Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Waiting upon the Office of Personnel Management

A Federal or Postal worker who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS must understand that the waiting portion of the entire process is probably the most difficult time, precisely because it is a time of inactivity, where one’s future plans are placed on hold because of the uncertainty of the decision.  

Everyone, of course, believes that his or her Federal Disability Retirement application has merit. Otherwise, a Federal Disability Retirement application, whether under FERS or CSRS, should never have been prepared, formulated, finalized and filed — but for the strong belief that one’s medical conditions prevent one from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s job.  

Every Federal or Postal employee whom I represent believes that his or her case is a “slam dunk” case, and it is the job of an OPM Disability Attorney to present it as such, but within the limitations of what the doctor & other supporting documentation will provide.  Once a Federal Disability Retirement application has been filed with the Office of Personnel Management, then the destiny of one’s future plans is somewhat placed in the hands of the OPM benefits clerk.  

Activity often gives the appearance of progress, and inactivity presents a frustrating sense of powerlessness.  But waiting is part of the process.  As such, it is best to make plans, prepare for one’s future in other ways, and allow the Office of Personnel Management to review one’s case properly and thoroughly.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: The Slam-Dunk Case

I have represented more people at the Reconsideration Stage of the Federal Disability Retirement process for CSRS & FERS employees, of Federal and Postal employees who filed the initial application on his or her own because it was thought that it was a “slam dunk” case.

That is the problem with the slam dunk case — either the individual thinks that the medical evidence is so overwhelming that little or no effort needs to be expended in order to obtain an approval from the Office of Personnel Management, or if some minimal effort is engaged in, then the problem must be that the people over at the Office of Personnel Management either did not understand the seriousness of the medical conditions, or they misread X or Y, or some other such reason.

The real problem is that there are few, if any, slam dunk cases.

Inasmuch as the applicant who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits personally feels the pain, discomfort, and debilitating nature of the medical conditions from which he or she suffers, therefore it is often (wrongly) assumed that the same feelings can be imparted upon the person reviewing the Federal Disability Retirement application.

One must always keep in mind, however, that an OPM Disability Retirement application under CSRS or FERS is a paper presentation.  As such, the effort of compiling, arguing, persuading and explaining must always be engaged in.  There are no such cases as slam dunk cases.  If there are, I haven’t recently come across one.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Standard Forms Do Not Mean “Standard Responses”

The problem with “Standard Forms” is that they often appear to solicit “standard responses”, and in a Federal Disability Retirement case under the Federal Employees Retirement Systems (FERS) or the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), nothing could be further from the truth.  Indeed, it is often because a Federal or Postal employee/applicant who confronts and begins to fill out SF 3112A, Applicant’s Statement of Disability, the very “blocked” appearance of the form, and the constricting questions themselves, makes it appear as if a “standard response” is required.  Don’t be fooled.

By way of example, take a “special animal” — that of a Federal Aviation Administration Air Traffic Controller who must take a disqualifying medication, loses his or her medical certification from the Flight Surgeon, and thinks that filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is a “slam dunk”.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Or, a Customs & Border Patrol Agent who goes out on stress leave, or suffers from chronic back pain.  Are there “standard responses” in filling out an Applicant’s Statement of Disability?  There are certain standard “elements” which should be considered in responding to the questions, but don’t be constricted by an appearance of “standard responses” to a “standard form”.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: Trying it Without an Attorney

I get calls all the time by people who tell me that they thought their particular Federal Disability Retirement case was a “slam dunk”; that the medical documentation was there; that everything looked like it should be approved at the first level.  Then, there are people who tell me the same thing after the second, Reconsideration denial — that he or she thought it should definitely pass through.  But law, and especially administrative law before the Office of Personnel Management, has peculiarities beyond a surface, apparent reality.  There is a process and a methodology of obtaining disability retirement. Can a federal disability attorney guarantee the success of a disability retirement application?  No.  Does an individual applicant have a better chance with the assistance of an attorney who specializes in disability retirement law?  In most cases, yes.  Aren’t there applicants who file for disability retirement, without the assistance of an attorney, who are successful?  Yes.  Should everyone who files for disability retirement hire an attorney?  Not necessarily. 

When I speak to a client, I try and place him or her on a spectrum — and on one side of that spectrum is an individual who works at a very physical job, and who has such egregious physical medical disabilities; on the other side of the spectrum is an individual who suffers from Anxiety, who works in a sedentary administrative position (please don’t misunderstand — many people who suffer from anxiety fall into the “serious” side of the spectrum, and I am in no way attempting to minimize the psychiatric disability of Anxiety).  Most people, of course, fall somewhere in the middle.  Yes, I have told many people to go and file his or her disability retirement application without an attorney.  There are those cases which are so egregious, in terms of medical conditions, that I do not believe than an attorney is necessary.  However, such instances are rare.  Thus, to the question, Should everyone who files for Federal disability retirement under FERS & CSRS hire an attorney?  Not necessarily — but in most cases, yes.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: the Bruner Presumption – Agency Actions II

One must never misunderstand the law and its application.  This is true in any legal arena of every area of law; when it comes to Federal Disability Retirement law, the misunderstanding of an application of law can have direct and irreparable consequences:  the failure to secure disability retirement benefits and, therefore, the financial security for one’s future.  The “Bruner Presumption” is one such application of law which is often misunderstood.  Without revealing all of its proper applications, it can (and is) often misunderstood to be equivalent to a “presumption of innocence” — but that would be wrong.  The Bruner Presumption comes about as a result of an Agency Action — of removal based upon the employee’s medical inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of the job.  With or without the Bruner Presumption in Federal Disability Retirement law, the “Burden of Production” — i.e., of the medical documentation, the factual establishment that the Agency is unable to accommodate the individual — still rests and remains with the applicant.  One must never think that the applicability of the Bruner Presumption makes a case a “slam dunk” of any sort.  This is especially so where we are talking about those medical conditions which are often viewed as “suspect” by the Office of Personnel Management — such as Fibroymyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity cases, etc (by “suspect”, however, I do not mean to imply that such medical conditions make it harder for an applicant to get it approved; rather, it merely requires that the one who is preparing such an application, do it properly, thoroughly, and with legal force).  Remember that the initial, and continuing, burden of production always remains with the applicant; what the Bruner Presumption merely does is to “shift” some of the weight of the burden of proof over to OPM, and in the event of an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, of placing a Federal Disability Retirement case into a more favorable light with the Administrative Judge.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire