therapist, and any number of medical providers, directed to forward sensitive medical documentation directly to an agency’s Human Resources Office, prior to reviewing such documents for accuracy, effectiveness or requested formulation.  And if the Federal Disability Retirement packet is sent over to OPM, and is then denied based upon information which is either inaccurate or incomplete, to whom will the finger be pointed at?

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: Recent MSPB Clarification

A recent Merit Systems Protection Board Decision has retracted and clarified a misinterpretation of the legal standard needed to meet in order to qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS.  An expanded article explaining the clarification, impact and relative significance to Federal and Postal employees who are filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management will be forthcoming (from the undersigned writer) in the very near future.

Essentially, an evolving misinterpretation of the legal standard was expanding with unforeseen implications, and indeed, this may be why the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, in recent years, has been invoking terms and concepts which have gone far beyond the applicable standard of evidentiary requirements.  To make such a claim, of course, may be giving OPM too much credit — that they are actually following the cases-law which is handed down through the MSPB and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals; but if not, then there has been a coincidental use of onerous language which has been rather puzzling.

What the MSPB has “clarified” and retracted, is the growing misunderstanding that one of the legal standards to be met in becoming eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, is to provide “unambiguous” and evidence, or evidence which is “uncontradicted”.  Such a standard is an almost impossible one to meet, obviously, and to allow for such a requirement to remain would have placed a greater — almost impossible — burden of proof upon the applicant.

When the “system” of statute-to-case-law-interpretation works, it is a wonder to behold.  Justice works slowly; but then, great works of art can never be mass produced and time is always the friend of the masterpiece.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Applying the Legal Standard

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application with the Office of Personnel Management, it is important to understand the legal criteria of “preponderance of the evidence”, to attempt to meet the legal criteria; to state and argue that the legal criteria has been met, and to reiterate and show how the legal criteria has been met.

Thus, as the Office of Personnel Management is a bureaucracy with multiple levels replete with clerical and administrative staff, it is important to present, to show, to reiterate, and to affirm:  the point to get across must be established in a succinct, effective, efficient manner, but it must be firmly established.

“Preponderance of the evidence” can be quite subjective, but within the context of such subjectivity, it encompasses the conceptual analogies of:  X is more likely than not; the quantitative weight of the evidence shows that the burden of proof has been met; the qualitative whole has proven that one is entitled to Federal Disability Retirement benefits; the compendium of evidence, both medical and supporting, shows that Mr. Y’s medical condition does indeed prevent him from performing one or more of the essential elements of his job; and similar conclusions to be reached as a result of the entirety of the evidence presented.

Of these analogies noted (which is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but merely an attempt to illustrate the meaning of the concept of “preponderance of the evidence”), the one which is most dangerous for people to embrace, is the “quantitative weight” of evidence.  For, ultimately, gathering a thick stack of medical documentation is the easiest way to put together a Federal Disability Retirement application, but the least effective.  And in the end, it is effectiveness which we seek, and not ease of completion.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Attorney

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Criteria and Proof, II

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS, it is important to pause in the beginning stages of the process, prior to “going down the road” of the long and difficult administrative process of preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application, to consider the conceptual distinction between a legal criteria and the proof which is needed in order to satisfy the eligibility requirements of the legal criteria.  

In this day and age when the “culture at large” believes that an individual who speaks the loudest, uses words which appear in form articulate, and in cadence of some eloquence, the reverberations to the legal community have been felt both qualitatively and quantitatively.  Lawyers are supposed to be word-crafters; lay individuals who have some inkling of “the law”, may have some competence in the legal arena, but in order to survive the multiple pitfalls which are inherent in any area of law, it is wise to consider “that which” must be proven, as opposed to the proof itself.  

It is thus important, in preparing to formulate a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, to review the statutes which govern the eligibility criteria for Federal and Postal employees; to read through the regulations; to research the case-laws as interpretive devices which can expand, constrict or regurgitate the statutory authority as written, as handed down by Administrative Judges at the Merit Systems Protection Board; then, upon a thorough and competent understanding of the legal criteria applicable in a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, to begin to gather the “proof” which is necessary in order to satisfy and meet the legal criteria.  

Only upon an understanding of the distinction between criteria and proof can one then proceed to gather the latter in order to satisfy the former.  Early distinctions made can clarify and avoid later confusions encountered; or, as the age-old dictum goes, being penny wise is preferable to ending up pound foolish (or some variation thereof).

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire