Federal OPM Disability Retirement: The Mistakes People Make

The greatest mistake of all is to “assume” X or to “presume” Y; and this is not uncommon, precisely because the wording of the Standard Forms as presented on SF 3112A (Applicant’s Statement of Disability), which is the central basis upon which a Federal Disability Retirement application is formulated (both for FERS as well as for CSRS employees), makes it appear as if obtaining an approval from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is merely a pro forma activity.  

And, indeed, many have informed the undersigned attorney that Human Resources’ personnel at various agencies will understate the scrutiny which OPM will apply in reviewing and evaluating a Federal Disability Retirement application.  

The problem with H.R. Personnel dismissing the arduous and meticulously scrutinizing administrative process as applied by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is that such underestimation is barely acknowledged when a denial is received from OPM on a Federal Disability Retirement case.  All of a sudden, the Human Resources personnel put up their hands and state, “It’s not our responsibility”, when all along they had been insisting as to the ease of the process.

No, it is true — it is not the ultimate responsibility of the Agency or its Human Resources Department.  Yes, it is also true that any application for a Federal Disability Retirement is the responsibility of the individual applicant.  As such, because responsibility falls squarely (why, by the way, is it “squarely“, as opposed to “triangularly” or “circularly”?) upon the Federal or Postal Worker, it behooves one to take the entire process seriously, and to invest the proper time, attention, and expenses needed, to do it right “the first time”.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Clarity in the Minefield of Procedural Opposition

Preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, can be a daunting and intimidating process without the opposition — whether intended or not — from one’s Agency or the U.S. Postal Service.  With such “opposition”, life can be made that much more difficult unless one knows one’s rights and the legal obligations of the Agency.  Human Resources Departments of various agencies often reveal peculiar characteristics.

On the one hand, the original raison d’être (the originating reason or purpose for existing) was presumably to assist the employees of the Agency in any and all personnel matters — from payroll issues, to job classification concerns, to preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management.  However, whether it is because “Management” co-opts the personnel in the Human Resources Department; or whether the employees in an Agency Human Resources Department merely take it upon themselves to become contrary and resistant to the needs and concerns of the very employees for whom the H.R. Department’s originating reason for creation are there for; regardless, it has become a commonplace paradigm that there exists an oppositional attitude towards the Federal or Postal employee filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Recognizing this “fact” is important before proceeding down the administrative morass of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.  Once recognized, it is important to be prepared to understand how one will, and must, maneuver through the administrative procedures in order to reach the ultimate goal — a favorable decision from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Disability Retirement: Agency’s Personnel Department

It is always important for each individual, worker, and organizational entity to understand the “role” of one’s position, and that is often the problem with an Agency’s Personnel Department — the “Human Resources” Department of an Agency.  

The irony of being called “Human Resources” is probably not lost to most people, but it is the classic irony of being designated as X and acting in an anti-X manner.  The role of Human Resources Personnel, one would implicitly (and explicitly) expect, is one of assistance of a Federal or Postal worker in the filing, submission and attempt to initiate administrative personnel actions, including Federal Disability Retirement benefits under either FERS or CSRS.  

Yet, too many Federal and Postal employees have a sense (and often a justified one) that in attempting to obtain the assistance of the Agency’s Personnel/Human Resources Department in the processing of a Federal Disability Retirement application, that the H.R. Department is more of a hindrance than a help.  Now, such broad generalizations are often unfair to particular Human Resources personnel who are in fact very, very helpful to the entire process — but, then, all such generalizations tend to create an unfair net and capture those who run counter to the very generalizations espoused.  That is the very definition of a generalization.  

The role of an H.R. person is (or should be) one of neutral assistance.  Yet, because “management” and those who will remain with the agency long after a person has gone out on Federal Disability Retirement will be the ones with continuing power and influence within the agency, it is often to those “others” that the Personnel Department favors and shows a continuing bias for.  This is what is called “human nature”.  When human nature and human resources collide, it is often the former which wins out, to the detriment of the latter. That is why having an attorney — an advocate for one’s position — is often an important tool to utilize.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Disability Retirement for Federal Workers: Human Resources Personnel

The problem with relying upon one’s Human Resources department to help in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management (if in fact they are even willing to help, other than to provide the necessary forms — if that) is not based upon their lack of knowledge (some are fairly knowledgeable); rather, they work within the same mindset as the rest of government, and therefore unable to think outside of the paradigm of government regulations, rules, and statutory mandates.  

Furthermore, Human Resources personnel are not lawyers; as such, the moment there is a problem with an application — whether in its substantive presentation, or in the legal criteria which apply to the eligibility of any one Federal or Postal employee — they have a tendency to side with the Office of Personnel Management.  

That is not to say that there are not excellent H.R. Personnel — there are.  But H.R. Personnel are trained to assist in the procedural stream of making sure that the paperwork is all “in order”.  They do not comment upon — and nor should they — the feasibility or substantive credibility of a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS.  

Furthermore, the number of years a person has been a “Human Resources Specialist” is not indicative of the competency of that person in providing any guidance; those who have been in Human Resources often box themselves into a paradigm of repetitive labor, and perform a task “because this is the way it’s always been done”.  That is never a reason to do something, let alone a good reason.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: Agencies

Agencies often engage in acts which clearly impede a Federal Disability Retirement.  Think about it.  If a Human Resources Department is set up to provide services for the assistance and processing of people who are requesting a service or benefit which is offered and is a part of being a Federal or Postal employee, one would think that such a department would do everything inside (and even outside) of the purview of the mandate of such a creation, in order to further the needs of the Federal or Postal employee.  That is why the Federal sector is often criticized.  In the private sector, such departments are funded to make sure that the mission is fully accomplished.  Yet, too often, when a Federal Disability Retirement application is submitted to the Agency Human Resources Department, that department will take its time; will “inform” the applicant that the packet is “incomplete”, and let the packet sit in a pile of other Federal Disability Retirement packets.  Now, in all fairness, this is not always the case.  But what is always interesting, is that when an Agency’s H.R. Department goes out of its way to be helpful, it is an event to be celebrated.  In fact, it should be the other way around; helpful H.R. offices should be the norm; when an H.R. Department is unhelpful, it should be of great surprise to all.  Be that we lived in such a universe.  No wonder people spend hours on computer games of virtual reality.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: On the Other Hand

On the other hand, there is no such thing as a “lost cause” case.  To assert such a conclusion would be to presumptively admit defeat.  In Federal Disability Retirement cases, there is always a good chance of prevailing, whether or not a mistake was made; whether or not a doctor annotated, on a particular day in a moment of hope, that the patient showed “hopeful improvement”.  Yes, it is the job of the Office of Personnel Management to cling onto such peripheral statements, and to magnify such statements such that they appear to encompass the essence of the medical condition.

It is always with some amusement that I hear an agency Human Resources person state something to the effect of:  “Well, you know, Mr. McGill, this is not an adversarial process.  We and the Office of Personnel Management are merely here to determine the eligibility of the Federal worker, and to make sure that he or she fits the criteria.”

Not an adversarial process?  Is the Office of Personnel Management “there” to help you?  Is that why, in their template denial letters, they latch onto the most peripheral of issues and emphasize those points which allegedly present a problem, and ignore the rest of the medical evidence?  Any Federal or Postal employee who is contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS would be wise to see the entire Federal Disability Retirement process as one of an “adversarial process”.  If you don’t, you proceed at your own peril.  On the other hand…

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Supervisors, Agencies and H.R. Personnel

I am sometimes pleasantly surprised at Supervisors — ones who actually recognize that an individual filing for Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS does so out of necessity, and not out of any personal or professional spite against the Supervisor or the Agency, and that the proper response to convey is one of support, empathy, and cooperation, without needing to compromise the goal and mission of the Agency.  Further, I am taken aback by the unprofessional and utterly unhelpful attitude of many Human Resources personnel in the processing of a Federal Disability Retirement application. 

Too often, the H.R. person finds it his or her mission in life to be an obstacle to the smooth processing of a disability retirement application under FERS or CSRS.  Yet, the law is clear (though not to many of the H.R. Departments at various agencies):  it is the Office of Personnel Management which has the sole legal authority to make a positive or negative determination on a Federal Disability Retirement application; at the agency level, the role of the Human Resources person is to try and expedite and efficiently process the disability retirement application.  Hopefully, those who have the positional designation of “Human Resources” will come to realize what it all actually means:  he or she is supposed to be a “resource” (a positive one, for that matter) with a “human” emphasis.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire