Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Proper Responses

A receipt of a denial from the Office of Personnel Management to a Federal Disability Retirement application under either FERS or CSRS is always an event which is upsetting to a Federal or Postal employee, but it is “part of the process” which occurs often enough.  

If it is a second denial (where a Request for Reconsideration has already been accomplished, and the Office of Personnel Management has denied it again), then the only appropriate response is to file an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (no response is required, or even appropriate, to OPM, as it is out of their jurisdictional purview upon denying it a second time).  

If it is a “first denial“, then a “Request for Reconsideration” must be filed within thirty (30) days of the date of the denial letter (one can argue that the 30 days should be counted from the date of receipt, but it is always better to be on the safe side), and if requested, an additional thirty (30) days is automatically granted in order to have sufficient time to gather and submit further documentation to rebut and answer the denial from the Office of Personnel Management.

Submission of the Request for Reconsideration, and participation in the process of having the Office of Personnel Management reconsider the initial denial, is mandatory, not elective.  By this is meant the following:  You cannot bypass or skip the Reconsideration Stage and jump directly to the MSPB; you must first get a decision on the Request for Reconsideration before the Merit Systems Protection Board will consider your case.  

You cannot get angry or reactive and declare, “I will just file an appeal to the MSPB and have an Administrative Judge look at my case”.  You must patiently go through the proper channels of justice, and respond accordingly.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: Preempting OPM’s Arguments

It is important at all stages of a Federal Disability Retirement application for FERS & CSRS employees to predict, anticipate, and preempt the arguments which the Office of Personnel Management may make, will make, and can be expected to make.  Obviously, the three main areas of such concern are:  Sufficiency of medical documentation; Agency efforts for accommodation and reassignment; the impact and interconnection between one’s medical condition(s) and the positional duties of one’s job. 

However, there are multiple other areas, and it is the job of an applicant filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, or his/her attorney, to anticipate the areas of OPM’s concerns, and to address them both factually and legally — the latter, by pointing out statutory authorities and case-law holdings directly or implicitly touching upon those very areas of concern.  Further, one should never be fooled if, in an initial denial of an OPM Disability Retirement application, the substance of a denial is fairly short or if it is detailed and lengthy; the content of a denial letter should not determine the extent of a response by an applicant at the Reconsideration Stage.  Instead, whether short, of “middle length”, or extremely detailed, a response should anticipate all areas of concern, and the applicant who is attempting to secure an approval for his or her Federal Disability Retirement benefits should always preempt any potential areas for a further denial.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: The Strategy of Disheartening the Opposition

When Federal and Postal employees who have filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, and have been denied at the initial stage of the process, many are sincerely disheartened.

In my initial contact with the denied applicant, there are multiple levels of reactions, including:  the denial letter points to legal criteria which they were unaware of; it refers to doctors notations which are taken completely out of context; they have completely ignored major portions of what the doctor has stated; OPM points to legal criteria which has been met, but which OPM simply denies that it has been met.

What can be done?  This is the strategy of disheartening the opposition.  In other denials, it is simply a matter of referring to a doctor’s report here, and to a medical notation there; then to simply declare:  You have not submitted sufficient medical documentation and fail to meet the legal criteria to be eligible for Federal Disability Retirement benefits.  What can be done?  No explanation; just scant references, then a unilateral declaration.  Again, this is the strategy of disheartening the opposition.  What to do?  Don’t get disheartened.  Respond.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

CSRS & FERS Disability Retirement: OPM & the Problem of Templates

The problem with the use of templates is that they are, over time and overusage, predictable; being predictable, they become ineffective.  Now, from the perspective of the Office of Personnel Management, applying a template to a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS, whether predictable or not, is somewhat irrelevant, to the extent that a denial is still a denial, and an approval is simply an approval. 

It is only if and when a case is appealed (after an initial denial and a denial at the Second Stage, at the Request for Reconsideration Stage) to the Merit Systems Protection Board, that the template has to be “defended” if the Administrative Judge asks for clarification of the issues by referring to the template-based denial.  Moreover, what is predictable is the combination of medical condition/denial rationale.  For instance:  for Fibromyalgia:  “The condition waxes and wanes”; for Major Depression:  “Not enough time has been allowed for the efficacy of a medication regimen“; for anxiety & panic attacks:  “There is insufficient objective medical evidence”; for Chronic pain:  “Physical therapy has not been sufficiently given a chance to…”   These are some examples of templates used by the Office of Personnel Management, each of which can easily be refutted in any particular case.  The methodology of refutation, obviously, is where a federal disability attorney can be of greatest counsel and representation.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: OPM & the Template Approach

Starting from a template is not necessarily a bad thing.  One should not have to repetitively reinvent the wheel in any endeavor.  It is when one uses a template blindly, without carefully reviewing and evaluating the facts and circumstances of a particular case, that the problem arises. 

Each case in a Federal Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS is unique, not so much because a specific medical condition is unique (although, obviously, it is “unique” to the individual suffering from it); and not so much because of the type of job that a particular Federal or Postal employee works in.  Rather, the uniqueness of the particular case normally arises in the combination of the two — the symptoms manifesting from a particular medical condition, and how it impacts the ability or inability to work at a particular kind of job. That, in essence, is the core of a Federal Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS — the combining and clashing of the medical condition with a particular kind of Federal or Postal job, and the incompatibility between the two.  How the Office of Personnel Management reviews that combination is what is often at issue — and, because templates are generic treatments without regard to particular and unique facts and circumstances, that is precisely the reason why they fail to address the uniqueness of a particular case.  (Next:  How OPM’s template is often predictable and ultimately ineffective in a Federal Disability Retirement case)

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Discretion in a Response

When a Federal Disability Retirement applicant under FERS or CSRS receives an unfavorable response from the Office of Personnel Management (translated:  an initial Denial), you have the right (which must be asserted in order to move forward in the future, i.e., to the MSPB and beyond) to file a Request for Reconsideration.  If you receive a second denial, then the only response required (and which should and must be asserted) is an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  A response to the initial denial, however, should include a reply to the (often) detailed “discussion” section of the denial letter. 

Normally, when I file a response (in addition to obtaining additional medical documentation from the doctors, and any other substantiating documentation which may be relevant), I normally write up a 5 – 7 page responsive legal memorandum rebutting the denial letter.  Now, this is where “discretion” is necessary.  Upon an initial reading of a denial letter, one’s first response is normally not that which one should act upon, because it is often a reaction of, “What???”   Discretion is a virtue to follow; there must be a proper balance between responding to every single criticism from OPM (not a good idea), to ignoring everything in the denial letter (also not a good idea), to choosing two or three of the more substantive issues brought up and addressing those issues.  How to address them, with what tone, what manner & style, etc., is what an attorney is for.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire