Postal and Federal Disability Retirement: The Inherent Complexities

It is often asked why filing for Federal Disability Retirement under FERS or CSRS is more complex, and therefor often more difficult to obtain, than (for example) Social Security Disability, or even Federal Worker’s Comp.  The simple answer is that one cannot compare apples and oranges (to quote an oft-used metaphor), but the greater inherent complexity of answering such a question involves more space than can be allotted here.

Social Security Disability, of course, has a higher standard of eligibility.  In abbreviated explanation, this means that one must essentially be “totally disabled” in order to qualify for Social Security Disability, as opposed to the “lower” legal standard of being “unable to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job”.  Thus, Social Security Disability cuts a wider swathe, and is generally considered to require a more onerous standard, and the resulting benefit reflects that — by allowing for restrictive ability to earn outside income, etc.  

 Worker’s Comp (OWCP, FECA/Department of Labor) is also complex in its own way, precisely because it requires a showing of occupational connection, or that the injury or medical condition was “on the job” or somehow caused by the job, the workplace, etc.  Then, its reliance upon percentage of disability, and the fact that it is not a retirement system, but a temporary mode of compensation in attempting to return the Federal or Postal Worker back to work, further contains multiple complex issues.  

Often, when a law attempts to particularize a benefit — as in Federal Disability Retirement — by focusing narrowly upon an issue (e.g., being unable to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s particular kind of job, or any similar job), such a narrow focus creates an inherent complexity all on its own. Complexity of an issue requires a careful and studied approach; to conquer an issue, it is important to expend a great amount of time reflecting upon and scrutinizing the issue. It is only upon understanding an issue thoroughly that the complexity begins to unravel; and only then can one begin to proceed to prepare, formulate and file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely, Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Employee Medical Retirement: Describing One’s Medical Conditions

In preparing, formulating and filing a Federal Disability Retirement application under FERS or CSRS from the Office of Personnel Management, the conundrum which one faces immediately is to attempt to overcome the seeming inability of third parties (OPM Personnel included) to understand, comprehend, relate to, and ultimately “feel” a sense of empathy and compassion for the particular genre of medical conditions a Federal or Postal worker suffers from.  

While the entire administrative process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits is based upon a legal criteria, with a standard of proof set by law — that of “preponderance of the evidence” (which, simply put, means that one must prove that something is “more likely” the case than not — a relatively low standard of proof in the potential options of applying various legal standards) — it nevertheless comes down to having a fellow human being review, analyze, assess and evaluate one’s Federal Disability Retirement application at the Office of Personnel Management.  

Yes, there is an applicable legal criteria which is applied by the Office of Personnel Management.  Yes, there is a set of conforming documentation which must be submitted.  Yes, there are Standard Forms to be completed.  Yet, as with all processes of review, no evaluative process can be merely characterized as an objective calculus; otherwise, the eligibility requirement of a Federal Disability Retirement application should be able to be determined by a computer program.  

While such a possibility may well occur in the not-too-distant future, for the present, an actual person (although this is sometimes questioned, also, based upon the unresponsiveness of OPM and the voicemail messages one encounters) at the Office of Personnel Management must review, evaluate, and determine the viability of a Federal Disability Retirement application.  As such, part of the key to the success of the administrative process must be in the descriptive narrative of one’s medical conditions, their impact upon one’s ability/inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, and the qualitative and quantitative impact, direct or otherwise, upon one’s life.  

Here again, a cold, objective calculus should not be the only approach.  The “human factor” should be included — and to do so, one must extrapolate and apply all of the descriptive tools available in the English language.  

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement for Federal and USPS Workers: The "Lost Cause" Case

Often, an approval for a Federal Disability Retirement case will come in the mail, and the client will state, “I never thought I would see it approved.”  It is the job of an attorney who specializes in any area of law, to win the case.  In representing Federal and Postal employees to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS, the ultimate “win” is to get the approval from the Office of Personnel Management

Some cases are harder to get approved than others; then, there are the “Lost Cause” cases — ones which, for one reason or another, seem to encounter greater obstacles:  from agencies which attempt to undermine the Federal Disability Retirement application, to adverse termination proceedings prior to the filing of a Federal Disability Retirement application; to insufficient medical documentation; and multiple other reasons, there are cases which appear to be lost causes.  Yet, so long as there is another stage of appeal, and so long as there is sufficient merit to a case, one should never give up.  Lost causes are especially triumphant moments for the attorney representing a disabled Federal employee.  For an OPM Disability Retirement case, it is especially sweet to obtain that letter of approval from the Office of Personnel Management, for that case which the client himself/herself believed as a “lost cause”.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal and Postal Disability Retirement: Approvals & Disapprovals

The Office of Personnel Management seems to have recently issued a volume of decisions on Federal Disability Retirement applications on Federal and Postal employees under FERS & CSRS.

From the calls received from non-clients, and from clients, one sometimes wonders whether or not some sort of “quota-system” isn’t being imposed at the top levels.  Yet, statistically, the percentage of disapprovals v. approvals is not noticeably different than before; it is difficult to determine in any given period of time whether or not there is a higher rate of denials/disapprovals than approvals, in comparison to other periods.

What matters is not the general rate of approvals or disapprovals; rather, each individual case must be taken on its own merit, and responded to with the Office of Personnel Management (or, if the denial is at the Reconsideration Stage, then an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board) in a timely fashion, and in a tailored, appropriate manner.

Each case is indeed “different”.  One cannot compare one case with “war stories” about how X filed his or her application and got it approved “within a week”.  Such rumors can never be verified, and even if it could be verified, there are always individual and unique circumstances which must be taken into account.

Comparisons between different time periods, as well as between two or more independent cases, are never helpful; instead, the focus must be to take the uniqueness of any given case, and decide on the best course of action in order to obtain the one and only outcome which is acceptable for any given OPM Disability Retirement case under FERS or CSRS:  an ultimate approval.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire