OPM Disability Retirement: The Details Determine the Path of Success

One is often asked concerning the steps to be taken in order to formulate a successful Federal Disability Retirement application.  Whether under FERS or CSRS, all such Federal Disability Retirement applications will ultimately be reviewed and critically analyzed by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, to be determined as to whether such an application meets the legal standards for eligibility and entitlement under the statutes, regulations and case-laws governing Federal Disability Retirement.

As with all things in life, the path which one undertakes in an endeavor of this nature — the logistical “steps” that must be completed — will depend largely upon the particular facts of each case.  Yes, the general outline is somewhat identical for each; and, yes, the character and kind of evidence to be compiled may be similar.  But it is the uniqueness of the particular set of facts, for each Federal Disability Retirement application, which determines the type, extent and quality of a successful Federal Disability Retirement application.

Thus, to take an extreme example:  A Letter Carrier for the U.S. Postal Service who suffers a horrendous accident and becomes paralyzed, will not need much more than the emergency room and hospitalization records, and perhaps — and this is a “big” perhaps — a short (couple of sentences) statement from a doctor.

On the other hand, an IT Specialist working for a Federal agency who suffers extreme stress, will require a comprehensive medical report which details specific reasons as to the impact upon the positional requirements of his or her job.

As with almost everything in this complex compilation of sensory perceptions we identify as “life”, the details of a particular endeavor and encounter with a Federal Agency will determine the pathway to success; details matter, and 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 precisely the details which determine which devil will rear its ugly head, and how to avoid such devilish encounters.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Disparate Information in a Disability Retirement Application

The difference between success and an almost-successful endeavor is normally not based upon the information available, but rather, the effective use of the available information.  Just as most “secrets” are neither hidden nor unknown, but rather depend upon who knows it, how it is used, and when it is acquired; similarly, the availability of information disseminated throughout our lives — via the internet, through publications, through media outlets, etc. — is generally not the basis for success.  Disparate information compiled in a bulk bound conglomeration is normally not an effective way of presenting something.

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 important to go beyond mere compiling of information and data in presenting one’s case to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  Remember that Federal Disability Retirement is not an entitlement; rather, it is a benefit which is available upon proving one’s case.  Proof of a case depends upon multiple factors: indeed, the Office of Personnel Management will often state the following in denying a Federal Disability Retirement application:  “The mere fact that you have a medical condition does not mean that you are eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.”

The existence of a medical condition is a necessary requirement; facts supporting one’s case can be persuasive; the laws governing Federal Disability Retirement and the eligibility criteria should be cited; the nexus between one’s Federal and Postal position and the medical condition should be established; then, beyond each of the disparate informational islands, a coordination of the information is necessary. For that, an approach which involves a paradigm of how one should win a case is important.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Measure of Success

Gratitude is often the measure of success, but such a measure is fleeting, at best, and only as relevant as the next person who may express disappointment.  In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the ultimate measure of success is whether or not the Federal or Postal employee obtains an approval from OPM; there is no “relative success” in such an administrative process, and indeed, it is an “either-or” bifurcation with no middle ground.

Furthermore, much of the process can appear strangely subjective —  in one case, a fairly skimpy file of medical records can warrant an approval from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, while in another, a large compendium of medical documentation can result in multiple denials, despite every good effort of providing medical narrative reports, treatment notes, etc.

Because individuals comprise the universe of determinations in a Federal Disability Retirement application, and therefore the encounter between individuals necessarily results in differing perspectives, opinions and approaches, there never can be a “science” of applying for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  The best that can be accomplished is to put together as effective a Federal Disability Retirement packet as one can — of medical records and reports; of legal citations; of a persuasive argument; and a tight nexus between one’s medical conditions and the type of positional duties one must perform.

Beyond that, the measure of success must await for a positive outcome.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement Benefits for US Government Employees: Qualifying

The concept of “qualifying” is both peculiar as well as interesting; for, one questions whether one can “qualify” for a sports event (often, this encompasses issues of age, physical ability, whether gender may disqualify you, etc.); and then there are “qualifying events”, where you must pass certain levels of “test” activities in order to get to the next round, as in golfing events.  In racing events, there is always talk about getting through the “qualifying” stages; and, similarly, in attempting to secure a job, the applicant is often questioned as to whether he or she has the “qualifications” for the position.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, there is also the initial question of whether a Federal or Postal worker “qualifies” for the benefit identified as “Federal Disability Retirement”. Here again, to “qualify” means that a Federal or Postal worker meets certain requirements. Thus, there are automatic dis-qualifiers, such as: If you are not a Federal or Postal worker, but work for the county or state, then you do not qualify for benefits under FERS or CSRS from the Federal system. Similarly, if a FERS individual does not have at least 18 months of Federal Service, or a CSRS Federal employee does not have at least 5 years of Federal Service (which is obviously unlikely), then you cannot “qualify” to even apply for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management.

Those are immediate qualifying “events”.  Then, of course, the main event — the tournament of all competitive activities for Federal Disability Retirement purposes — concerns whether or not a Federal or Postal Worker qualifies for Federal Disability Retirement benefits because of his or her medical condition.  This foundational qualification can only be answered by looking at the medical condition, the support of the treating doctor, and whether and to what extent the medical condition impacts one’s physical or psychological ability to perform the essential elements of one’s job.

For that main event, one must rise to the level akin to the professional athlete.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: Periodic Clarifications

Clarifications are needed to be periodically made, based upon questions which Federal and Postal employees continue to ask.  There is often a confusion concerning the “one year” issue — whether it concerns the Statute of Limitations in filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, or the length of time a medical condition must last. 

A Federal or Postal employee must file a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS within one (1) year of being separated from one’s Agency.  The confusion often arises because a Federal or Postal employee is unsure of whether or not such separation from service has actually occurred.  Especially for Postal employees, where the U.S. Postal service will often continue to keep a Postal employee “on the rolls” despite having been on OWCP for many years, the confusion can be understandable.  However, one indicator is that if a Postal employee is continuing to receive zero-balance pay stubs, then in all likelihood that Postal employee has not yet been separated from service, and the 1-year tolling of the Statute of Limitations has not yet begun. 

Because obtaining an approval from the Office of Personnel Management on a Federal Disability Retirement application can take an extraordinary amount of time, however, it is wise to begin the process sooner, rather than later, whether one has been “officially separated” from service or not.  For Federal employees, an SF 50 (Personnel Action) form would systematically be issued showing that a Federal employee has been separated from Federal Service

As for the 1-year issue concerning the extent of a medical condition, we will address that issue at another time.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Long, Longer & Longest View

I have often spoken of the need to take the “long-term” view in filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS & CSRS — both in terms of having patience for the inherently long process in terms of time, as well as in terms of preparing a case for not just the First Stage of the process, but further, for the second Reconsideration Stage, as well as for an Appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  This “long-term” view is meant to prepare a potential applicant for what it means to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits; to not be overly concerned if you are denied at the first, or even the second stage of the process; and to be prepared financially to weather the “long haul”.  In short, it is meant to prepare the potential applicant for the long, and longer, view of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits. 

It is also necessary, however, to prepare one’s self for the “longest” view — that of maintaining and keeping safe the disability retirement benefits once it is approved — by preparing to be randomly selected every two years or so with a periodic “review” with a Medical Questionnaire.  The Medical Questionnaire is an innocuous looking form, asking for an “update”, and giving you 90 days to respond.  Be cautious.  Be aware.  Take it seriously.  Don’t wait for the 89th day to begin responding to it.  None of my clients who have gotten his or her Federal Disability Retirement benefits has ever lost it; people who have gotten Federal Disability Retirement benefits on their own and have later lost the benefit, have come to me to regain it; I have been successful in recovering the benefit, in every case.  However, it is not always easy — if only because the disability annuitant initially thought that it was an “easy-looking” form.  Preparation for the “longest view” begins not upon receipt of the Medical Questionnaire; it begins at the very, very beginning — when one first decides to file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire