The Effective Use of Language in the Federal Disability Retirement Application

As a paper presentation to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Federal Disability Retirement must by necessity be based upon the effective use of language. Language — that all-encompassing compendium of vocabulary, grammar, word-choice, topical selection, verbs, descriptive ascriptions, use of nouns and action verbs, etc. — is the vehicle of requirement, all within the constraints of providing validating evidentiary proof in preparing a Federal Disability Retirement application; and it must be delineated within the purview of factual validation and guided by truth within the context of a methodological approach of persuasive force.

Filing for Federal Disability Retirement, whether the Federal employee or the U.S. Postal worker is under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset, is a test of one’s use of language — a vehicle of communication provided in written form, to be reviewed, analyzed and evaluated for persuasive impact and convincing force, by an unknown entity, represented by a person who is merely a stranger with a title allegedly having technical expertise and validating credentials within a greater bureaucracy of a complex administrative process.

Put in this way, it can be a daunting, hair-raising process; and, indeed, the mere superficial perusal of the Standard Forms (SF 3107 series for FERS employees; SF 2801 series for CSRS and CSRS Offset employees; SF 3112 series for all employees, whether under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset) provides a glimpse into the complexity of the process.  For the initial stage of the process, the onus is entirely upon the Federal or Postal applicant who is filing for Federal Disability Retirement.

Then, if it gets denied at the First Stage by the Administrative Specialist at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, there is a double-duty whammy (no, the latter is not a legal term or even a term of art), in that the Federal or Postal worker whose Federal Disability Retirement application is denied, must contend with attempting to comprehend the basis of the denial as propounded by OPM — again, understanding, evaluating and analyzing language, and the necessity of replying with the complexity of using that language.

Thereafter, one must then, in essence, “start all over”, and reengage, and apply the vehicle of effective language again, but this time not only in reworking the persuasive vehicle to provide additional evidence to meet the requisite legal criteria, but at the same time to answer the concerns the arguments as stated in OPM’s denial — which is customarily the use of worn and dated templates used by Federal Disability Specialists over and over again in all OPM Disability Retirement application denials.

To take liberties and paraphrase Wittgenstein, this is a language game of epic proportions, and the masters who play the game must know and apply the rules, and understand the various strategies which result in the successful and effective force of play in preparing, formulating and filing for OPM Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Experience versus Articulation of the Condition

One of the first rules announced in any elementary creative writing course is for the budding writer to “show” the reader through descriptive sentences, as opposed to “telling” the audience what has happened.  The distinction itself is often difficult to describe; it is like the dividing line between light and darkness — we know it is there, but cannot precisely pinpoint the demarcation line.

Similarly, in law, there is a difference between the “facts of the case” and “proving the case“, and indeed, the difference can encounter major difficulties in overcoming the obstacles presented by the distinction (i.e., it is not the proverbial “difference without a distinction”).  Thus, even though one may have all of the facts in favor of one’s case, unless one can prove them (and overcome legal objections, technical obstacles for inclusion and introduction of such evidence, etc.), such an advantageous position may in the end be meaningless unless the articulation of the facts to the jury can be effectuated.

Analogously, in a Federal Disability Retirement application with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS, the fact that one may experience a debilitating medical condition is merely the foundational basis of an effective Federal Disability Retirement application.  Beyond the existence of a medical condition, a series of connecting steps must be established:  treatment of the medical condition; articulation of the medical condition by a treating doctor; a nexus between the medical condition and one’s positional duties with the Federal government or the U.S. Postal Service; information conveyed as to the impact between one’s duties and the medical condition, etc.

In other words, while the experiential value of the medical condition forms the foundational basis of a Federal Disability Retirement application, the articulation of that medical condition in a systematically persuasive vehicle of communication is paramount in “proving” one’s case.  Certainly, experience is the beginning point; but beyond that, one must set about to establish the necessary proof in articulating an experience.

In flying on an airplane, one would certainly rather have an experienced pilot than a brash young pilot who has never flown but who can talk a lot; but in a Federal Disability Retirement application, it is the one who has both — the “experience” of a medical condition, as well as the ability to articulate the condition — which will prove one’s case; and in so doing, hopefully the trip forward will result in minimal engine troubles, and fewer bumps in the administrative ride of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Medical Retirement for Federal Workers: The Changed Standard

Lawyers are trained to engage in linguistic gymnastics; that is precisely why Plato railed against rhetoricians of his day, as they used language to distort the fullness of being (as Heidegger would say).  For, the malleability of language allows for a spectrum of purposive and mischievous play upon words; only an abiding sense of integrity in the face of a world which has abandoned parameters and boundaries of what constitutes “fair play” in the arena of linguistic word games, would save the original foundation of the correspondence theory of truth.

In this postmodern world where objective truth can no longer be argued for, subtlety in playing a language game is no longer necessary; one can simply, deliberately and without conscience switch one word for another, and maintain a straight face.

So, in a Federal or Postal Disability Retirement case, when the U.S. Office of Personnel Management inserts words which clearly do not reflect the legal standard as presently existing, what does one do?  When the standard is raised to require “disability which precludes you from the workplace”, or evidence of a medical condition which is “compelling”, how does one respond?

Such unwarranted and baseless legal applications are inserted in many denials from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, requiring a Request for Reconsideration or an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  In the end, in order to properly respond, one must first recognize the malleability of language; then to identify the proper legal standard to be applied; then to selectively address such improper legal standards.

In a Federal Disability Retirement case, whether under FERS or CSRS, the ultimate problem is that one is dealing with a Leviathan of an agency — the U.S. Office of Personnel Management — and one which has the power to engage in rhetorical flourishes with unfettered abandon.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

OPM Disability Retirement: Settlement of Collateral Lawsuits

Appearance versus reality has been an ongoing philosophical issue within the Western Classical Tradition for centuries; it involves the very essence of the culture and heritage of the West, beginning with the Pre-Socratics (e.g., Parmenides), and continuing with Plato, Aristotle…to Heidegger; and until the dawn of modern Philosophy, where linguistic hermeneutics began to prevail, constituted the dominant foundation of philosophical inquiry. How a thing is presented, or “looks”, as opposed to what a thing “really is”, or the “essence” of being, forms the fundamental philosophical inquiry.  

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 often the case that the Federal or Postal employee is involved in some collateral lawsuit or adversarial process — often directly with the agency itself, in an EEO forum, MSPB or U.S. District Court.  

Inevitably, settlement negotiations will often occur, and the issue of whether a Federal or Postal employee can be retroactively “separated” for his or her medical inability to perform one’s job may be offered.  How the settlement is formulated; what is stated in the settlement agreement; what promises are made, etc., are all important in order for such agreements to effectively assist in the Federal or Postal employee being able to obtain a Federal Disability Retirement annuity.  OPM objects to the Federal Retirement fund being used as a tool for settlement of collateral lawsuits.  

Any settlement agreement must not “look” like it is merely a carrot for enticement to medically retire.  The reality of the situation is important.  As always, we go back to our Western roots — appearance versus reality.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire